During elections, politicians across the political divide do unimaginable things. Even those who hate children, they tend to hug and kiss babies. But no one expected what the ANC led Mbombela municipality did.
They chose the electioneering period to conduct an apartheid-era type of demolishing of people’s houses at a place called Thekwane.
The area was once an exclusive area that the former KaNgwane bantustan government had reserved for the relocation of ANC leaders who had returned from exile, and is just a stone throw away from the house that former Mpumalanga, Mathews Phosa once stayed in.
The area is now a shadow of its former self after residents invaded vacant patches of land where they started building their own dwellings.
They even gave it a new name, Nomzamo Mandela Park, after ANC stalwart Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela. Ironically the municipality chose the month of April, the same month of her death, to carry out the demolitions.
Another irony is that Mandela-Mandela was a champion of people who lived in squatter camps, who were landless. Whenever the apartheid regime evicted people, she’d be the first to visit the destitute communities and give them shelter, blankets and food.
ANC provincial spokesperson, Sasekani Manzini says the organisation is aware of the “events happening at Thekwane and have spoken to the leadership of Mbombela to find a lasting solution to the challenge of housing, scarcity of land and land invasion,” she said.
The Nomzamo Mandela Park problem, however, seem bigger than scarcity of land.
First, many settlements around Mbombela are established through invasions. Secondly, those behind the land invasions are not necessarily destitute people, but people who build huge and expensive mansions.
People speak in hush tones, but everybody knows that even some of the members of the Mpumalanga provincial legislature, government officials, radio and television and many other well-known personalities, live in areas that they have invaded.
The current Msholozi township and Thekwane next to Ntokozweni and the Mpumalanga Regional Training Trust Hotel and Tourism Academy near Kanyamazane resulted from land invasions that the municipality later formalised.
“This means we are not going to vote,” said one of the residents who was affected. This is usually the threat that some of the invaders make to get things their way.
But then, what the invaders did not consider, was that the matter of Nomzamo Mandela Park has already been to court where they reached a consensus that there would be no demolitions and that those who had invaded would not continue constructing permanent structures.
Thus, when the municipality realised that people were defying the court order, they rushed to court which granted the them a demolition order.
The election threat of “we will not vote” seemed to fall flat.
The trick has always been that they invade the land where one individual secures as many stands as possible and start constructing and rent the houses out.
When the municipality tries to evict the invaders, then there would be “political intervention”. Excuses such as, “we cannot do this because of the elections” start coming out, and before long, the municipality formalises the area.
Once formalised, the biggest beneficiaries, are usually, the councillors, well-known community leaders and other crooks who sell stands to those desperate to put a roof over their heads.
This time, however, it appears that the beneficiaries of the land invasion did not belong to the “correct” faction, hence it was easier to demolish their houses, which according to a source at the municipality, did not even get the approval of the council.
Ultimately, the fight for Nomzamo Mandela Park remains a complex matter. It’s a combination of destitute people and a battle for an extra income for councillors and other crooks who want to make a quick buck.