Disabled immigrants evicted from Joburg building by Operation Dudula

“Everything was lost during the eviction. Now I sleep with my children in a room with many others” says mother

By Kimberly Mutandiro

16 February 2023

About 40 families forcefully evicted from the Ellis Park building, allegedly by Operation Dudula members, are now sharing two small rooms in an old building in Joburg’s city centre. Photos: Kimberly Mutandiro

The recent spate of attacks on immigrant communities in and around Johannesburg’s inner-city has forced human rights advocacy group, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), to prepare litigation against members of Operation Dudula.

According to Zolile Shude, a candidate attorney at SERI, they will be filing court papers with supporting affidavits from some of the many victims targeted by Operation Dudula.

This follows the “violent” and “forceful” mass eviction, allegedly by Operation Dudula members, of about 400 people from the Ellis Park building, also known as Msibi House in Doornfontein in December.

“The eviction was very violent. We are consulting clients and plan to take legal action against Operation Dudula. [Those who were evicted] are now scattered across the Joburg CBD. Dudula as an organisation is difficult because we have little information about who they are,” said Shude.

Shude said that Dudula is not above the law, despite the movement’s claims that it wants to “restore order” by conducting these illegal evictions.

“They are conducting illegal evictions without considering that the Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) exists. But with Dudula it’s not just evictions, it’s turning people away from healthcare, it’s chasing children out of school, stopping informal traders and all of these things which are violent and unconstitutional.

“All of these things are happening in front of the police who are said to be doing nothing. We are concerned and will try and see what is possible legally going forward,” said Shude.

GroundUp recently visited a group of 40 families who were among 400 people forcefully evicted from the Ellis Park building. They say members of Operation Dudula raided the building while assaulting mostly immigrant people, confiscating their furniture and many other belongings.

The people we visited, mostly women and children, say they had nowhere to go and are now squatting in two rooms in a building on Jeppe Street. Inside the rooms are piles of bags filled with whatever they could grab during the chaotic eviction. The remaining space in the rooms is shared at night, with several of them also sleeping in the passage outside too.

Operation Dudula spokesperson Zandile Dambula promised to respond to our questions sent to her via WhatsaApp on 30 January and again on 15 February but did not do so.

Occupied Msibi building

According to the City of Johannesburg, Msibi House is owned by a company called Purple Fountain Prop 59 Pvt Ltd. GroundUp has not been able to find direct contact information for the building owners. When this reporter contacted the law firm representing them, the firm refused to share client information.

According to an eviction application dated November 2018 against the occupiers and the City of Johannesburg as respondents, the building owners first filed papers to have the group removed in 2011. This application was opposed by the occupiers who requested that the City assist by providing them with alternative accommodation.

The document states that in March 2013, the City told the court that it first needed to compile a report, assessing the personal circumstances of each occupant before it can decide how best to assist the group.

In its report based on “limited information” the City found that about 480 people, of which about 30 were young children at the time, lived in the building. But in January 2014, the City told the court that it was unable to roll out temporary emergency housing facilities as its implementation was being challenged in a different court case.

This is all the belongings the families were able to grab from their homes during the “chaotic” eviction in December.

“As a consequence of the City’s ‘stay’ application, no further action was taken in this matter until July 2018 when the case was re-enrolled. The City then conducted an occupancy audit in August 2018 and discovered that the five-storey building had no electricity or running water. Occupants were using public toilets and taps across the street,” the court document read.

The City also found that the building was predominantly occupied by Zimbabwean nationals, but “a large number of occupants were reluctant to be assessed, likely out of fear they could be detained or reported to Home Affairs”. The document states that the City argued that the non-citizens in the building be given until January 2019 to respond.

Lawyers at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), representing the immigrant families, obtained an interim order before the lockdown was implemented for Covid to prevent the eviction because no alternative accommodation had been provided.

LRC attorney Shaatirah Hassim said, “The interim court order is therefore still effective to date. The court did not grant an order to evict the occupants, which means the eviction by Dudula was illegal.”

The Eviction

Occupiers say Dudula members handed out written warnings for them to vacate the building early in December which they ignored. But late on 17 December, they said unknown men stormed the building, forcing people out of the units. The families say despite reporting this to the police, they received no help.

Many of the people who were in the building are visually impaired, disabled and survive by begging on city streets.

One of the occupants, Hilda Rubatika, said she is still traumatised. She said she had lived in the building for 12 years. She became tearful as she recounted the events on the day of their eviction.

“I remember coming home to a lot of commotion. People were screaming as they ran for their lives. I ran upstairs and was only able to salvage a few bags before members of Dudula came to beat and chase me away. Some furniture and groceries were left behind never to be recovered,” she said. “We made so many memories and raised children there but all was lost in one night.”

She and her husband are currently living in one of the two rooms with nineteen others.

Another occupant, Susan Tasariravona, was forced out of her home with her two children, one of whom is disabled. Her plan was to go home in December with a few savings and groceries she had saved from begging at robots. “Everything was lost during the eviction. Now I sleep with my children in a room with many others. I tried to go back to the building just to ask for my children’s clothing and diapers, but I was threatened and told to go back to Zimbabwe,” Tasariravona said.

Margaret Maushe and her children had lived in the building for ten years. She is a wheelchair user and survived by asking motorists for money to feed her children.

Margaret Maushe lived in the building with her children for ten years. She remembers how people kicked her room open and ordered her and her children out of the room. She said that she was unable to move because of her disability, but they insisted that she leave.

Maushe claims that her children were assaulted as her neighbours assisted her out of the building. “I even left my wheelchair there and am unable to go to the robots to ask motorists for money and cannot raise money for rent [at the room she shares with other occupants in a separate building],” Maushe said.

Hassim, the LRC attorney, said they were informed that members of Dudula never disclosed who had sent them nor did they provide any written authorisation. “LRC is now planning ligation to get those stranded occupants back to the building,” she said.

Some occupiers are also being assisted by Bishop Paul Verryn of the Methodist Church. The organisation, Zimbabwe Isolated Women In South Africa (ZIWISA), has been providing the residents with food and helping them register for repatriation. “It’s not easy for anyone to be evicted to homelessness. I’m planning to consult with the City to see if they can assist with accommodation for the evictees,” Verryn said.

City of Johannesburg spokesperson, Nthatisi Modingoane, told GroundUp that the City was not aware of the eviction nor any court order to evict the occupants.

When asked about the request for alternative accommodation, Modingoane said, “The City does provide alternative accommodation in eviction matters as ordered by the courts. An eviction order is being sought by the owner, and as usual the City is the respondent. Out of the 132 households, 95% consists of undocumented foreign nationals.”

Madingoane said the City was not aware of protests or activities by Operation Dudula where immigrants operate around the city.

Gauteng Police Spokesperson, Dimakatso Sello, said, “With regards to allegations that police turn a blind eye when crime is committed, the public is urged to report such complaints to 0824422000 so that investigation and disciplinary actions can be instituted against such members.”