Evicted family’s belongings dumped on City Hall’s steps
Truckloads of soldiers armed to the teeth descended on the Port Elizabeth City Hall yesterday where they caused chaos, dropping furniture on the doorstep of the city’s seat of power.
Aggressive, armed with semi-automatic weapons and in full uniform, they threatened city officials and journalists who questioned what they were doing.
Bystanders, including young children, stood in shock watching as the bizarre incident unfolded.
The furniture belonged to a single mother of two children – one with special needs – who was evicted from the Forest Hill military base yesterday morning.
At least one other family was also evicted, but it is unclear why the furniture was dumped at City Hall.
The other family’s dumped in Forest Hill.
Angry city officials, including acting city manager Johann Mettler and human settlements political head Nqaba Bhanga, clashed with soldiers on the scene.
Mettler later laid a complaint of intimidation, trespassing and illegal dumping at the Humewood police station.
He told the soldiers they were not allowed to drive the trucks onto Vuyisile Mini Square, nor put anything on the doorstep of City Hall.
“This is criminal in nature, unlawful actions,” Mettler told them.
“This is a matter of the government breaking the law. When you take machine guns out to intimidate politicians, it’s a very sad day in South Africa,” he said.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said they would investigate, while Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies called the soldiers’ actions “totally illegal”.
Following the dumping of her furniture furniture was at City Hall, Alta Smit lodged an urgent application with the Port Elizabeth High Court asking that the military be compelled to allow her back into her home and that her property be returned.
The municipality also sought an urgent order, in conjunction with Smit, to force the military to remove the household goods from City Hall.
“They wilfully damaged a municipal vehicle [and] I personally felt intimidated,” Mettler said.
Just after 5pm yesterday the court order was granted by Judge Glenn Goosen.
The order stated that all belongings be returned to Smit, that she not be intimidated, be allowed to return to the base and that no weapons should be visible while the goods were retrieved and returned.
By 9pm last night the furniture and electrical appliances were soaked in the rain.
A security guard at the City Hall said they had been instructed by their employer not to touch any of the items dumped at City Hall. Smit, who referred all queries to her legal representative, Jerome Hicken, had been staying on the base for nearly 17 years.
She was married to an SANDF member from whom she was now divorced. Her ex-husband no longer lives on the base.
Hicken said no eviction notice had been issued to Smit.
National president of the SA National Defence Union Warrant Officer Lindon Fredericks condemned the evictions.
“None of the people evicted are employees of the SANDF. If the proper steps were taken their evictions could be justified, but putting people out of their homes without warning, with some of them even being handicapped, cannot be supported,” he said.
According to Fredericks, a request was made on Thursday for 12 soldiers to report to the base the next morning. No reasons were given. Yesterday, close to 20 soldiers arrived and were issued with firearms and ammunition, he said.
Fredericks said a section of the base was cordoned off and police officers called to the scene were refused access.
“It is our understanding the order came from the head of the base, Colonel Phakathi,” he said.
Chandre Klaasen, 22, whose family was also evicted, said about 30 armed soldiers had arrived at the house at about 10am.
She shares the house with her mother Cynthia, 44, sister Julia, 18, and her 14-month-old daughter Charne.
Two years ago her father Andre, 47, who worked on the base, lost his job.
“We were all crying when we saw them with weapons. They brought two trucks of soldiers to evict us.”
Klaasen’s furniture was dumped next to a house in Willow Road, Forest Hill.
On the scene at City Hall a visibly upset Bhanga was heard shouting at the soldiers.
He said: “You are not going to do it. You will not. Kill me. Kill me.”
The soldiers refused to back down, with a soldier then driving into the side of a municipal bakkie.
Bhanga said: “If you have the army coming into civil situations it is war.”
SANDF national spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga said: “SANDF rules for houses state that people who do not qualify for houses should not occupy them.
“From what we understand, the incident in Port Elizabeth involved people not employed by the SANDF.
“There is a common tendency where people who do not qualify for houses are occupying them.
“And while there was no official order issued on a national level, the local officials were simply enforcing the rules.”
Asked why furniture was taken to City Hall, Mabanga said they were unsure but would investigate.
Burger branded the soldiers’ actions “totally illegal”.
“These soldiers obviously do not know where their jurisdiction ends and their actions are made so much worse because they were brandishing firearms while doing it,” he said.
“Soldiers walking around the streets with firearms and threatening people causes uncertainty and fear among the citizens of this country.
“It is obvious they acted outside their mandate,” Burger said.
Police spokesman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said: “We are not commenting on the matter considering that they are also an organ of the government.”
Phakathi, whose first name could not be determined, could not be reached for comment.