Residents of Olievenhoutbosch Ext 27 in Centurion will not be celebrating Freedom Day.
Court battles loom to have them evicted from RDP houses, meant for residents from an informal settlement more than 11 kilometres away.
Earlier this month, the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements approached the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria for an order allowing them to remove illegal occupiers from 888 low-cost houses built in Olievenhoutbosch Ext 27, following an ongoing feud.
The residents caught wind of the court application and pitched up to oppose it. It was originally set down on the unopposed court roll.
The department says these houses are meant for residents from the Mooiplaas informal settlement, which means that, if evicted, the Olievenhoutbosch residents will have to return to their shacks.
“I will be dead. They will only remove me when I am breathless, not whilst I am living and kicking,” said Olievenhoutbosch resident Alpha Hadebe, who moved into one of the RDP houses late last year.
“How do you [build] houses in Olievenhoutbosch and then expect people living in Olievenhoutbosch to continue living in and renting shacks and not have the right or access to those houses?“
“If some people want to go, they are more than welcome”.
“I am not going anywhere. I am a South African, born and bred. We all have as much right to be here as anyone else.”
Hadebe added that, if people were forced out of the houses, it would not only be an insult, but a human rights violation and that people would have to return to the indignity of living in a shack.
When asked whether he would be celebrating Freedom Day, Hadebe asked how he was supposed to celebrate turmoil.
“I know what the date means and the history behind it. However, how must I celebrate when facing possible eviction?”
‘No freedom for our families’
Olievenhoutbosch community leader Peter Seolela explained to News24 that their fight was not with the people of Mooiplaas and that there were land and houses for residents of the informal settlement in another area.
He explained that Olievenhoutbosch residents believed they were the rightful owners of those RDP houses and that there were more people in Olievenhoutbosch who were waiting for housing that they were promised several years ago.
“There is no way you can remove people from Olievenhoutbosch because the houses are meant for Olievenhoutbosch,” said Seolela.
“The Olievenhoutbosch community will never leave those houses; they were promised those houses and actually still need more.”
According to Seolela, the government had promised to build around 4 500 RDP houses in the latest phase of development in the township. However, less than 1 000 have been completed, including those meant for Mooiplaas residents.
Seolela took News24 to a small informal settlement in the heart of Olievenhoutbosch, where more than 130 residents were living in shacks, without toilets or running water.
Residents here say they have been waiting for houses promised since 1999.
One man, who did not want to be named, likened the size of shacks to that of a jail cell.
“We have families, but we can’t bring them to visit us. We don’t have freedom with our families. We are being detained in our country,” he said.
“We can’t raise our voices, because every time they promise and promise, but nothing is ever done.”
More houses to be built
Spokesperson of the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements Keith Khoza told News24 that to date, 1 000 houses have been built in Olievenhoutbosch ext 27 and that an additional 657 houses would still be built.
He said initial estimations showed that 4 500 houses could be built, but when a detailed planning process was done, it showed only 1 675 houses could be built.
Khoza said the ext 27 project was developed to cater for the residents of Olievenhoutbosch and Mooiplaas informal settlements, but that people of Olievenhoutbosch do not want Mooiplaas residents to be allocated houses in the area.
“Despite the court order that people from Mooiplaas should also benefit, currently 888 houses have been invaded and the department has applied for a court order, which firstly interdicts further invasion of the houses and secondly [allows for the eviction of] the people who are unlawfully occupying the properties,” said Khoza.
He added that the department was also conducting physical verification on the 888 illegally-occupied houses to establish who were in the houses and who qualified or not, for the purpose of eviction orders.
Last month, Gauteng Premier David Makhura visited the Mooiplaas informal settlement. He told residents that they would be moved because they could not build houses on the site where the settlement was located. A geo-technical report had revealed that most of the land was dolomitic.
However, he assured residents that they would be moved to other developed land where people who qualify for RDP houses would receive homes, which included those built in Olievenhoutbosch.
Khoza said the department bought the Mooiplaas land, despite knowing that it was highly dolomitic, in order to comply with a court order.
“The department was not aware that the land was dolomitic. The geo-technical studies were done before the purchase.”