Cape Town – The SANDF is trying to illegally evict around 600 people living on a run-down military base in Marievale, east of Johannesburg, the chairperson of the resident’s association there alleged on Friday.
“I doubt that the Minister of Defence would approve of this,” said Willie Koekemoer, adding that he had lived at the base since the late 1970s.
“They just told us: ‘I demand that you will leave,'” said Koekemoer. “There were no letters from the court giving us notice, and no eviction order.”
He alleged that on Thursday night, people coming home from work were blocked at the entrance to the base, and made to stand in the cold with their children, while they were threatened with eviction.
Anybody who tried to film of photograph what was happening had their cellphones confiscated and the material deleted, he claimed.
They had found the action terrifying and intimidating, as army vehicles just swooped in to round them up and make them stand outside their houses, without any prior warning.
A group of people, who could not provide documents supporting their right to live in SA, was bundled off to the Dunnottar police station to be charged with contravening immigration law, he added.
Koekemoer said the base used to be a mining village, providing housing for people who worked at the nearby Grootvlei Mine, but had since been taken over by the Department of Public Works to be used by the SA National Defence Force for an engineering regiment.
‘No court order, nothing’
When the engineering regiment moved out, a smaller army regiment settled in, leaving many of the old mining houses vacant.
People like himself, who had lived there for years with their own families, approached the SANDF and secured written permission to carrying on living there and to pay rent, water, and electricity.
Other people also moved in and secured permission to rent.
An army officer was sent from house to house to collect rent in cash, but eventually the residents were told not to pay the money to the officer, after there were accusations of soldiers pocketing the rent for themselves, Koekemoer continued.
A new rental payment system was never established nor was there any billing for utilities.
Two weeks ago, their electricity was cut off and old people and children have had to suffer in the winter cold, he explained.
There have been two previous attempts at evicting them with the proper eviction documents – but both were defeated on the grounds that suitable alternative accommodation was not provided for them, as the Constitution stipulates.
Resident Adri Maree said she had lived there for 10 years, and on Thursday night was suddenly given 24 hours’ notice to move out.
“They can’t do that,” said Maree. “There was no court order, nothing.”
Local councillor Wollaston Labuschagne said he had gone to the Dunnottar police station and saw that 10 people had been arrested in connection with immigration law violations.
He said a truce had been brokered between the SANDF and the residents, and a mass meeting was planned for Sunday to resolve the issue.
Koekemoer speculated that the sudden interest in trying to get them out may be that prospectors had discovered that they were living on top of valuable coal supplies.
SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini denied that anybody was evicted, explaining it was a security access control exercise.
He said they would not need a court’s permission to carry out an eviction if necessary.
“That land is defence land. That is the issue around Marievale. Why should I go and look for an order?”
He said nobody needed permission to evict a person occupying somebody else’s land.
He was unable to say whether the SANDF was exempt from eviction law.