NIMBYism Blocks Development in Havelock, Durban

Havelock Settlement

**Cross-posted from the South African SDI Alliance Blog** 

By Jeff Thomas, CORC, South Africa

Havelock informal settlement is located 8km outside Durban central, close to the northern suburb of Greenwood Park. The first settlers – a coloured man and his wife – settled on this land in 1986. Since they were “scared of living alone” – as they put it – they invited other people to join them. In the early years, the new settlers were continually harassed, especially the women, who were vulnerable to attacks on their way to the main water sources. In subsequent years, the settlement grew to a sizable settlement of 389 residents living in more than 200 shacks. The land is privately owned; one part by the Kwa-Zulu Natal Provincial Department of Human Settlements and another part by a private owner. Havelock is built against a hill and the shack density is high. Read more about the background to the settlement in this profile.

Havelock settlement profile from South African SDI Alliance on Vimeo.

In the following report, I endeavour to give context to the unfolding dynamics in Havelock, where to community has completed all the design, received an in-principle go-ahead from government, and started preparing the site. The re-blocking project has been approved by Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF), an alliance seed capital fund, and the eThekwini Metro has indicated a willingness to collaborate. The report tracks the activities over the weekend of 10 – 12 May. The Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY), a wicked complex layered with racial, class and land rights dynamics, have blocked the incremental upgrading of the settlement.

Thursday 9 May 

Over the past few weeks, the reblocking site has been cleared which required tree felling, clearing away undergrowth, and gathering together discarded pieces of building material. A consulting Civil Engineering firm manager and his operator arrived in the morning to discuss how we should proceed with the terracing work.  Points made were:

  • need to stay well clear of the sewer line that runs between the site and the church property above it
  • further cutting up of the logs from the felled trees to allow the tractor to carry them up to Havelock road for later disposal
  • need to remove various bottles lying around that could puncture the tractor’s tyres

the engineer’s preliminary assessment of the work was that it would take at least 4 days. We arranged for the tractor would come on site on the morning of Monday 13. In the afternoon another engineering firm, a subcontractor to the municipality’s Water and Sanitation Department tasked to install new services (following a presentation by the Havelock community on their re-blocking layout plan and dire shortage of ablution facilities), came to site to assess the need and contemplate possible locations for further ablution containers.   The outcomes of the visit were:

  • confirmation of the position of the sewer line between the site proposed for locating the re-blocked structures and the church property
  •  there is another sewer line across the settlement  parallel to the first but about half-way down – almost where CORC architect and the community had allowed for additional ablution facilities in the layout designs
  • the open area on the other side of the small stream and adjoining the bottom of Sanderson Road is the best first option with the one within the settlement to be contemplated only once re-blocking has progressed to that point
  • community should liaise with the owner of the property adjoining the site at the bottom of Sanderson Road to identify if the manhole that is shown on the map the engineer had with him is indeed there. Poor visibility meant that surveyors could not accurately plan the line from the proposed ablution container to this existing line.
  • the engineer also commented on the extremely poor condition of the existing ablution containers and said he would propose that these be replaced with new ones.

Havelock Settlement

Monday 13 May

Over the weekend the community had attended to the preparations required by the civil engineering firm to bring their tractor on site.  Having cleared a way through the bushes down to the area to be terraced it proceeded to cut a “road” down past the ablution containers, thus creating easy access for possible removal of these and replacement with new ones, as suggested by the subcontractor. Then a line was pegged across from South to North to ensure no encroachment on or damage to the sewer line between the area to be terraced and the church property.  After this, the community and supporting engineers started to work on the top terrace, cutting and leveling the soil and removing stumps.

At this time, they were approached by a group of people from the Greenwood Park neighborhood’s ratepayers association, who demanded that the work stop.  Allegedly the ratepayers went as far as threatening to burn the tractor if it continued to operate.  The Havelock community was obviously angered by this perceived interference in something that they felt had been well-negotiated with all parties and there was then a stand-off between the two groups.

Havelock Settlement

Somebody from the formal community group had already contacted the Land Invasion Unit of the eThekwini Metro and some of their staff, including a senior officer, arrived on site.  Somewhere within the ensuing discussion the issue of a High Court interdict order (Order 3329/2013) allowing the Municipality and the police the right to demolish structures and to evict people who occupy or attempt to invade certain designated pieces of Municipal land was introduced. This comes after the courts’ clampdown on alleged “land grabs”, as a front page article of the Mercury, a local Durban paper, reported.

The upshot was that the Land Invasion Unit told the Havelock settlement that in terms of this broad order granted by the High Court they could not proceed with the terracing and re-blocking. The small area that had been leveled would need to have some of the stacked soil returned to it so that there was no place where a structure could be constructed.  However, this seems to be highly inconsistent: Why now, when the ratepayers called the Anti Land Invasion Unit a week prior regarding tree-felling activity – at which time the community explained about the re-blocking – they didn’t refer them to this Court Order?

Once the Land Invasion Unit had left, a group of the neighbouring residents continued to stand at the top of the site where it adjoins Havelock Road in order to see that the tractor operator adhered to the instructions of the Land Invasion Unit.

At this point I arrived and was confronted by the ratepayers with a barrage of questions and complaints, on the one hand, and an understandably irritated Havelock community on the other.  The ratepayers complaints were ill-informed despite the fact that ISN had printed notices some of which were distributed in the area and others put on light poles. I then contacted the Land Invasion Unit to confirm exactly what his instructions had been. I wanted to understand whether the tractor should replace the soil.

By this stage the local DA Councillor for Ward 34, Mr Ganesh, arrived and was also vociferously greeted by the questions and complaints of the ratepayers. The Havelock community was displeased at the situation since their continuous interactions with him and the ANC PR Councillor up to date. The community felt that the councillor had failed to keep the Municipality adequately informed about what was happening. A pastor from a local church stepped into the situation and suggested a mediated meeting between grievances of the ratepayers and the community. The meeting is scheduled for the 1st of June at the nearby Greenwood Park Primary School. Representatives from CORC, ISN and the Municipality will also be present.

 Way Forward

In order to find a way forward that might allow for the re-blocking project to continue the following actions are proposed:

  • Make contact Legal Resources Centre, who has recently been involved in the Madlala Village community in Lamontville. We need to come to grips with the implications of the High Court order. But the primary litigation point will be the 37 sites to which it apparently refers as well as to possibly explore any legal action the community can take.
  • Set up a meeting with the Land Invasion Unit to understand why the project was not stopped when the trees were felled.
  • Co-ordinate a meeting of CORC and ISN with the Housing Unit who is also a member of the Interim Services Committee (responsible for informal settlement upgrading) on Havelock project plans issue tabled at the many previous meetings
  • Attend the mediated meeting with the ratepayers to negotiate outcomes
  • Discussion of the Havelock issue at the next Ward Committee meeting to be held on 15/5