Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) mayor Luleka Gubula is wasting no time in attending to the ongoing land invasions and has embarked on a programme to demolish and remove structures illegally erected on municipal properties around Komani.
The demolition programme started on Tuesday, following a trend over the weekend when foreign nationals did as Komani locals had done about two weeks ago – illegally occupying vacant land around town.
However, the difference is that the foreign nationals fenced and put up structures on ‘their’ illegally occupied properties, including a “heritage site” in Scanlen Street.
Gubula’s intention to maintain law and order has prompted her to issue court interdicts to certain individuals reported to have led the previous land invasions by locals, and she has now applied for a demolition order to remove permanent structures illegally erected on municipal properties.
“We started in town this week when we found foreign nationals illegally occupying municipal land. The majority of them had fake leases, some expired, with others either without a municipal stamp or with a stamp from a department that does not even issue leases. We gave some of those with fake leases 14 days to vacate, especially those with temporary shelters. For those with permanent structures, we have applied for a demolition order and have given them the same period of time to move their belongings. We have tried talking to the people about the land issue, but it seems as though people take the local authority for granted.”
Gubula said while they were removing and demolishing structures, they came across locals who operated businesses from shacks and shipping containers, who were reported to have been paying rent to a foreign national who had no agreement with the municipality.
“We met the foreign national and she was very rude. We know our officials had visited her several times before asking for her lease agreement with the municipality and she did not have one. We decided to ask the occupants to remove their belongings and we demolished the shacks and removed the containers.”
However, Nomzamo resident Sile Ncoko, who operates a hair salon from a shipping container in town, said when municipal workers arrived on Wednesday they also took locals’ containers, claiming they were renting from foreign nationals.
“They arrived and said we had 15 minutes to remove our stuff from the containers. They were rude and would not hear us when we said the containers belonged to us. They asked for permits and when some of us could not show them, we were told to apply at the municipal human settlements department. We were told the office had been closed due to lockdown and now we are stuck. What surprises me is that a local man’s container next to mine was taken and he had a permit, but they maintained we were paying rent to foreigners. This is hurtful because this is how we make a living and our businesses were only starting to recuperate since we could not operate due to lockdown restrictions. My children’s school fees are due soon and with this ill-treatment from our own government I do not know how I will pay.”
Meanwhile, a group of Komani residents marched to the office of the mayor on Tuesday to table their petition of demands related to access to housing sites, but they were left without being attended to, much to their disappointment.
The residents said they were told by officials in Gubula’s office that she had gone to visit sites where land grabs had recently taken place.
Community leader Lindikhaya Dumani said when they arrived at the municipal offices they were initially told the mayor was in a meeting with councillors.
“Moments later we were told she had left the building to attend to demarcated sites. We rushed to the field opposite the Nkwanca informal settlement in Victoria Road, hoping she would attend to us, but she did not,” said Dumani.
At the core of the residents’ grievances is the municipality’s failure to provide housing land, the mayor’s “failure” to attend to residents of all communities regarding grievances related to land but only went to Queensview Park residents, and the municipality’s “threat” to serve certain individuals with court interdicts.
Dumani said they felt neglected by the mayor, who was among the mayors instructed by premier Oscar Mabuyane to make land available for the people to build their own houses.
“The premier said this during the ‘Taking Parliament to People’ event in Komani last year. He said government did not have money to build houses for the people and that mayors needed to make land available for those who sought it, to build houses for themselves, which is what we are asking for. We were previously promised houses on the open field next to the Sabata Dalindyebo neighbourhood. About 800 sites were demarcated for housing but nothing has been done about it. Who are they keeping these sites for… their friends?” he asked.
Dumani said residents recently demarcated sites on several fields in the Komani area and that Gubula only went to attend to Queensview residents who clashed with those who wanted land.
“We know she told residents in that area that they were correct to stop those who demarcated sites. We residents who were involved throughout this whole thing would like her to come and speak to us. In areas like Ndlovukazi, McBride, Tambo and others, people demarcate sites for themselves. You never hear about the mayor having been there to stop them in their tracks.
“The mayor has even gone to the length of threatening people with court interdicts. We are not scared of it because who are they going to serve – the majority of community members seeking land were involved?”
Resident Noxolo Julingalo, 43, said she lived with her children in a rented RDP house and had applied for housing several times since 2002, without success.
“I was born and bred in this town and have always applied for houses, but found people from neighbouring towns got preference, or people younger than me. My name has appeared on many lists for housing over the years, but I still do not own even a site where I can build for myself.
“When will I ever get a house of my own? I am struggling to pay the rent. What are we supposed to do? We are originally from Komani…where are we supposed to live and work when even jobs are given to people from elsewhere?”