The residents of Marievale, a village between Nigel and Springs on the East Rand, yesterday demonstrated outside the High Court in Pretoria, where they sought a court order forcing the defence force to either restore them to their homes, or pay them to find alternative housing.
Acting for the residents, Lawyers for Human Rights argued that the SA National Defence Force’s conduct of forcefully evicting the residents from their homes in November, without a court order or proper eviction proceedings, had been unlawful.
Most of the residents were originally linked to the military base at Marievale but as the military staff diminished over the years, more civilians moved in.
The civilians were first issued with eviction notices in 2009 but complained to the SA Human Rights Commission, which warned the defence minister at the time that evictions without a court order would be illegal.
The defence force had said it was establishing a regiment at the Marievale military base and needed the housing units for members and their families.
The residents were again issued with a notice in 2015, but the evictions didn’t proceed after the DA’s Kobus Marais intervened.
According to the residents, the defence force in November last year took the law into their own hands, using violent means, intimidation and threats to force them out of their homes. Some said they were forced to leave their valuables behind and the eviction left them destitute.
The defence force insisted the residents were not forced but had vacated the properties voluntarily. It said some soldiers were allowed to sublet properties and civilians were allowed to settle there – some of them for years – because of “an oversight”.
But Judge Norman Davis wanted to know if this “oversight” allowed the military to resort to “might and armed soldiers” rather than to proper eviction procedures.
Davis said the defence force’s version that the civilians just one morning packed up and suddenly left could not be accepted.
The defence force said none of the civilians were military members; their occupation of the residences was unlawful; and that it was undesirable for civilians to live in a military camp. It also said it was not their task to provide alternative housing to the civilians.
Davis is expected to deliver his judgment on the matter next week.