Marievale community was once a thriving village till the soldiers came knocking

The once self reliant people of the Marievale community now wait on the state to prevent the military from terrorising them, and their return to their homes.

Marievale is an area outside Nigel (about an hour’s drive east of Johannesburg) which used to house around 600 people on a disused military base. In November last year, all those people were thrown out their homes in a manner the community describes as “by the barrel of the gun”. The community took the state to court and an urgent interdict was granted which prevented, by law, the evictions from continuing but that changed nothing, more people were kicked out their homes and the army took over the base completely.

In 2018, the armed forces of the government are still terrorising people in their homes and not a damn thing is being done by any political party or the state. On the early hours of January 29, a few hours before the community were to be in court again to oppose their illegal eviction, the SANDF went to the informal settlement called Happiness Village to harass the community and demolish homes. This demonstrates the SANDF’s disregard for the law.

Some 180 people live in Happiness Village now and some families have blankets that serves as walls. When we visited Fikiswa Gumede and her family her shack was wet from the storm the night before. She told us she sent her children to school wet that day. Her nine-month-old twins sat on her damp bed smiling at us, unaware of the trauma their mother went through when the military kicked them out their home.

Chris Koitsioe is a community leader, also living in Happiness Village. When he took as around the informal settlement he showed us the homes brought down by the military then took us to the shack he build for himself and wife. “My children had to be sent to my mother in Vereeniging and they will return when this war is over,” he told us.

That is exactly what the military had been waging in this community. Before that, they had become a somewhat self reliant community where Koitsioe had delivered bread and milk to residents. He also organised a school bus and voting station.

When we attempted to visit the disused military base, we were stopped by a gun welding SANDF member who aggressively told us to leave. The community member who showed us where the disused base was, wouldn’t approach within eyeshot, for fear of being recognised by the soldiers. When we drove around the base we saw the trenches dug by the military to keep out the community – a scene out of World War I.

Marievale was also home to several foreign nationals, and these people are also terrorised even in Happiness Village. Koitsioe said when the SANDF came at 3am on January 29, the community ran from their homes with nothing but blankets and maize meal. When the soldiers knocked on their doors and no one answered because they had run away, their shacks were demolished and their remaining belongings were ruined.

Under the guise of carrying out crime prevention work, the military wormed their way into Marievale after the Human Rights Commision prevented evictions in 2015. It was all downhill after that, according to Willem Koekemoer, who has been lived in in Marievale for 23 years till he was evicted.

On the border of the disused base is an open cast coal mine. We passed a dozen trucks on the muddy road waiting to be loaded on the way to the entrance of the mine. The community claim there was no participation in the licensing of the mine which affected the health of many children in the area. Koekemoer said his son had become asthmatic soon after the mine was started.

As the community waits for the outcome of their case against the SANDF, they will still be tasked with battling for quality of life in their village.

Featured image by Rumana Akoob