FEATURE | JOHANNESBURG 

Man dies in raid by Red Ants

Accusations of theft and assault against eviction squad in Ivory Park

Photo of cleared shacks
Scorched earth after the violent evictions at Ivory Park. Photo: Nyoni Mazibuko
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On Monday 22 May, the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) and the Red Ant Security Relocation and Eviction Services (commonly referred to as the Red Ants) arrived to demolish a few hundred new homes erected on a piece of land dividing Ward 133 of Ivory Park and Tembisa townships.

According to Chief Superintendent Wilfred Kgasago, the Department of Human Settlements requested the EMPD to attend to the land occupation and erection of illegal structures. Residents claim that by the end of the day a number of people had been assaulted by the Red Ants. They also claim belongings were stolen, and one person was so badly injured that he died five days later.

The following week, on 31 May, members of Samuel Mabunda’s family sat outside the shack where he had lived in the crowded Mantolo settlement in Extension 7 of Ivory Park.

His family members say he left his shack at 8am as usual to go to the business that he ran out of a small tin structure next to the Swazi Inn shopping centre, cutting hair and repairing shoes. The 40-year-old from Mozambique had been running this business in Ivory Park since 1997. He used the money he earned to support his wife and two young children in Mozambique and, together with his older brother, supported an extended family network. He had nothing to do with the land occupation, but after seeing people running and hearing the commotion, he went to see what was happening.

It is not clear how he got involved, but community members say that he was running away from the Red Ants when he fell. They claim that when they reached him, members of the Red Ants started beating him. They say that when they made attempts to rescue him, they would get shot at with rubber bullets. It was only after about 15 minutes of him lying and bleeding on the ground that they were able to reach him and carry him on a wooden board to a car to be taken to the hospital. He was in theatre twice during the week.

When the family went to visit him on the Saturday, they found his bed closed off with curtains. Staff informed them that he had passed away after succumbing to his injuries. His brother says these included gashes to the head, a sliced-open stomach, and a bullet wound through his left side. (GroundUp is not in a position to confirm this description yet because we have not seen an autopsy report.)

A case of murder has been opened at the Ivory Park police station and is being referred to the Independent Police Complaints Directorate (IPID) in order to investigate the role of the EMPD in Mabunda’s death.

The EMPD’s Wilfred Kgasago says the City of Ekurhuleni is continuing its own investigations as well and that “the City of Ekurhuleni regrets the loss of any life no matter the circumstances.”

Photo of a man with a shaved head showing wounds
A land occupier shows wounds he says were inflicted by members of the Red Ants with a crowbar after they pursued and cornered him. Photo: Andrew Bennie

Violent eviction

Bordering on Tembisa, Ivory Park is a growing township of over 180,000 residents. It was established in 1990 to accommodate shack dwellers from Alexandra township and those who had occupied land in Tembisa.

In December 2016, local EFF members started organising to occupy a long narrow stretch of land between Tembisa and Extension 7 of Ivory Park which runs under Eskom pylons.

But a split soon developed in January 2017, and non-EFF members moved further down the strip. They organised a list of land seekers and a registry system for demarcating small land parcels, extending the occupied land area from Extension 7 through to Extension 10, next to the Swazi Inn shopping centre. They called this new section Extension 4. The land occupiers claim they were left alone by the Red Ants until now.

Land occupiers say that by the time the EMPD and Red Ants arrived on the morning of 22 May to demolish the erected structures, 202 structures were still being constructed, 398 had been completed, and 25 had been moved into, along with belongings, according to their register.

According to residents, nine Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department vehicles arrived at about 8am and told them that they should remove their belongings from their shacks and demolish them as the Red Ants would be arriving later in the day to remove all structures. (The EMPD has confirmed that residents were only told this on the day.)

Residents refused, saying that many people were at work and so had not been given a chance to demolish their shacks and remove their belongings, and that another date should be negotiated for the removal of the structures. In protest, land occupiers sat down on the ground.

According to the land occupiers, the Red Ants arrived at about 11am and rubber bullets were immediately fired at the sitting residents. Chaos broke out as people fled. They blew whistles to call land occupiers from nearby to join the defence of the settlement. (The EMPD has confirmed that rubber bullets and tear gas were used.)

Land occupiers say they tried to stop the Red Ants by throwing rocks at them to defend their structures and the belongings.

“We were trying to stop them … We wanted two weeks at least so we can find another place to go, but they didn’t listen to our cries. They came with a full force,” says Mduduzi, a young man of 23 who has been living with his mother in a rented backyard room in Extension 7 of Ivory Park.

He showed GroundUp gashes on his shaved head and fresh wounds on his torso.

Mduduzi says, “I want my own things, my own house. That’s all I want in my life.”

Lebo, who recently moved into her shack with her two-year-old child, was at work at the time of the evictions. “I heard on the phone that they are messing our houses.”

When she got home, she found the doors she had chained were open. “All my stuff was messed up inside. I tried to pick up documents like my ID, drivers licence, my child’s birth certificate, but I couldn’t because they [Red Ants] were coming, running and beating us, so I left everything and ran away so I could save my life. Because they didn’t want to talk or to tell us take your stuff and move. They were just attacking us.”

Mugged by Red Ants 

This is when the battle began. Residents claim that live ammunition was used, but the EMPD denies this.

The Red Ants chased people into adjacent streets where they fled into people’s yards and homes.

Zelda, who lives on a street near the land occupation, says that she came home to find the window of the shack she rents in a backyard smashed, the roof caved in, and part of one side ripped away. She was told by a neighbour that the Red Ants had tried to get to a land occupier who had fallen through the roof.

The neighbour said the Red Ants demanded cellphones and that they eventually made off with her cellphone chargers.

Siyamtanda said she had just taken her morning bath when her mother told her what was happening. She went to the gate to take a look. Young men entered their yard for cover and continued throwing stones. The Red Ants charged and forced their way in.

“They started doing a body search of me and touched my private parts, demanding money and cellphones and they eventually assaulted me with the crowbar,” she said.

Other residents reported similar incidents, including the Red Ants stealing belongings like cellphones. Similar allegations have been made against the Red Ants at other evictions and police have found stolen goods on their vehicles

After dismantling the structures, the Red Ants burned the wooden poles and frames.

The Red Ants are a private security and eviction company, often hired by the cities of Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg to undertake evictions. The company has not responded to repeated requests for comments on the allegations.

Organisers say that they ferried 21 injured people to the Tembisa Provincial Hospital in two Toyota Venture taxis that their owners had made available. According to the hospital, only three people were admitted for treatment. The hospital also confirmed the passing of one patient and said that the other two were put in ICU.

Samuel Mabunda’s family are dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, trying to figure out how to raise the thousands of rands needed to purchase a coffin and transport his body to his waiting wife and children in Mozambique, and hoping that legal justice will prevail.

“They were supposed to come just to demolish the shacks, but not to kill. So our wish is that the law must take its course and the people who killed Samuel must answer to their actions,” says his brother.

Letters

Dear Editor

I am concerned that I do not read anywhere in the article that the City of Ekurhuleni had obtained a court order against the residents of Ext 7 and that the Red Ants were acting in terms of the court order. If this is not so, the absence of an eviction order exacerbates the conduct of the Red Ants and the Metro Police because in that case the eviction is illegal.

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