The gentrification that is taking place in central Johannesburg has left families evicted from Fattis Mansions last month, stranded in tents set up in a stadium south of the city. In what is effectively a refugee camp, the living conditions are bad. The Mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba from the Democratic Alliance, is an advocate for gentrification of the inner city, not the rights of the people living there.
Almost a month after the ordeal, scores of residents evicted from the place they once called home are still battling to come to terms with it. They now share the same status with the City of Johannesburg’s homeless and the metal scavengers. Squeezed like sardines in temporary makeshift tents near Wembley Stadium, they recounted with teary eyes a life they never anticipated. The City brought them there after being forced by courts to find them alternative accommodation. It is alleged they were evicted after a certain “private developer” claimed the building belonged to him and he wanted to renovate it.
For decades, Fattis Mansions, a block of flats in the heart of Johannesburg, was their home away from home and their access to economic opportunities. Memories of that fateful morning when the infamous Red Ants pounced on them still plays vividly in their minds. How they lost their belongings and some, their hard-earned money that they had saved for their future, was a double torture when reliving this dreadful story they so wish to forget.
“We were beaten with crowbars, robbed and women were searched inappropriately. They didn’t allow us to take out our things but themselves. It was really bad to see our things destroyed in front of our eyes,” said one of the residents who has been staying at Fattis since 1996. In that heated scuffle with the Red Ants, he said he lost R3,000, his ID and his firearm license.
“What is even worse we were never told in advance that we will be evicted. Otherwise we would have prepared ourselves. Only a night before I saw a piece of notice paper lying around. I thought this was a joke,” he painfully recalled and humbly requested to withhold his identity for fear of the shame that his family back home in the Eastern Cape will see. At Fattis, he stayed with his wife and two kids who are now depending on good samaritans for their uniforms and transport to school.
In another tent, where women stay, three ladies, Zandile Mhlanga, Thonila Zandile and Masego Masilo were busy eating what appeared like a dinner they had cooked on a paraffin stove. When there is no paraffin they make wood fire to cook and warm themselves. They bemoaned other numerous challenges that make life unbearable at their new shelter.
“It’s very cold here…this paraffin can be dangerous for kids,” said Mhlanga, who was the most talkative among the three. She said it’s very dark at night. One Apollo light doesn’t make any difference. This makes it hard to relieve themselves at night since the bucket toilets are quite a distance away. They also have to walk far to fetch water. To have some kind of a privacy, they have divided tents with curtains and for their daily sustenance, those who are not working rely on charity organisations for food and clothing.
They can’t wait for the outcome of their court case later this month as they believe they were unlawfully removed from Fattis Mansion. They say the building was a sectional title property and the majority of them possess title deeds. Their lawyers, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute said in a statement that they are engaging with the City to find a long lasting solution for their predicament.
Speaking on behalf of the City, Luyanda Mfeka refuted claims of lack of services and said they are currently providing basic services of emergency shelter, water, sanitation and electricity at Wembley stadium through the entities of the City for those affected by the private eviction carried out at Fattis Mansion’s eviction.
“The people currently residing there are going through the Expanded Social Programme to determine what kind of accommodation they qualify for,” he said, adding that the state is required by law to provide housing to residents within its available resources. “Even within the context of our present challenges, the City continues to do all within its powers to meet the present demand for housing.”