“They were just breaking down the houses and destroying everything,” says community leader Jeanette Baleni. “It was terrible, I cried that day.”
The farm, in the west of Johannesburg, had been acquired by Absa’s development subsidiary Blue Age Properties 60 Ltd in 2014 and the bank had obtained an eviction order against the residents in 2015. Absa claimed the land had been illegally occupied, but because there was nowhere to move the people to, the eviction order was only acted on in December last year.
“They misled the court,” said human rights lawyer Tracey Lomax, acting for the residents who say they’re the descendants of farm workers on the property for generations.
“They were simply treated like squatters … as if they had moved in illegally the month before,” she said. Lomax explained that once an eviction order is granted, relocating people becomes the responsibility of the municipality – in this case, Mogale City.
Baleni said Absa held meetings with Mogale City about the relocation but had not consulted the residents. “In 2015 the municipality came to tell us we’re illegal occupants,” Baleni said, adding that they paid rent – some for as long as 10 years – through a scheme started by the previous property owner who had a security business.
“We were renting from Gideon Ntini, from Interactive Security – he brought many of us here. He showed me the place actually,” Clayton Kamurai said, who also denied being an illegal occupant. Interactive Security National Sales Manager Renier de Meyer dismissed the claims.
Absa has denied that the process of eviction was flawed. “The court went through a process of determining who had what interest in that piece of land before deciding to issue the relocation order. At no point was any such claim made by anyone, that is, from the time Blue Age became the owner of the land and throughout the consultation process,” Absa’s head of Media Relations Phumza Macanda said.
[The municipality] promised us stands, water, electricity and other things.
When contacted for help before the eviction happened, Mogale City councillor Molefi Sebilo told the community they would be moved to another ‘better’ place as soon as possible. A year went by until last October when Selibo informed the residents they were being moved in three weeks. The community drafted a letter to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in Pretoria demanding to know why they had been given only a three-week deadline. A November meeting held between the municipality, the community and the department to establish how the relocation was to proceed.
“[The municipality] promised us stands, water, electricity and other things,” Baleni said. Health-e News has a recording of the meeting where a municipality representative called Tshepiso Ndlovu is heard saying: “At your new place, we’re going to install tap water, we’re going to give you stands, build toilets with running water and streets.” But according to the community, these were just empty promises. The reality was a disaster.
On 3 December Baleni was told the community would be moved two days later. Instead, the following day while residents were at work, the Red Ants arrived and broke into people’s shacks to move their belongings to the new place.
“Furniture was broken, our things were stolen – even our money,” Baleni remembered.Blame Game: Absa and Mogale City Municipality are pointing fingers at each other for who was responsible for the relocation. (Photo: Health-e News TV Unit)