Winning hearts and minds with a bulldozer

This time a year ago, my former neighbour S’bu Sithole was in court. Nkunzi was in trouble. Sekithini Nxumalo, a 60-year-old woman from Siyanda had taken Nkunzi and the municipality to court. Again.

The first time Nxumalo took eThekwini to court was in 2009. Mike Sutcliffe was city manager then. That was after the city had moved her to a transit camp at Richmond Farm. The city wanted the land Nxumalo and 36 other families were living on for a housing development called Kulula.

Nxumalo got a court order forcing Sithole and Mayor James Nxumalo – they aren’t related – to give her and her neighbours a house in the new development within 12 months.

In the meantime, they had to live in the transit camp. It’s an awful place. A clutter of construction trailers.

Two portaloos that don’t work. One tap.

The city ignored the order. The houses went to people who weren’t involved in the shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. Who were reliable voters. Nxumalo and company were left to rot at Richmond Farm. For three years.

Nxumalo lawyered up. Again. She eventually got another court order forcing Nkunzi to honour the original court order. Or face time in the slammer.

The city agreed. Sort of. The city offered Nxumalo a house. Not at Kulula, though. Even though another 70 serviced sites have been cleared.

The city wants to move Nxumalo about 40km to the south of the city. But isn’t willing to tell her exactly where.

Nxumalo’s having none of this. She’s gone back to court. Again.

Nxumalo’s not the only one to head-butt Nkunzi in court. Cebisile Sibiya from Cato Crest has had Iron Mike 2.0 slapped with a court order.

For bulldozing her shack. Sibiya is in the way of another city housing project. Sibiya also doesn’t vote for Nkunzi’s bosses.

Sibiya got an order saying the city couldn’t bulldoze her home without going to court first. The city sent in the heavies anyhow. Four times in a two-week period.

The city’s out of order with Nxumalo. And Sibiya. It’s a cynical, vicious abuse of power. And a very weird way of winning hearts and minds.

Especially in an election year.

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