Pain and sorrow were etched on the faces of residents when their shacks and brick houses were torn down by an army of Red Ants in the Kokotela informal settlement, Lawley, Ennerdale, in Johannesburg on Thursday.
Hundreds of Red Ants – who arrived in buses, trucks and vans – descended on the area to execute an order obtained by the City of Johannesburg, which says it is clamping down on illegal land invasions.
Johannesburg Metro Police Department, police and SA National Defence Force members monitored the demolition which left many people homeless.
The City accuses residents of illegally invading the land.
Among those left homeless was a woman who had built a seven-bedroom house.
She watched with tears running down her face as an excavator tore down her house.
It took the excavator less than a minute to destroy it.
It then moved on to one of the biggest brick houses in the area.
Without hesitation, the owner jumped into his car, which was parked outside, and sped off as he could not watch as his house was being demolished.
‘Today I am homeless’
The excavator then headed to France Botlhokwane’s brick house.
Botlhokwane, who stood next to his BMW as his house was torn down, said: “This is wrong. We miss Herman Mashaba. If he was still our mayor, these demolitions would not be happening.
“I have been here since last year and bought this land for R3 000. I have spent over R150 000 to build what was meant to be a house for my family. Today, I am homeless and myself, wife and children will spend the night inside our car.”
He said he was renting a shack in Lawley when he was persuaded to come to Kokotela and build a house.
He claimed: “We were never informed by Mayor Geoff Makhubo in advance that they were coming to destroy our homes. We are in a lockdown and I thought that my family would be safe indoors, now we are forced to live on the street,” added Botlhokwane.
His neighbour, David Molomo who also owns a BMW, simply drove his car out of his garage before his two-bedroom house, which has a garage, was demolished.
“What can we do? We are helpless and we don’t have a place to sleep tonight. We paid R3 000 to live here. Those who took our money must refund us.
“I don’t know where I am going spend the night. I can’t return back home in Mapetla Extension in Soweto. I have no place to sleep. I will have to make a plan where I am going to spend the night,” Molomo said.
Paul Malgas’ shack was also not spared.
Malgas arrived in Kokotela in October last year.
He claimed he had spent R3 000 to buy corrugated iron sheets to erect his shack.
Unemployed and homeless
“They destroyed my shack and they also took away my corrugated irons sheets. Where are they taking my things to? I pleaded with them to leave my property on the ground after destroying my shack and they refused.
“I am unemployed and homeless and I have no alternative place to stay during this lockdown. The government should have given us more time to remove our structures before they destroyed them,” said Malgas.
Mozambican national Carlos Chauke said he had been living in the area for three years, but he was one of the lucky ones since his shack was not destroyed.
Chauke said they relied on communal toilets and water taps.
“I knew that the police were coming. We have been living here for a long time. There were few shacks. Since last year, more people started arriving in the area to join us.
“Now, our homes are at risk because of them. Some of them bought parcels of land for R3 000 and above and those who sold the land have disappeared with their money. They are not here to negotiate with the police to stop the demolition,” said Chauke.
Makhubo’s spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, said the City was clamping down on land invasion.
“The City of Johannesburg has taken a decision to clamp down on the illegal invasion of land within the City. The City is observing a worrying trend in recent days, where criminal syndicates are using the national lockdown to invade open spaces and land.
“Individuals have been spotted in the Lawley area erecting structures illegally and the operation seeks to prevent this activity. Only vacant and half-built structures will be removed during this operation,” Ndamase said.
He urged residents to heed the warning and refrain from unlawful activities within the City.
“The City has directed the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and Group Forensics and Investigative Services to act swiftly to protect the assets of the City and private citizens for the greater interests of all citizens, including the poor and homeless.
“The City, working together with the provincial Department of Social Development, has made provision for homeless people across the City. Therefore, we will not tolerate unlawful invasions under the false pretence or narrative that people are homeless.
“The City is concerned that people are using this lockdown period to take advantage of the law by illegally invading land,” said Ndamase.
He also called on people to work with the City and adhere to the laws governing the country and not act in an unlawful manner that might result in the demolition of illegal structures and possible arrests.
“Joburg residents are reminded to observe the regulations and the lockdown pronounced by the president and accept that no illegal behavior will be tolerated during this period. Law enforcement will continue o be increased during this period and beyond,” Ndamase said.