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Legality of Howell Street evictions questioned

“You cannot evict someone unless you have alternative accommodation, and these people have nowhere to go” says municipality official

Photo of Howell Road evictees
Howell Road evictees outside their former homes with their belongings. Photo: Nomfundo Xolo
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Evictions that began earlier this week are ongoing at Howell Road in Sydenham in Durban.

Howell Road houses are owned by the eThekwini Municipality but administered by a private company called First Metro. The company is responsible for the development and administration of social housing on behalf of the municipality. At least one municipality official and First Metro appear to be at odds over the legality of the evictions. First Metro Housing told GroundUp it has a court order for the evictions. The company would not comment further.

But Des Moodley, Chairperson of the municipality’s Health, Safety and Security Committee said “Until the Rental Housing Tribunal has passed a judgment on what needs to happen, the evictions are illegal. The Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act says that you cannot evict someone unless you have alternative accommodation, and these people have nowhere to go.”

On Tuesday residents burnt tires and barricaded the road with rocks. They are being evicted because they are thousands of rands behind on rent. At least 65 households have been given eviction letters. But the residents believe they are being unfairly charged. Some told GroundUp that the Howell Road housing units, which were established in 2001, formed part of an RDP pilot project. They also believe they are entitled to ownership of the housing units because they have been subsidised by the government.

Tomas Morris, a resident in the unit since 2002 said that they were served with a seven-day eviction notice on 8 August and were expected to vacate their homes by Tuesday. He said: “I was given this house on a subsidy and it was an empty shell with no wiring, piping or furniture. I spent about R40,000 trying to make this a home and I was still forcefully evicted in 2005 for being in arrears of R4,500. When we applied for these houses, they told us we would own the houses after five years. This rent for life was never mentioned. If we leave here, where do we go with our children?”

The residents’ demonstrations and outcries have proved to be futile, with dozens of households now having moved.

On Tuesday armed members of the Municipal Removal Unit (Red Ants) were packing up some of the residents’ belongings and placing them at the bus stop. Some residents were not home and came back to find their belongings exposed and unguarded.

The local ward councillor, Haniff Hassan said that the matter was beyond his jurisdiction as it has been taken to court. He said that as the councillor he cannot “get involved”.

Resident and chairperson of the Howell Road Residents’ Committee, Popo Zungu, said that his committee has a letter from the Chairperson of the municipality’s Human Settlements and Infrastructure Committee, Mondli Mthembu, stating that all evictions should discontinue from 11 July. “The people who have already been evicted can open a criminal case. It’s sad because children are going to come back from school to a situation like this,” Zunga said.

GroundUp has been unable to contact Mthembu for comment.

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