A legal battle involving state departments and citizens is brewing after members of the SA National Defence Force evicted families from their homes on the Forest Hill military base on Friday.
The household goods from several homes were dumped at various spots in Port Elizabeth, including the doorstep of the City Hall.
Armed to the hilt and in full military uniform, about 20 SANDF members orchestrated early morning evictions of people occupying properties owned by the military.
One woman at the centre of the controversy, Alta Smit, had her furniture, appliances, clothes and groceries unceremoniously dumped at the City Hall on Friday morning by soldiers brandishing semi-automatic weapons and damaging municipal property. Smit – who has still not returned to her home – and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality obtained an urgent court order forcing the SANDF to return the household goods to her home.
Her belongings were eventually collected and taken back to the base on Saturday after the items were drenched in rain on Friday night.
She has since opened a case of malicious damage of property as the belongings were not restored to the property they were taken from, as stated in the court order.
Smit’s legal representative, Jermone Hicken, said yesterday the court order had been served on the Department of Public Works, which manages the property, and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula after personnel at the Forest Hill base refused to accept the document on Friday.
“If they do not comply with the court order, we will be back in court tomorrow [today]. What they did is illegal,” Hickens said.
Asked if she knew why her belongings were taken to the City Hall, Smit said it was still a mystery.
“I doubt anyone will take responsibility for that order,” she said.
Neither Hicken nor the municipality could establish a link between Smit and the municipality or a reason for the action.
Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher for the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said the soldiers who carried out the evictions of Smit and two other families were acting unlawfully and that military personnel should not have been involved in such matters.
“There is now a high-level full investigation under way and hopefully we will at some stage get a report-back,” he said.
While many have questioned the show of weapons outside the City Hall, Burger said this was not untoward as soldiers’ weapons were part of their issued equipment.
Meanwhile, Smit has not yet returned to her home on the military base and is staying with a friend in Summerstrand while her belongings are on the backs of army trucks under a roof on the base.