Members of the Marievale community say they have been traumatised almost daily for the past week by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) at a disused military base where they have been living, some for over 20 years.
Residents of Marievale in Nigel, about 70km south-east of Johannesburg say they are at the end of their tether as 11 families have already been evicted and the rest say they are uncertain over whether they will soon be homeless.
Marievale was a military base until 1996, according to advocacy organisation Right2Know, and now houses over 600 people who were either living in homes already on the base or moved in after it was closed down.
Willem Koekemoer, a resident from Marievale said he has been living there for the past 23 years and explained that a housing committee was formed when the military moved out in 1992. This committee then rented out homes to the civilians. He said they signed formal and legitimate rental agreements and paid their rent until 2001 when the old commando broke up.
By this time, he said over 70% of the property was occupied by civilians. They were informed by the SANDF that the money they had previously paid was embezzled, an investigation was under way and they would not need to pay any further rent until they are given notice from the military.
Community leader Tumi Weyi who has been living in Marievale for the past 14 years with his family said he put windows and doors into the three-bedroom house when he moved in. “We fixed the houses and moved in because we didn’t have any place to stay,” he said.
He said the SANDF knock on their doors daily with guns, telling them to vacate. “They say these houses are military houses and we are not allowed to stay here,” Weyi said.
Some people have already left their homes because “they are fearing for their lives,” said Weyi. His own livelihood is also threatened as he runs a tuckshop from the home he shares with his wife and three children.
According to Right2Know, the community was threatened with evictions because coal has been discovered in the area.
Homes range from one to four bedrooms in Marievale. In May this year, SANDF members tried to evict residents and barred residents from entering the base to access their homes.
Another resident, Adri Maree, 28, who moved to the based when her mother died 13 years ago said some people have also been assaulted. She says the evictions have had a negative effect on their health. “I have been so sick from the stress and I have gotten a stomach ulcer from this,” she said.
Maree who lives with her husband and brother said children in the neighbourhood are also afraid of going to school because of the presence of soldiers.
SANDF spokesperson, Siphiwe Dlamini told The Daily Vox the base was never shut down. He said the SANDF had been inspecting of the houses currently and found military members and civilians occupying houses “without authorisation,” which contravenes SANDF housing regulations. He did not confirm if they had a court order to remove occupants but said, “the SANDF is presently removing these members and those civilian occupants of the affected houses. Marievale is an SANDF facility and property, and is managed according to the prescriptions of all military facilities,” he said.
“Constitution or no Constitution, all I am saying is that the department of defence and the military is exercising its right to ensure that a military base remains a military base and there are no civilians that are allowed in a military base to occupy houses there who are non-military,” he said.
Constitutional law expert, Pierre de Vos said in terms of the Constitution, you cannot evict anybody from the place they are living, whether it is a formal structure or not, without a court order. Without a court order, the eviction would be illegal.
Section 26(3) of the Constitution states: “No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.”
He added that the military was not exempt from the Constitution, it still had to comply with the law. “Either they [the military] are ignorant of the law or deliberately flouting the law, both obviously are not good because one wouldn’t want the military, with so much power, not to comply with basic constitutional and legal descriptions,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Johannesburg High Court granted an interim interdict to stop the SANDF from continuing the evictions. The parties will be back in court on 29 January 2018.