Marievale informal settlement still in the limelight

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Allegations continue in ongoing verbal – and legal – skirmishing between people living in an informal settlement on land used by the national defence force, its legal services division and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

Residents of Happiness Village, an informal settlement at the Marievale military base on Gauteng’s Far East Rand, allege they live under curfew with no visitors allowed with soldiers apparently “stationed” outside some shacks. News agency Groundup reports military exercises “conducted around the settlement terrifying the community”.

Groundup writes the latest development in a years-long conflict has seen all roads leading to Happiness Village blocked and access control manned by armed soldiers set up.

Residents say they are insulted and treated roughly when out and about. Those going to work say they must sneak out through the bush in the early hours.

Residents complained practice hand grenades are shot in the air throughout the night and smoke grenades have been used on them Groundup reported.

Happiness Village was started by people evicted from Marievale in November and December 2017. A year later the Pretoria High Court ordered the SA National Defence Force to re-accommodate them as eviction was unlawful. The SANDF appealed the decision but lost. In May, 10 families were evicted and residents obtained a temporary court order to stop evictions. The City of Ekurhuleni said it was relocating, not evicting, people. The housing project the City plans to move them to will be completed in two years.

Community representative Chris Koitsioe says he was confined to his home for three days. Armed soldiers are at his shack. “They claim they are failing to execute their task to evict people because of me. Three soldiers with big guns are next to my house, stating they have instructions not to allow me any public movement. They are even denying me to go to work,” said Koitsioe.

“People who resist are forced to do military exercises and are being tortured. What the army is doing is confusing residents. We have been waiting for the army and the mayoral committee member for human settlements to forward a relocation plan. Instead, on 19 July the military came to Happiness Village at midnight and started shooting explosives like on a battlefield. Apparently, they expected people to flee their houses. Because we refuse to leave, they chose to deny me any freedom of movement,” the news agency reports Koitsioe as saying.

Louise du Plessis of LHR forwarded a letter to SANDF attorneys demanding the army desists from harassing Happiness Village residents.

“The army advocate says military exercises are being carried out at Happiness Village because it is their land. We demand they stay away from Happiness Village. We await their response.

“Over the last two weeks soldiers unlawfully closed tuckshops run by Happiness Village residents. According to tuckshop owners, soldiers informed them as Happiness Village is part of the military base tuckshops are prohibited. This is nonsense, especially as Happiness Village residents depend on tuckshops for daily staples.”

“Our clients further inform us on Tuesday, 21 July, early in the morning, soldiers from the Marievale military base, under the instruction of a Major Marese, shot flares, discharged rifles and other firearms around Happiness Village. Residents were not given prior notice or warning of and it left the community including children and elderly people in shock,” Du Plessis wrote to the SANDF.

“It is difficult to escape the conclusion the reason for unlawful eviction from Marievale and now from Happiness village, is to get rid of the community to make way for planned mining operations,” wrote Du Plessis.

“Even if we are incorrect, it is absolutely clear the SANDF has no right to conduct military exercises in the vicinity of Happiness Village while our clients occupy the area,” she wrote.