Less than a month since Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu made public assurances that no evictions would take place during the lockdown, her local government counterparts have done the opposite, with some having enlisted Red Ant Security Relocation & Eviction Services to forcibly remove people deemed to have occupied land illegally.
Scenes of communities being removed without being offered alternative accommodation in some parts of the country have led to a human rights body, the Anti-Repression Working Group (ARWG), appealing in a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Covid-19 National Command Council for intervention.
ARWG said South Africa experienced an upsurge in “alarming incidences of state violence and unlawful mass evictions of vulnerable people”.
“It does not give municipalities and security forces licence to use this disaster as an opportunity to exert power over the powerless,” said ARWG spokesperson Thato Masiangoako.
He said evictions were most prevalent in Cape Town, eThekwini and Gauteng.
“We appeal to the president to direct the Minister of Cooperative Governance, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to notify all local governments to halt all evictions,” said Masiangoako.
Human settlements spokesperson McIntosh Polela said: “The minister is currently in Cape Town, engaging the stakeholders and assisting the people that have been left homeless and destitute as a result of what happened in Makhaza.
“The information the minister was given was that those people were backyard dwellers who were kicked out by landlords in the informal settlements because they could not afford to pay the rent.
“They then tried to occupy empty shacks and were prevented from doing so by the police.
“People should not use the regulations to invade land. Municipalities will be right to prevent them from doing so.”
In recent weeks, Sisulu has been engaging mayors and councillors during a crusade to ensure evictions were suspended during the lockdown.
Her appeal included property owners.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga blamed the latest evictions on government’s failure to provide shelter to homeless communities.
“Whether government evicts people or not, it will always remain with the problem of communities, who need closer monitoring during the lockdown,” he said.
“If there were adequate temporary shelters for the homeless, government would be able to focus on managing communities confined in one identifiable area.
“Practically, government is not in a position to evict people because it has no arrangement to provide temporary shelters.
“If we had such shelters, we would manage homeless communities better and would be able to enforce some form of social distancing, including other lockdown regulations.”