Scenes of homes destroyed will live long in my memory

Illegal buildings being demolished outside East London. Scores of families were evicted from their illegal homes built on the state-owned Greydell farm near the East London Airport.
Illegal buildings being demolished outside East London. Scores of families were evicted from their illegal homes built on the state-owned Greydell farm near the East London Airport.
Image: MARK ANDREWS

A fortnight ago I watched people’s homes being destroyed and old people weeping. Their dazed grandchildren were too shocked to move.

The scenes that unfolded  at the state-owned Greydell farm in  Bhongweni near East London Airport will live long in my memory.

People who had waited years for RDP houses  decided to occupy the land in January 2018, but 18 months later the sheriff of the court's office executed eviction and demolition notices in terms of a court order.

Despite a bitter winter chill and a freeze on evictions during lockdown  under the national state of disaster, the action went ahead.

Hundreds of people gathered in the streets watching two TLBs  tear down 77 houses, shacks and temporary structures.

As journalists we often need to interview hurt and angry people.

On this occasion, homeowners were hurling insults at authorities,  and it was no easy task getting them to talk to me, such was their rage.

It quickly became clear that people were either given the wrong information or were in the dark about the status of the  land.

Some residents said they were sold plots —  a claim denied by the Airport Park Committee, a group set up to represent the community.

Getting information from the government was much more difficult — which, given the seriousness of the situation, is just unacceptable.

I was sent from pillar to post, from one communications officer to another. It took the national department of public works a week to respond to the most basic questions about the matter.

Against a backdrop of some of the people whose homes were demolished testing positive for Covid-19, the thought that the government no longer cared for its people crossed my mind more than once.

These  people had to seek refuge with friends and neighbours, sending the chances sky-high of the virus spreading to their kind hosts.  

It was devastating to watch people not knowing where they would sleep when darkness fell or when their next meal would come.

One young man held his hands against his head as he stood amid his belongings, which were strewn around him.

I really don’t know where to from here. They have destroyed my shack, and they have destroyed my friends too

“I really don’t know where to from here. They have destroyed my shack, and they have destroyed my friends too,” he told me, barely managing to get the words out.

The government defends the removals, stating it was acting on an eviction order from 2017.

But the irony is not lost on me that if the government had done its job and provided these people with homes in the first place, this tragedy would never have happened.

The patience these residents displayed in waiting for homes — some have been on waiting lists since 1994 — was not returned by the people who are supposed to represent them.

A story like this hits you in the gut, no question. And it is a reminder that, as journalists, we should hold people to account when we find despair.


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