School land occupiers demand relocation to serviced sites

East London shack dwellers say they won’t move unless it is somewhere with water, electricity and toilets

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

26 May 2023

About 300 families in Nompumelelo, East London, have built shacks and occupied land earmarked to build the new Floradale Intermediate School. Photo: Manqulo Nyakombi

About 300 families in Nompumelelo, East London, have built shacks and occupied land earmarked for the new Floradale Intermediate School.

The current school, the only primary school in Nompumelelo, has over 1,260 learners from grade R to grade 7. They are taught in temporary classrooms, in an old building and a shipping container.

School governing body (SGB) member Angelina Besti says the classrooms are overcrowded and some learners don’t even have desks.

Eastern Cape Department of Education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima says the department has been battling since 2011 to get its land back, and Buffalo City Metro Municipality must take responsibility for relocating the families.

In 2010, there were fewer than 50 shacks.

The occupiers say they will leave only if they are relocated to serviced sites.

“This is a very frustrating situation,” said Besti. “For years we have been asking the department to build us a bigger school … This is the third time the department offers to build the school and we are told that if the people do not move the school will be moved to Beacon Bay. That place is very far away.”

Last week, the shack dwellers protested, demanding that Ward 15 Councillor Nwabisa Mcwabeni (ANC) find alternative land for them with water, toilets and electricity. Currently the families share 12 toilets and rely on illegal connections for electricity.

Community leader Thembisa Sotashe said she has been living in the informal settlement since 2014. She bought an existing shack on the land.

“I was aware that the department had plans to build the school on this land,” she said. “One thing that needs to be clear is that we all want the school. We have children who are studying in Floradale. If the school is moved, we will all suffer. That is why we asked our ward councillor to speak with Buffalo City so they can find us other land.”

“Instead of helping he is threatening to send law enforcement officers to evict us,” she said.

“We will move and the department will get its land back as long as we are taken to a place where there is water, toilets and electricity,” she said.

But Mcwabeni said the issue predates his term as councillor and previous incumbents had failed to resolve it.

“I told the people to go back to backyards, but they are refusing, demanding to be moved to serviced land. Sad truth is that there’s no land for them to be moved.”

“The occupiers are led by an EFF councillor who keeps on telling them that it’s their constitutional right that we find the people other land,” he said. “As much as we are not denying that, those people moved there knowing that this is Eastern Cape Department of Education land and not the municipality’s.”

EFF councillor Songezo Nkungwini said, “They voted for him [Mcwabeni], not me; it’s him who must find a place for the people.”

Mtima said the department is ready to start the construction of the school but it is waiting for the municipality to relocate the families.

Municipality spokespeople Bathandwa Diamond and Samkelo Ngwenya have not replied to our questions.