The East London high court has ordered the national government to find alternative accommodation within 10 days for people whose homes were demolished while they were quarantining in July.
Scores of families were evicted from homes built illegally on the state-owned Greydell farm near the East London Airport.
Hundreds of people from the Bhongweni settlement subsequently resolved to contribute R500 each towards the legal costs of fighting the evictions and demolitions.
On Thursday, judge Robert Griffiths gave the department of public works & infrastructure 10 days to find alternative accommodation “for those residents who are under quarantine for Covid-19”.
Simphiwe Fana, who chairs the Airport Park group set up to represent residents from the community, told the DispatchLIVE on Thursday they feared those who had tested positive had infected others as they could not self-quarantine when they had to seek refuge in other people’s homes.
He said the department demolished 70 houses, shacks, and temporary structures with Covid-19 patients in quarantine despite a prohibition on evictions under national lockdown level 3.
“Initially there were seven people in quarantine and they had not finished their quarantine period. There could be more positive people now.
“More people could have been infected on the same day when our houses were destroyed because there was no social distancing practised.
“We had a community meeting and the people who do not have houses were accommodated by neighbours and that is how we now ended up with five people living in one shack,” he said.
“A large number of residents in the area do not know their Covid-19 status. We told the guys that demolished our structures that we had coronavirus patients among us but all they told us was that they were doing their job.”
Fana said officials of the sheriff of the court went ahead executing eviction and demolition notices using a 2017 court order.
“How can the government evict people like that when they knew that the matter of that piece of land was still in dispute and they were not allowed to demolish those structures during lockdown?”
Responding to questions sent last week, public works spokesperson Lunga Mahlangu told the DispatchLIVE: “The only structures that were demolished were new structures under construction or unoccupied structures as they pose a threat to the airport because they are in the flight path of the runway. The demolition exercise was conducted irrespective of people’s social condition or status.”
Failure to demolish the houses would have resulted in the closure of the East London Airport, he said.
There was a task team looking for alternative land to relocate “qualifying beneficiaries”.
Mahlangu did not specify whether these were RDP housing beneficiaries. Attempts to source clarity on the “qualifying beneficiaries” and comment on the court ruling had drawn a blank by print deadline on Thursday.
Questions were sent to Mahlangu via e-mail and WhatsApp. His phone rang unanswered.