Ses’khona leaders rendered homeless

| Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik
A community member clearing what is left at Esther Mbotshwa’s shack on Thursday. Picture by Masixole Feni.

Three Ses’khona leaders from Mfuleni Garden City informal settlement were left homeless after residents demolished their shacks on Saturday, accusing them of “selling” open spaces.

The three – Mxolisi “Advocate” Mqunquto, Thembile George and Esther Mbotshwa – are accused of selling plots for between R7,000 and R25,000.

Residents told GroundUp that they were fed-up and that chasing the three away was the only solution to the problem.

Garden City is a small informal settlement next to the Mfuleni Bardale area. The land was once used as a military camp before it was relocated to Town Two. Residents occupied the land in 1992. The area has been led by different community leaders over the years, some of whom have refused to step down.

Problems seem to have started when George and Mququtho were elected to a steering committee to lead projects in the area. A meeting was held in Bardale Community Hall on 6 June. Shacks were to be numbered in the area and electricity supplied. The meeting ended in chaos as some of the residents marched out of the hall disputing the outcome. City officials were understood however to have acknowledged the newly elected committee.

Thembile George standing on the open ground where his shack was demolished. Picture by Masixole Feni.

Leaders’ homes demolished

On 13 June, a decision was taken to demolish the shacks of Mququto, George and Mbotshwa. Residents claimed the three, who are also Ses’khona leaders, abused their power as community leaders by demanding to be paid for their services. A number of community meetings had been held before a decision to kick the three out of the area was taken.

George said he was watching soccer with his wife Mawande Nongwane when residents demolished his shack. They heard people singing outside, “we demand our rights”. A large stone was thrown at the window.

Nongwane, who was heavily pregnant, said she quickly rushed to close the door, while George called the police. When the police arrived, the group ran away, but some of the shack sheets had been removed.

GroundUp found Mququto’s belongings, beds, table and some clothes covered with zinc sheets.

George is now living in his relative’s house, not far from the area, while Mququto and Mbotshwa said they are living in the bush with their families.

Mququtho said, “I had to take my four kids out of school … We have no place to stay.

On Wednesday 17 June, 11 people handed themselves over to Blue Downs police, but the case was dropped at Blue Downs Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. On Friday 19 June, two more people were arrested, but charges were withdrawn on Monday.

Anele Stuurman claims he paid R25,000 for an open space. Picture by Masixole Feni.

Allegations against the three leaders

On Thursday (18 June), GroundUp went to meet the residents. Within minutes, about 30 residents, who were party to the demolishing of the shacks, gathered. Among them were three residents who claim they bought open spaces from George, Mququto and Mbotshwa.

Anele Sturman said he had paid R25,000 to George and Mququto. He said the two had promised to organise him an electricity box.

“I was desperate for a place to stay, that is why I paid them all the money,” he said.

Sandile Zokufa said he had paid R8,000 for his space.

He told GroundUp that the money was to make sure that he was not bothered by the City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit (ALIU).

A woman who asked not to be named said she had bought a shack from her cousin in January this year. She said the shack was old, so she needed to extend it.

“I went to the municipal offices and an official there contacted George. They both came to my house and told me to pay R5,000 if I wanted to extend the house … I paid them the money. We were at Esther’s house,” she said.

Another resident, Sinethemba Jokomba, also claims to have paid R7,000 to George and Mququto. He laid criminal charges against them after he found out that other residents didn’t pay a cent for the spaces they were given.

He told GroundUp that he was living in a very small shack. His two brothers had joined his family and the shack could not accommodate them all.

“My neighbour advised me to go to the community leaders – George, Advocate and Esther. I told them that I needed a bigger space and I had seen three open spaces that I thought I could use,” said Jokomba.

He said the meeting was held at Mququto’s friend’s house.

“I have witnesses; my brothers and Mququto’s friend were part of the meeting. They first asked for R16,000. I told them it was too much. George was my neighbour at the time. He said I can pay R7,000 upfront, then I will finish the rest later,” said Jokomba.

He asked his boss for R3,000 and added R4,000 he’d saved in the bank. He gave the money to George and Mququtho in a white envelope.

Things got ugly when the leaders failed to deliver.

Jokombo said it was last year in March when he bought the space. He moved in August, only after he threatened George and Mququto with witchcraft.

“I found out that they sold the same space to other people. If I didn’t threaten them with witchcraft, I was not going to get the space,” he said.

Jokombo said the case he opened was dropped after he failed to go to court.

“When I got the SMS about my case I didn’t understand it. I thought I was going to get some explanation. I think I received at least three messages, with no proper explanation. I only noticed Blue Downs police. I ended up deleting the messages. I then got a call from a police saying I must come to Blue Downs court immediately. I was at work. I could not leave at that time. I told him I will come the next day. I then got an SMS saying charges were withdrawn. It was only then I realised that the messages I deleted were about the case,” he said.

Jokombo said he still had a bank slip as proof,. None of the residents have slips signed by the three.

Residents said Mququto was not supposed to be living in the area, because he had sold his shack to his neighbour.

Some of the community members who were arrested for demolishing the Ses’khona leaders’ houses in Mfuleni Garden City Informal Settlement. Picture by Masixole Feni.

Ses’khona leaders deny allegations

Mququto said he never sold his shack to anyone. However George told GroundUp that he was aware of the sale, but he was not part of it.

“I was not involved when Mququto sold his shack. It was their agreement,” said George.

The three said they were aware of the allegations, but denied making any “sales”.

“We’ve been telling residents that if they have proof that we are selling spaces they must take it to the police,” said George.

Mbotshwa said she did not want to talk. “I’m in bushes as we speak. How can you expect me to talk about this?” she asked.

As community leaders residents came to them to ask for spaces, she said.

“Some were living in wet areas, some wanted bigger spaces; we gave them for free.”

Mbotshwa said it was their duty to do so.

Councillor accused

The three claim ward councillor Themba Honono is behind the decision to oust them. They said Honono was seen in the area calling a meeting ordering residents to demolish their shacks.

“He’s a lazy councillor, who does not work for the people. He’s using residents to attack us, because he wants to run for a second term as a ward councillor. He knows that most people have lost faith in him, because he’s arrogant,” said George.

Mququto said, “This is personal. It has nothing to do with residents; they are just being used. Honono was there when my house was destroyed; he watched and did nothing.”

“We are a threat to Honono. He knows we always question every decision he takes, that is why he’s after us. I never sold any space, and I know these people who are accusing us. I told them to come with [bank] slips as proof,” he said.

Ward councillor Themba Honono. Picture from City of Cape Town.

Honono denies accusation

Honono said he was called by the residents in Garden City and told of their decision. He said he was aware of the allegations against the three and he had advised residents to lay charges.

“There was a case laid three months ago regarding these allegations,” he said.

Community leader Malibongwe Yisa, who was among the 11 residents who handed themselves to the police last week, said Honono was not behind the decision.

“We should have dealt with these people a long time ago before they destroyed the area,” he said.

Yisa said the Garden City leaders had a meeting with Blue Downs police and asked the station commander to stop sending police to arrest them. He said the way forward was to meet with municipal officials and to assist the victims to get basic services such as electricity.

Police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana, confirmed a case of malicious damage to property was opened for investigation, and that the two suspects arrested on 19 June had appeared at Blue Downs Court on Monday.

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