South Africa, Pretoria – The SANDF is facing a damages claim of nearly R100 million collectively brought against it by 378 residents of Marievale army base near Nigel.
The claim is for the alleged emotional and physical hardship the residents said they endured after they were illegally evicted from the base.
Marievale is a small village of approximately 150 households and 600 residents.
The plaintiffs were all residents of Marievale, some of whom had lived there since the 1970s, initially working for the mine and later on for the military.
Others rented houses from the military while some just settled when the military abandoned the village.
The group said in a summons issued against the SANDF and filed with the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria that some of them paid their rent every month in terms of a lease agreement with the military.
They said the size of the military base continued to shrink until around 2004 when it became clear that the SANDF had moved out.
According to them, the SA Military Police then started putting pressure on the residents to vacate their homes or be removed by the military.
Following this threat, Marievale residents submitted an urgent complaint to the SA Human Rights Commission citing their fear of being unlawfully evicted by the SANDF.
The commission warned the Defence Ministry in 2009 not to evict the residents without a court order.
The issue escalated in 2017 when the military held operations at the base and allegedly intimidated and forcefully removed some of the residents.
According to the residents, soldiers used violent tactics pointing their rifles at them and threatening them with arrest. They said they were forced to vacate their houses.
This was the start of several urgent court applications and subsequent orders in which the SANDF was interdicted from evicting the residents without a court order and not to intimidate them.
The residents said the SANDF never complied with this order and they were unlawfully evicted from the homes and were still not allowed to return. They also claimed that they were treated with no regard to their dignity, privacy or rights they had to property and housing as protected in the Constitution.
Most of them were forced to leave behind valuable goods such as fridges, furniture and livestock which they could not remove fast enough.
They said in court papers that they were scared, threatened and intimidated by the presence of the armed members of the military and some of them were even assaulted.
While some of the evicted residents managed to find temporary shelter and accommodation elsewhere, most have no place to go and are forced to live in squalor in an informal settlement next to Marievale village with no water, sanitation, or electricity services, they said.
“The plaintiffs were left homeless and exposed to the elements … They suffered from the emotional shock and psychological trauma, and some were even unlawfully arrested and detained,” they said in their summons.
It is further claimed that one of the evicted residents, Willie Koekemoer, suffered such severe emotional trauma and anxiety that he was hospitalised for a long period and took his own life.
The residents are each claiming about R200 000 for the alleged breach of their constitutional rights for the pain and suffering they said they had to endure, as well as for the belongings they said they had lost, as a result of the “forced evictions”. The damages claim amounts to nearly R100m.
While the SANDF has not yet indicated whether it will defend the claim, it has maintained throughout the plethora of court applications regarding this subject that it did not act unlawfully.
It was said that the base was there for the military and the residents had to make way for the soldiers to stay there. The SANDF also maintained that in line with court orders, it did find alternative housing for the residents.