Houses demolished, families evicted near East London Airport

A number of people were left homeless in East London's Airport Park after their homes were demolished. Photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrick

Despite the ongoing national state of disaster that prohibits evictions, the Department of Public Works says it demolished new and under construction structures that interfere with an airport runway.

A number of families living in Airport Park just behind East London airport in the Eastern Cape were left homeless on Monday as their homes were demolished.

The eviction occurred on a cold winter day and despite the prohibition on evictions under level 3 of the lockdown in terms of the national state of disaster.

Upon visiting the area on Monday, the owners were crying for their demolished houses and police prevented them from going near the ruins.

The now homeless people say that they have been living in the area since 1987 and had been waiting for houses for more than 30 years from government before they occupied this vacant land in 2018.

Some of the evicted people said they spent more than R100,000 building their homes.

They said they were not aware of the threat of eviction and were not warned about it. A court order that was issued in March 2017 was for Bhongweni location which is nearby.

The Department of Public Works says it demolished structures that interfere with the airport runway. Video by Nombulelo Damba- Hendrik

Community leader Siyabonga Matyila said people slept outside as they didn’t have alternative places to stay. What frustrates them most is that they were not notified about the eviction.

“On Monday we saw two TLBs [Tractor Loader Backhoe] followed by law enforcement officers—there were police everywhere. When we asked them what was happening it was only then that they told us that we are being evicted. They said they have sent a number of letters notifying us about the eviction and those letters were put under our doors. Honestly that was a shock to us because not a single person confirmed receiving a notice letter,” said Matyila.

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“People were given a chance to remove their furniture but some of the houses were still being built while other people had shacks,” said Matyila.

He said the area was founded in 1987 and it developed over the years. “Since 1994 people have been building houses here, if only they stopped us then maybe people were not going to develop the are. We are getting the municipal services here. We have water and roads are always fixed by municipality.”

Matyila said his house was not demolished but he said that does not mean he is lucky. “We are all living in fear because we do not know when they are going to come back,” he said.

A woman who identified herself as Nosiseko said when her house was demolished while only her children were at home.

“This is very sad and bad. Government has chosen the worse time to kick us out of our homes. I’m traumatised, my two children are not okay as they witnessed all of this while standing on a road alone and I was not even around to comfort them. I don’t even know where we are going to sleep tonight,” said the mother holding back tears.

“We are led by a very cruel government who does not care about the people but themselves. I spent all my savings building on a home for my children. We are facing the pandemic time of covid-19; we are told to stay home but our homes are now demolished,” she said, her hands covering her eyes.

Matyila said there was no accommodation organised for the evicted people. He said as community leaders they will try to find a hall to accommodate those who have no place to stay until they come up with a proper solution.

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National Public Works spokesperson, Lunga Mahlangu, said, “We only demolished new structures, unoccupied structures and structures that were under construction. Those structures fell on the piece of land that is not designated for human settlement, it interferes with the airport runway.”

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