Sandra Kekana’s mind still echoes with the sound of shacks being forcefully torn down with crowbars, and the heart-wrenching screams of children and weeping women accompanied by voices of men shouting at each other in scuffles with the eviction crews.
The unexpected violence led to an intervention by the provincial government.
“That is one day I will never forget. I stood there knowing that the chaos will soon reach my house and, in the blink of an eye, my shack – my home – will be reduced to a pile of mangled corrugated iron sheets and broken wooden poles,” Kekana said.
“I stood there with my family; bags packed and waiting to see the men with crowbars appear so we could witness our home being destroyed. We were not notified of the eviction, so there was nothing much we could save from the house.”
Standing outside her two-room shack in Sekampaneng informal settlement in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, 30-year-old Kekana waited, but the men never reached her home.
The next thing she saw was smoke engulfing the area as defiant members of the community started to burn tyres – the evictions had turned into a violent protest, where evictees were fighting off those who were brought in to destroy their shacks.
Kekana later learnt that two men who were part of the crew brought in to evict them were attacked and killed, allegedly by protesting community members during scuffles. Hammanskraal was plunged into chaos and at least two buses were torched.
Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Paul Mashatile visited the area on Wednesday and, following a meeting with representatives from the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality who obtained the eviction order, the community and traditional leaders, a decision was made to suspend the process.
Mashatile said shack dwellers were under the impression that there was “nothing wrong” with them being there. He explained that some of them were reportedly given their stands by traditional leaders. There were also reports of councillors involved in awarding stands.
Kekana said she had been staying in her shack with her husband and two children for only three months.
“I went to mark my stand and built a shack three months ago because everyone was doing it. I was ready to be evicted on Monday and go back to waiting for the RDP house I applied for 10 years ago, but now we’re told we can stay on. Still, I do not trust this.
“Local government elections are around the corner and this could be a ploy to buy time before they return again with the same eviction orders and throw us out once we have voted,” she said.
She said she would only relax on the day she held a document saying that “I am the rightful owner of this stand, because you can’t really trust our government”.
However, government’s intervention was deemed a victory by others in the community. They regard their resistance to the evictions as key to the provincial government’s undertaking to build them houses.
All this, however, has been at the expense of the lives of Elias Tshabalala, who was reportedly set alight, and Lucky Nelushi, who was beaten to death. The two died before they were paid the R150 promised to them by the security company contracted by the City of Tshwane to carry out the evictions.
The City of Tshwane has absolved itself of any wrongdoing, saying it had not sought the eviction order.
Tshwane spokesperson Blessing Manale said the city carried out its own evictions in 2014, after which some people relocated to “adjacent tribal land”.
“We are advised that the court order implemented in Hammanskraal in the past few days was a court order obtained by the tribal authorities in recent months,” Manale said yesterday. “We were only there to support the police.
“Hammanskraal and its surrounding areas have been plagued with invasions for the past three months on both council-owned land and on land held in a trust by the Kekana Tribal Authority. Most of these land parcels were earmarked for formalisation of informal settlements and the development of the much-needed social amenities,” he said.