Remuneration for bulldozed belongings

Residents of Elephant Park in Wells Estate start to rebuild their homes after the police and contractors demolished them and took their furniture and appliances (23/03/17). Picture: Brian Witbooi.

Municipal land invaders from Wells Estate and Motherwell are going to be remunerated for the destruction of their property after municipal trucks bulldozed their informal dwellings.

This was decided during a council meeting on Thursday after the majority of councillors agreed on a motion to have an eviction order reviewed and those affected remunerated.

The motion was taken to council by ANC councillor Rory Riordan and seconded by Mkhuseli Mtsila of the United Front (UF) following the eviction of several families who had occupied municipal land in Wells Estate earlier this year.

City manager Johan Mettler labelled the motion agreed on by 60 councillors as incompetent.

Siyasanda Sijadu of the Congress of the People (COPE) abstained from voting.

Nelson Mandela Bay ANC councillor Rory Riordan
File picture: Mike Holmes

Riordan said he was delighted his motion had passed through council and said those who accused him of promoting land invasions in Wells Estate were not being honest.

“I am not for land invasions but whenever there’s an issue between government and poor people, I am on the side of the poor. I am not directing people to invade land,” Riordan said.

Riordan’s motion included five items:

That the city manager should investigate whether municipal staff misled the court regarding the eviction court order, and if they had to face a disciplinary hearing.

That the court order either be appealed against, reviewed or whatever the city manager believed to be correct.

That the affected community be contacted, meaningful dialogue begun and an interim solution to their housing needs agreed on and effected. This could involve making land available.

That the affected community be compensated for both the destruction of their building material and for the pain and suffering inflicted on them by the eviction.

That in future the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality should not approach the courts for an eviction order without a majority decision having been taken by all councillors who had been fully informed regarding the issues.

Riordan said he had not indicated a time frame for action to be taken but noted that council “is in survival mode now, and any discussions will be held at the next council towards the end of January next year”.

When asked what the way forward was following the council decision, Mettler said he was taking legal advice on the consequences of the motion having been passed. “I will be guided accordingly,” he said.

During the council meeting Mettler said he was obliged to advise the council on the dangers of “wasteful expenditure”.

“I’ve indicated that this motion is incompetent because it deals with a matter that has gone through the administration and through the courts. It is a matter that, as an accounting officer, I had acted on in terms of council policy. The court granted an eviction and those are the facts,” Mettler said.

Sijadu said that as a child who was born in Motherwell and someone who continued to live there, she had first-hand experience of the plight of the Wells Estate residents in terms of the evictions they had suffered.

Riordan commended Sijadu on her position and said “the most amazing thing was COPE’s Sijadu who had the courage to abstain from the vote even while sitting between Mayor Athol Trollip and Bhanga”.

Wells Estate resident Thobela Timakwe, 43, was one of those whose homes were demolished earlier this year. Timakwe said the remuneration that councillors were talking about would enable her husband and her to buy some of the furniture they had lost.

“Since the whole thing happened, I’ve been moving in and out of homes with my three children. We had no choice but to move back and build here again. If we can’t stay here, I hope the government can move us to some other land we can build on, even if there’s no water or electricity, just as long as we’ve got a ceiling about our heads.”

The EFF’s Zilindile Vena said the reality was that the municipality would never go to court as they were using one order to evict everyone.

“The municipal manager expects us to respect his guidance while he is not honest with us. We seek to stop an abuse by officials, we don’t want people to take advantage of us. You’ll never see the municipal manager when they’re busy [evicting people] there. The reality is we want to take full responsibility for what happens in our city.”

Vena said the EFF was in support of the motion to review evictions because they were “tired of being taken advantage of by municipal officials”.

“What we want is officials to take the mandate from us. We give you political direction and you implement it, and we’ll hold you accountable,” he said.

Patriotic Alliance councillor Marlon Daniels said describing the motion as wasteful expenditure was “putting money in front of people’s lives”.

“Do you think people put up shacks because they want to or it’s fun?” Daniels asked the city manager.

Following the motion, Wells Estate councillor Mzuvo Mbelekane announced a community meeting on Monday. He said he hoped the DA-led coalition government would learn to take the advice of community leaders because they had advised them not to evict people without having a meaningful engagement with them.

“We’ll be giving feedback to the community about council resolutions that affect them directly. People lost materials and their belongings so they have a right to know the outcomes of the meeting,” he said.

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