Angry residents force MEC, mayor to cancel visit to Joburg informal settlement where Red Ants destroyed homes

An army of red ants members arriving at Kokotela informal settlement in Lawley outside Ennerdale.
An army of red ants members arriving at Kokotela informal settlement in Lawley outside Ennerdale.
Ntwaagae Seleka, News24

Johannesburg Mayor Geoff Makhubo and Gauteng Human Settlements, Urban Planning and Cogta MEC Lebogang Maile were unable to address angry residents of the Kokotela informal settlement in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on Sunday.

Makhubo and Maile said they had decided to call off their visit to the area, after police assessed that it was a safety risk.

Meanwhile, scores of residents, young and old, gathered on the road to protest against the presence of Makhubo and Maile.

On Thursday, Makhubo ordered security and evictions company Red Ants to destroy shacks and houses that had been illegally built by the residents.

Makhubo claimed that he only ordered them to destroy shacks and houses that were not occupied, and occupied homes were not touched.

Residents claimed that Makhubo had contravened the lockdown regulations by outsourcing the evictions to the Red Ants, who arrived in buses, trucks and vans to demolish properties.

READ | Sisulu reiterates ban on evictions and water cuts during coronavirus lockdown

They said they were now homeless after their homes were destroyed.

Some of their building material was also confiscated by the Red Ants, they claim.

Some evicted residents later burnt tyres and other objects on the road.

Timothy Rathebe, who lost his three-roomed brick house, said he wanted the law to act against Makhubo.

"How can he evict us during lockdown? The president of the country has made it clear that we must all remain indoors during lockdown, but Makhubo decided to ensure that we are homeless with our children.

"We are now squatting in people's homes because of Makhubo. He should have consulted with us and given us enough time to vacate the land after lockdown," said Rathebe.

He said his children were traumatised after witnessing the Red Ants destroy their home.

Manana Tsotetsi lost her two-bedroom brick house.  

Tsotetsi said she was at home when the Red Ants arrived.

"They proceeded straight to my house with an excavator and brought it down. I told them I had no other place to go and they laughed at me when they took away part of my building material," said Tsotetsi.

"I am in pain that the party that I have voted for has destroyed my home. I came to Kokotela last year after being homeless for a long time. I have applied for an RDP house in 1997 and have been waiting for my house since then.

"I spent my disability grant savings to build a home for my children. Today, we are homeless, and Makhubo must reimburse us for the damages... done."

Stolen appliances

Precious Mdluli claimed that some of her appliances and furniture were stolen before her brick house was destroyed.

"My fridge, television and other appliances were stolen before my house was brought to the ground. I was away in Soweto when I was called by a neighbour that my house was being destroyed.

"When I arrived, there was no house. It was only bricks and the roofing material, appliances and furniture were gone. I am shocked that Makhubo said he only ordered for houses that were not occupied to be destroyed, and yet mine was destroyed," she said.

Mdluli said she was now sleeping at a friend's shack, which is a contravention of the lockdown regulations.

"I have no home. Where does Makhubo expect me to stay, because I am homeless?" she asked.

In a statement issued later, Maile and Makhubo confirmed that they had planned to visit the area.

Maile's spokesperson Castro Ngobese said the purpose of the visit was to undertake an assessment of the situation on the ground, following demolitions of unoccupied and incomplete structures in order to prevent ongoing "land invasions" in the area.

"As a result of the visit, a throng of community members, including the elderly and children, were mobilised to protest against the visit. The visit has since been postponed consistent with the lockdown regulations of disallowing mass gatherings. 

"Both Maile and Mayor Makhubo have reaffirmed their commitment to adhere to a moratorium on evictions and demolitions, as announced by national government, during this lockdown period. However, law enforcement will continue to guard against and act on land invasions during this time."

"The community of Lawley is urged to remain calm and allow government to intervene, without flouting lockdown regulations. Maile will hold an urgent meeting with all mayors of municipalities in Gauteng to look into their land invasion  measures during this lockdown period," Ngobese said.

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