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Photo: Tsoanelo Sefoloko for GroundUp

By Tsoanelo Sefoloko
First published on GroundUp

A recent court settlement with the KwaDukuza Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal to include more than 300 shack dwellers in a new housing development has been welcomed by housing movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo. The agreement brings to an end nearly five-years of continuous evictions and court battles.

According to residents, the occupiers first erected about a dozen shacks on the municipal-owned land in Sheffield in 2014, but the area began mushrooming in 2019. The informal settlement is near Salt Rock, bordering the northern boundary of the multi-million rand Brettenwood private housing estate.

The municipality, in 2019, applied for an eviction order against the shack dwellers at the Durban High Court. The shack dwellers, represented by the Socio-economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), opposed the eviction.

The KwaDukuza municipality told the court the occupied land in Sheffield has been earmarked for a mixed-use development project with about 800 middle to low-income homes. The court then ordered that the residents’ personal circumstances be surveyed. The socio-economic survey was done on 8 and 9 October 2022 with representatives from SERI, the municipality and the community policing forum, “with the aim of understanding the status of the respondents with the objective of crafting an appropriate response for the 310 households,” read the court papers.

The agreement signed on Wednesday commits the KwaDukuza municipality to “develop different housing typologies for the broader Salt Rock and Sheffield community which will benefit the respondents who are already residents in the area”. The document states that many of the Sheffield shack dwellers who meet the qualifying criteria will be prioritised for the Breaking New Ground (BNG) units formerly known as RDP houses. “In the event that some of the respondents do not qualify for any of the three social housing projects to be developed in the area, the [municipality] will provide those [shack dwellers] with suitable alternative accommodation.”

Outside court, a crowd, mostly dressed in Abahlali’s red and black colours, celebrated.

Abahlali leader Sinenhlanhla Mcanyana said: “It has been a long journey…it wasn’t easy for me seeing the community members going through hard times of being evicted from the land.”

SERI senior attorney Nkosinathi Sithole confirmed the community would get social housing. “We represented Abahlali BaseMjondolo in this case from the beginning in 2019. Now I’m glad that the members are happy that they are going to get proper houses after many years of struggling,” he said.

Shack dweller Velemseni Masondo told GroundUp he moved onto the land in 2016 to be closer to work. “My boss gave me 16 sheets of corrugated iron, then I built my shack. But every time when they evicted people, they used to look for me because my shack was at the beginning of our informal settlement,” said Masondo.

Another resident, Thembi Mkhize, said he is relieved they will no longer have to live in fear of their homes continuously being demolished by the council. “I’m happy to get the good news…we are going to get proper houses,” said Mkhize.

Sithole said the shack dwellers are expected to remain on site during the construction of the project.