South Africa: Dumped and Abandoned – the fate of those evicted from downtown Johannesburg

Around 300 people evicted five years ago by the city of Johannesburg say they were abandoned and forgotten by the city.

They have been moved to a site near Wembley Stadium where they live in a tent camp and a dilapidated building with poor sanitary conditions.

The Institute for Social Economic Rights, which represents most of them, says it is trying to get the City to provide services.

The City says this is a temporary emergency accommodation site for 12 months and will evict them in due course.

Just off Turffontein Road, next to Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg, a rubbish-strewn gravel path leads to what has become known as the Wembley Shelter (not to be confused with the homeless shelter at the Wembley Stadium run by NPO). There are trenches with urine and feces.

In an open space there are tents and makeshift huts, and in front of the tent camp is an old brick building. It is the squalid home of around 300 people – Tanzanians, Malawians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and a few South Africans – expelled five years ago by the city of Johannesburg and ‘dumped’ here. Some street homeless people have also moved into the building.

People share tents and rooms, dividing personal space with curtains. They depend on informal electrical connections. There is no proper sanitation. In the building the toilets are blocked; dirty bathrooms. Outside, five chemical toilets shared by the community are often full.

Most residents are unemployed. Many jostle in the streets to earn a living.

Most were evicted in 2016 from “mnyama ndawo” buildings in the city center. More than 250 people were evicted from Fattis Mansions along Harrison Street. They are represented by the Economic and Social Rights Institute (SERI). Others, evicted from the Cape York Building in Hillbrow and other buildings, have no legal representation.

According to SERl, the evictees were placed here when the High Court ordered the City to provide temporary emergency accommodation. Five years later, they are still in the “shelter” with few prospects.

SERI lawyer candidate Tebogo Tshelo, who handled residents evicted from Fattis mansions from 2017 to 2021, says efforts to get the city to provide better housing and services have been in vain.

An asylum seeker from Zimbabwe who shares a room with four family members said: “To think that we used to have houses of our own… The conditions we live in are not even suitable for animals.

“The city was ordered to give us a safe place to live, but now we have thieves and drug addicts living with us…Houses are being broken into and some drug addicts have been found dead,” he said. he declares.

“All we want is to live with dignity. Every day we miss our old homes and we wish we could go back there, but that is no longer possible,” he said.

Samuel Myanda, his wife Lebogang and their two children had their home broken into earlier this year and their belongings stolen. They had registered for an RDP home years ago before the eviction.

They survive by selling second-hand clothes. Myanda says he applied but was not approved for a Covid grant.

A Tanzanian man, who lives with his South African partner and their three children, is struggling — like many others — to renew his asylum papers because of the closure of the Johannesburg refugee center. The couple want to get married.

“We have big dreams. But how can those dreams come true living in a place like this? We have people urinating and defecating everywhere. The City has promised to make our place here worthwhile worth it, but it’s the exact opposite,” he said.

They survive by running a stall in central Johannesburg.

SERI’s Khululiwe Bengu said: “It has become a common problem around Joburg. There are several shelters where the city has left evictees without services.

But Nthatisi Modingoane, the city’s spokesman, said there was no other facility to move them to. “The City is continually renovating the restrooms and living conditions. Unfortunately, they are being vandalized by the people who live in the facility.”

Modingoane said the facility was temporary emergency accommodation (TEA) and was only intended for 12 months, during which time people would have had to find their own accommodation.

“The city will initiate the eviction process in due course, so the facility can be made available to the next group of evictees who need AMEs.”

“It should further be clarified that 95% of the residents of the facility are undocumented foreigners,” Modingoane said. “Several attempts were made by the city and internal affairs in conjunction with their embassies to help them with documents. Unfortunately, they rejected the help.”

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