Empolweni residents rebuild their houses and lives

Empolweni residents have re-built their shacks after their eviction on Good Friday. All photos by Lilita Gcwabe

49 of the approximately 170 families forcibly removed from Empolweni informal settlement have re-built their homes, thanks to a court ordering their return.

Residents of Empolweni informal settlement, who have re-built their homes after they were demolished by the City of Cape Town, say that they are slowly rebuilding their lives. On Easter weekend during Phase 5 of the lockdown, City of Cape Town law enforcement officers demolished around 170 structures. But with the help of NGOs like Social Justice Coalition and Ndifuna Ukwazi, the residents challenged the demolitions and evictions in the Western Cape High Court, which ruled in favour of the residents.

The court ordered that they be allowed back to the area and that the City had to return the material of the 49 houses. In an earlier report, Nkosikhona Swaartbooi, a housing activist from Ndifuna Ukwazi, explained that only 49 households affected by the demolitions could be found at the time that they filed the court application, though about 170 shacks were in fact destroyed.

When the material was returned, Empolweni residents and community leaders complained that what was brought back was not enough for just the 49 families to rebuild their homes. At that time, the residents were sleeping in tents provided by the Gift of the Givers through the Ministry of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation. They continued to stay in the tents for over 10 days.

“The material that they returned is not enough for the 49 families to build their houses; there are few doors and windows to put up a proper structure,” said Nozakuthini Batyi, one of the community leaders. They then challenged the City of Cape Town to bring more material. At one of her visits to the informal settlement, Lindiwe Sisulu, the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, promised that she was going to replace the building material that was damaged in the eviction.

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After the City of Cape Town brought more material, the residents started to build their homes even though it was still not enough. “It was chaotic as people wanted to get more material to make sure that they have complete houses,” Batyi said. According to Batyi, most people had to get extra material to supplement what they had received.

The City of Cape Town, according to Batyi, came to demarcate the areas where the new structures were to be erected. Member of Mayoral Committee for Human Settlement, Malusi Booi, said that the demarcation of areas where the new structures were to be erected was temporary because “the Court will still decide the matter as this pertains to the illegal land invasion.”

The residents had to stay in tents as they were waiting for more building material from the City of Cape Town.

48-year-old Lindikhaya Pikoko said that he had to buy the material for the roof of his shack. “The material that I got was not enough so I had to go buy the material for the roof,” he said. Pikoko said that his wife and children fled to stay with her family because they were traumatised by the brutality of the law enforcement officers during the eviction. “They will come back now that things have calmed down,” Pikoko said.

Sinalo Ndzamela (31) who works in a restaurant in the CBD and has not been working since the lockdown, said that she had a two-roomed L-shaped house but because the material that was brought back was not enough, she had managed to build only a one-roomed shack. “All my material was new; I even had burglar bars for the door and windows and I had bought the material in December when I moved in here. Now I have to contend with what I have. Things are better now that I have a roof over my head,” she said.

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Another resident, Ntombikayise Janda, said that she is also relieved. “I got some of the material to finish my house from relatives and now I just have to rebuild my life and get things back on track,” said the 40-year-old mother of four.

According to Sisulu’s spokesperson, McIntosh Polela, her promise to buy new bulding material for the residents has been complicated by the growing size of the land occupation in Empolweni. “The situation has been complicated by new invasions in Empolweni, making it harder to cater for the 49 families that were earmarked for assistance. Minister Sisulu is working with stakeholders to find a workable solution,” Polela said.

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