Confused children and their distraught parents watched in bewilderment as their homes in Swaziland were bulldozed to let a farm extend its sugarcane fields.
About 20 armed police officers stood by at Embetseni in Malkerns to allow the demolition to take place.
The families had lived in the four houses for up to sixty years. A total of 61 people, including at least 30 children, were made homeless.
Amnesty International, the global human rights organisation, commented, ‘Despite supposed protection by the country’s laws, ordinary Swazis appear to be helpless in the face of forced evictions for development purposes.’
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said, ‘This latest demolition of homes exposes the grim reality facing many people in Swaziland today. Hundreds have been forced from their homes in recent years to make way for development.’
Amnesty said in a statement, ‘According to international human rights standards, even where evictions are deemed to be justified, they must follow due process. No one should be left homeless as a result of the eviction.
‘The affected people were not provided with any alternative accommodation, forcing some of them to take refuge at a local school. Others slept in the open at the site of the demolitions with their belongings, while some slept in a chicken shed. One family slept at the Chief’s residence.’
The Swazi Observer reported on Monday (10 April 2018) ‘Piles of debris, destroyed furniture laying askew on the ground and trucks loading furniture is what welcomed the news team when they arrived at the four demolished homes at Embetseni.
‘The demolitions happened in the presence of armed police who had been called to keep watch to ensure that the already tense situation did not boil out of control.
‘The four homes were razed to the ground by a bulldozer sent by Umbane Limited, a sugarcane company planted in the midst of the four homesteads.’
It added, ‘The bulldozer flattened the four homes one at a time with their owners watching helplessly and in utter disbelief.’
Gavin Khumalo, one of the homestead owners, told the newspaper his family had been living there for six decades.
Jeremiah Manana, Umbane Limited’s Finance Manager, told the newspaper, ‘Those people don’t belong there, we have wasted millions in court trying to solve this matter and a court order allows us to take the actions that seem inhuman today.’ The High Court made an order in July 2017.
Amnesty International said it knew of at least two other imminent evictions in the Madonsa and Mbondzela regions where the communities had been living under threat of eviction for several years.
Mwananyanda said, ‘These ongoing ruthless evictions plunge people into deeper poverty and leave them in a hugely precarious position. When a person is thrown onto the streets without any alternative accommodation, what are they supposed to do?
‘Swazi authorities must halt these forced evictions, put in place legal and procedural safeguards in line with international human rights standards and provide effective remedies to all those who have been affected by forced evictions in the past.’
In its report on human rights in Swaziland in 2017 / 2018, Amnesty said communities continued to be at risk of forced evictions. It said, ‘Around 85 families in at least two communities faced imminent evictions without being provided with alternative housing or adequate compensation.
‘Although the Constitution prohibited arbitrary deprivation of property without compensation, in practice the lack of legal security of tenure left people vulnerable to forced evictions. In a judgment in April , a High Court ruled that the constitutional provision of compensation to evicted residents was limited to evictions carried out by the state; residents affected by forced evictions carried out by private actors were excluded from access to certain remedies.
‘In Madonsa in the Manzini region, at least 58 families were at risk of imminent eviction after the Swazi National Provident Fund (SNPF), a government parastatal, claimed ownership of the land on which they resided. After a protracted seven-year legal process, the High Court ordered in 2011 that the families be evicted without compensation or alternative accommodation. They remained on the land at the end of the year.
‘In Mbondzela, in the Shiselweni region, 27 families threatened with eviction began proceedings against a private company which sought to appropriate their land for the development of a game park. On 19 October, the Central Farm Dwellers Tribunal dismissed their case and allowed the eviction, ruling that the private company should provide the residents with building material to construct homes elsewhere.’
COURT ORDERS HOMES DESTROYED
HOMES DESTROYED FOR KING’S VANITY PROJECT