Emalahleni municipality wants to evict families in “illegal” township

Many of the families live in brick and mortar homes. But the municipality says these structures are unlawful and wants them to be demolished

By Masoka Dube

27 February 2024

Children play in the dusty streets of the informal settlement called Santa Village near Ackerville, Mpumalanga. The Emalahleni municipality says these structures were built unlawfully and now wants to evict them and demolish their structures. Photos: Masoka Dube

At first glance, Santa Village near Ackerville in Emalahleni looks like many other townships across Mpumalanga, with rows of weathered brick and mortar homes as well as zinc structures along dusty streets.

But this is in fact an informal settlement with very little to no formalised infrastructure or services.

It’s been about 30 years since many of the families started building their brick and mortar homes on the land, but the Emalahleni Local Municipality has only been trying to evict them for the past two years.

Dudu Kunene and her family are among hundreds of people who call Santa Village home.

According to the court papers submitted by the municipality, the settlement was established unlawfully and the buildings were erected without proper authorisation. It also states that the area is not suitable for housing.

However, Kunene and other community members are refusing to move. Residents say when they first occupied the land, it was just bush and shrubbery.

In August 2023, the municipality applied for an interim eviction order. Residents of Santa Village were given 30 days to demolish their homes and leave the area, but this never happened. The residents are currently fighting their eviction in court. The next court hearing is scheduled for 7 March.

Meanwhile, Kunene who stays with her husband, two children and a grandchild, says they have nowhere else to go should they be forcefully evicted from the municipal-owned land.

The Kunene family say they have spent years saving up to build their six-bedroom home. “I don’t understand how we are going to survive in a new place. The government will never build us decent and reputable houses like the one we are living in at the moment,” says Kunene. The 47-year-old says she has lived in Santa Village since her family moved there when she was about 17.

Another resident, Virginia Shabalala, lives in a five-room house with her husband and their children. She complained that each time they attend court to oppose their eviction, the matter gets postponed because the municipality’s lawyers are not there. She says the case has been postponed three times since September last year.

Some of the brick houses as well as zinc structures in Santa Village.

“We went to court and the case was postponed. The new court date is in a few days, but we aren’t sure if they will attend this time,” she says.

Shabalala also worries about losing her house and wants the municipality to ensure that they will get proper alternative housing before evicting them.

“Rumour has it that the municipality wants to build a fire station hence they want to evict us,” she says.

Shabalala says they have been waiting nearly three decades for the municipality to recognise them and supply them with electricity. Households rely on illegal connections.

They only have a few communal taps, she says. But this is not enough as families have since grown and more people have moved there over the years.

“There are sections where the water no longer comes out of the taps. Currently, many families are forced to share a few taps. This has led to some people making illegal water connections.”

Shabalala, like several other residents we spoke to, are proud of the community they’ve built and vow to fight for their homes.

Municipality’s response

Emalahleni Local Municipality spokesperson Lebohang Mofokeng told GroundUp that the land has been found to not be suitable for human habitation. Mofokeng did not respond to follow-up questions on when the municipality became aware of the existence of Santa Village.

“This informal settlement has been there for many years. The municipal plan was to formalise it through the upgrading of the informal settlements program. But after the feasibility study was undertaken, it was established that the area is unsuitable for human habitation hence the need to acquire alternative land to relocate the whole settlement,” he told GroundUp.

In the founding affidavit submitted to court, municipal manager Humphrey Sizwe Mayisela, said that the municipality had asked the court to grant the eviction and prevent the occupiers from building more structures on the land.

The papers state that the occupiers are being given “more than enough notice” to demolish their structures.

The matter will be argued in court next week.