On Thursday, police in Durban used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse an angry crowd of Foreman Road residents, who picketed in the streets after eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede failed to arrive for a meeting with the community.
Residents of the Foreman Road informal settlement in Durban were promised building materials and the chance to plan a way forward with the mayor after a devastating fire razed about 800 homes, killing a family of three, over the weekend. When the community learned the mayor had cancelled her visit to the area on Thursday, they blockaded Clare Road in Clare Estate in anger. Residents used the burnt corrugated iron from their shacks, dustbins and rubbish to block the road.
At least six police vehicles, both metro and SAPS, arrived on the scene to monitor the situation. Following negotiations between police and representatives from shackdwellers’ movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo (AbM), police asked the residents to clear their blockades. Residents refused to move, saying they wanted municipal officials to address them. When the police told them the mayor was not coming to the community, they became angrier and defied police orders to disperse. The standoff ended when police started firing teargas and rubber bullets at protesters.
According to AbM representative, Mqapheli Bonono, some people sustained minor injuries from the rubber bullets.
“We have a few people who are injured but no one was badly hurt,” he said.
In the Foreman Road settlement, burnt corrugated iron sheets and ash are all that remain after the deadly blaze that left at least a thousand people destitute on Sunday morning. The lanes between destroyed homes are muddy and slippery after heavy rains. Stoves, mattresses, fridges and furniture lay scattered on the ground. Men and women are huddle with with their blankets inside a small tent, temporary shelter provided by the municipality. It’s cold and rain is pouring.
“We are stuffed like pigs,” says 58-year-old Bukisiwe Vilakazi. “I am an old woman but I’m forced to share a space with men and haven’t eaten for days. We are abandoned by our leaders, the very same people we voted into power.”
Vilakazi has lived in Foreman Road for over 10 years and says the living conditions never get better.
“Leaders come and go but our suffering remains. What have we done to the government to hate us this much?” she asks.
Like many other informal settlements, when fires break out in Foreman Road, they spread quickly. Shacks are built close together and many households still use paraffin stoves for cooking and candles for light.
Most people here are unemployed and those who are employed couldn’t go to work this week as they lost everything, including their clothing, to the fire that engulfed the settlement.
Thembile Mngwembe, 35, a security guard at a neighbouring steel company says he hasn’t gone to work for days.
“I can’t even go to work, we are all devastated. We appeal to the government to build us proper houses. We can’t continue living like this,” he says.
A family of three people, including a toddler, died during the massive fire on Sunday morning that displaced about 1 000 people. Two-year-old Sisipho Xulu died early that morning. Her parents, Eric Mpanza and Mbali Xulu,died of their injuries in hospital later that day.
The community blames the municipality’s failure to provide electricity in the area for the fire. Thapelo Mohapi, general secretary of AbM says that none of this would have happened if people had electricity. “People never said they want free electricity. They want electricity that they can pay for but the municipality keeps on failing them to deliver. It’s been years since people asked for electrification,” he says.
Residents say this is not the first time mayor Zandile Gumede has failed them. Residents say whenever they raise grievances or retaliate against empty promises, they are victimised by the state.
Nomathemba Godi (35), says the community is “desperate, destitute and frustrated”. ”But instead of coming to us and listen to our concerns, Zandile [Gumede] has deployed police to come and kill us. It’s fine, they can shoot and kill us,” she says.
The community has vowed that they won’t stop demonstrating until the mayor visits the area and fulfills her promises. AbM has appealed to the public to assist the Foreman Road community in any way.