The newly built red-brick RDP houses breathe some fresh air into the usually dull sight of crammed shacks and precast houses in Marikana, but their presence has also brought further problems.
More than 100 of these 292 RDP houses are illegally occupied, mostly by mine workers. This has future conflict written all over it, as the officially identified beneficiaries are calling for urgent government intervention amid rising fears of violence.
The ANC lost popularity to some extent in the area following the 2012 tragedy in which 34 striking mine workers were shot dead by the police in one day.
One of the mine workers who applied for an RDP house but failed to qualify, Aubrey Seitsang, said controversy around the allocation of the houses stuck out like a sore thumb.
“There are cases of people from outside Marikana being allocated houses while people from here are not benefiting. If the government now wants to evict those who opened the houses and moved in, where must they go now?” asked Seitsang.
“Most of us are low-paid mine workers, but they expect us to move into rental units when things are already hard for us. How do they expect someone to move out of a shack and rent a flat from government?”
One of the undocumented occupants, who asked not to be named, said the men were ready to take on anyone who attempted to throw them out of the houses on Thursday.
“We were expecting Red Ants and the police [to enforce the court order]. I can tell you, the guys were ready for them and none of us will be evicted. That will never happen, not here in Marikana,” he said.
It seemed that a majority misunderstood the court order, with some believing that the interim court order, which gave them until April 28 to explain why they should not be removed, meant that they were going to be evicted on Thursday.
The undocumented occupants defied the interim eviction order last week when they marched carrying sticks and singing to a local police station where they burnt the court letters. They vowed to resist any bid to evict them.
The spirit of the march evoked sordid memories of days in August 2012, when Lonmin workers’ wildcat strike left 44 people dead in Marikana.
North West human settlements department spokesperson Ben Bole said they had approached the courts in a bid to have the undocumented occupants evicted lawfully.
“It gave them until Thursday (last week) to give reasons why they should not be evicted and why the order should not be made permanent. We are actually pleading with them to vacate the houses voluntarily,” he said.
“We don’t want any violence or blood bath. We want a peaceful eviction.”
It appeared that asking questions about illegal occupations of the houses was an undesired subject in the area, as City Press experienced.
The occupants who were asked whether they were legitimate beneficiaries responded with rage.
“Who the hell are you, asking me these kinds of questions? Are you sent by government? Get out of here,” one resident demanded. He moved to his neighbour’s house, seemingly to alert them to City Press’ presence.
Our journalist was advised by one of the construction workers who had been working nearby to quickly leave the area to avoid mishaps.
“These guys are ready to die for these houses and they don’t like being asked questions. It is not likely they would give in and just move out, really,” said the construction worker.
People’s names were spray-painted on outer walls of the houses that were still under construction, indicating a beneficiary who will be moving in.
Most mine workers in the area live in shacks and small, rented backrooms. Appalling living conditions were among the points raised at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry into the 2012 killings, chaired by retired Judge Ian Farlam.
Mine workers were under the impression that the houses were being built for them to alleviate their plight.
They are on the edge of Marikana west, the new multimillion-rand housing development that includes the 292 RDP houses and 252 rental units.
However, most mine workers cannot qualify for free government houses because they are employed and earning above the set threshold to qualify for RDP houses. But they also earn too little to qualify for financial assistance from commercial banks, should they apply for a mortgage.
Rumours that the houses were allocated to people based on their political affiliation have fuelled suspicion and mistrust. As a result, it was reported that some legal occupants were being threatened and accused of being “favoured” by the ruling ANC.
The North West government has denied the allegations of bias in housing distribution. Bole said the allocation process was done through a transparent process.
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