Community forcibly removed in 2011 languishes in transit camp

In 2011, the informal settlement of Bhungeni in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape was demolished to make way for a shopping mall and the residents were relocated to a transit camp erected by the Department of Human Settlements. They remain to this day in this camp they called Eugene and no shopping mall has been built on the land they vacated.

Around 2010 a developer approached Mnquma Local Municipality with a plan to build a shopping mall in Butterworth. The land that the municipality identified for construction of the shopping mall, however, was already occupied. The people living there called the settlement Bhungeni.

The residents received letters from the municipality stating that they must vacate their homes and relocate to land near the river. They refused to comply because the alternative plot of land was prone to flooding. Instead, the municipality should relocate them to a place close to shops, schools and clinics they demanded.

In March 2011, two bulldozers arrived early in the morning at the settlement while people were still asleep and proceeded to demolish shacks.

Resident Nomabali Mzwakali (35) says they were surprised to see the bulldozers in the morning. “Municipality took us as if we were refusing to leave the land. We were not refusing but we were asking to be in the place were resources are closer to us. We spent almost 2 days sleeping in the open space. I think in the third day, we were taken to an old abandoned factory. So we spent weeks there. Then Human Settlements built temporary structures for us near the river. We called the place Eugene. Our government said we were going to spend only six months here but we’re still here,” she said.

She feels that government has forgotten about them.

“We are still here. Service delivery is very bad for us. We do not have electricity; we still use paraffin in order to cook. This place is very cold and most of the people who died here died because of cold weather. We were given toilets but those toilets were overflowing because our government does look after them. So we were relieving ourselves in the bushes. Taps were very few. We noticed that our government does not care for us. But government of the ANC when they want votes they come to us. When we want services delivery they keep promising. Then we decided to approach Democratic Alliance to fix our problems. DA installed more taps for us and clean our toilets that were blocked. Now we no longer relieving ourselves in the bushes. DA was here two weeks ago,” she said.

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Resident Bandile Mpuqa (50) complained about an ongoing problem of leaking drains. “Mosquitoes give us tough time because of these leaking drains. And we are worried about snakes here. There are huge snakes that come from the bushes and from the river. We wish government can fast-track our issue,” he said.

The shopping mall has not been built and the land where Bhungeni stood remains vacant.

Eastern Cape Human Settlements spokesperson, Lwandile Sicwetsha says they are still looking for land on which to build RDP houses where these people can settle.

“We are working together with Mnquma Local Municipality trying to get land for the people of Eugene,” he said.

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