The dark side of planning: on the demolition of Chico’s Ice Cream Factory

By Walter Fieuw (on behalf of CORC)

On the 13th of August, heavy machinery rolled in on the tattered and teared Marlboro Industrial area. Charles and Tapelo, community leaders in Marlboro, had to look on as the bulldozers started tearing into Chico’s Ice Cream Factory, which was home to 109 families, or 282 people. Chico’s Ice Cream Factory is but one of 53 derelict buildings that the Marboro community, in partnership with ISN and CORC, enumerated between September and October 2011. Community members were trained to administer the questionnaire and worked closely with the CORC Johannesburg office in capturing the data into databases.

Early in August, the Alliance reported on the evictions that started on August 2nd when Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) cracked down on the settlement with no eviction order. In the early morning hours, when residents were leaving for work, the JMPD moved in on 3 occupied sites and demolished 300 dwellings. They refused to talk to the community leadership and presented no formal interdiction from the court, only offering NGO representatives a hand written statement in a note book as paperwork for such eviction. They claimed that notice was given with no supporting documentation, then went on to say they don’t need to give notice because the of the 72 hour trespassing by-law which according to legal representatives requires even more paperwork than a general eviction order. The JMPD has not communicated its mandate with the housing department and now as result over 400 residents of Marlboro are now out on the street with no alternative housing options.

Evictions have been ravaging the area since the 2nd of August, leaving many people homeless. The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), and more specifically, the by-laws management department, have been carrying out these illegal evictions. These are illegal, because according the laws protecting poor people from the onslaughts of local governments and/or land owners, the evicting party needs to formally obtain an eviction order, which is granted by regional courts. In these hearings, the judges consider all the aspects of the evicting party’s request, which includes whether alternatives to upgrading has been considered (such as upgrading the informal area), what the impact on vulnerable people would be (woman, children and the elderly), and what the relocation options are (such as consolidation with other informal areas, housing developments, etc). Constitutional Court cases have resulted in a number of processes that needs to be adhered too. The JMPD did not follow any of these legal routes, and have been on a rouge mission to clear the Marlboro area of all informal settlers.

Chico’s is one such a factory that is now being destroyed, and all 282 inhabitants have been displaced. Although the Alliance, through the Community Upgrading Financing Facility, have been able to secure three army-style tents to the value of R30,000, this merely serves 40 families. More tents are now forthcoming as relief donations are trickling into Marlboro area. There does not seem to be any hope that the residents of Chico’s will be sleeping in even the most elementary accommodation for the next while.

The factory used to have a very peculiar housing typology. To make more space available, the community built a sturdy 2nd level of shack above the first. These pictures illustrate the nature of settlement in one of these factories.

With the decline in industrial activity in the late 1980s, the factory owners rented out these buildings to poor families living in overcrowded conditions in neighboring townships such as Alexandra. Charles, a community leader in the area, mentioned that

the history here is actually that people started staying in these factories. They were renting because some owners advertised for rentals. So the people came in their numbers. But later on, the City actually gave some court orders that people had to vacate. We boycotted that and went back to the owners and they ran away and stayed with the City. We had a media statement that says we can not be moved from these areas unless they have an alternative. So that is how they started staying in these buildings.

Chico’s used to be an Ice Cream factory located on 4th street, where not even the brave footsoldiers of Google Streetview dared to venture (when dragging the Google Streetview icon over Marlboro area, on 5th Street is covered). But the enumeration of Chico’s, as with all other 53 factories in the Marlboro area, goes much deeper than technology can reach. The enumeration has captured a socio-economic and demographic profile of all the residents that used to live here. Although the residents have faced fires in the past, such as the 18 June 2010 fire that destroyed a large number of shacks, as reported by Africa Media Online, the community has been able to regroup and assist those who lost it all. These social ties are more than moral solidarity but display the resilience of communities to adapt and recover.

Chico’s factory is also called Building 77. These building were referenced by these numbers before the enumeration started. The enumeration data therefore has two levels: by building, and by shack number (which was numbered in the enumeration exercise). By referencing both building data and shack data, a common dataset is developed that serves as the basis for spatially tagging enumeration data. In this way, the data becomes alive. The data tells the stories of what used to be left of Chico’s Ice Cream factory.

In October 2011, CORC produced a short video documenting the impressions of Marlboro community leaders on the enumeration process. At 2:18 in the video, an interview with a young man living in Chico’s is captured. He said,

I live here in Chico’s. I have been living here for 11 years. I stay with my mother. Here in Chico’s we are very poor, if I can put it like that.

In another interview, a young man living with his girlfriend said the following when asked by Charles what his expectations are for development in the area:

Up to date, I have been living in this area. Now the problem that I am having is unavailability of jobs and better accommodation. From the information I am receiving from different people, there are promises to improve the area, but I don’t know how long it is going to take.

CORC has drafted a preliminary enumeration report on the findings. The enumeration breaks down the enumeration data of all 53 factories and categorises the findings by population statistics, migration, education levels, social grant recipients, occupation and income levels, and finally, tracks the communities’ development aspirations. On the enumeration process, Charles said

The ISN and FEDUP have introduced a programme of enumeration. So with the enumeration, we are trying to arm ourselves and say to the City, “We are the people of Marlboro. How many are we? We stay in a space of this size”. And so we will be able to talk how then the development will be. So we hope with the programme of the FEDUP and ISN we believe that something will come up. We are saving, and saying to the government, “This is what we are doing, then can you come in and join us in making the area we are living in better”.

Charle’s wishes will not realise. Chico’s have been destroyed. But the sword cuts both ways. While the positive side of community based knowledge generation through enumeration, as experience by millions of people making up the federations aligned to Shack / Slum Dwellers International (see this series of research papers), materialises citizenship when this grassroots knowledge drives development agendas, the data will now be used as a protections mechanism in the court of law. The community possess the most detailed data on the individuals and families affected in the evictions. The sword of knowledge will now be deployed to fight back on the inhumane and draconian actions of the City of Joburg.

Marlboro community is working alongside Lawyers for Human Rights and instructed them instructed to demand an end to the evictions and failing that, to proceed on an urgent basis to the High Court for relief. Said Louise du Plessis, senior attorney in LHR’s Land and Housing Unit,

This situation is shocking. The law is clear. There are countless court orders requiring a court order before an eviction can take place. This blatant disregard for what the courts have repeatedly said is especially worrying considering JMPD is tasked with upholding the law.

Who are giving these orders? Are the factory owners involved in the eviction process, or is this a rouge mission by the JMPD? These are the questions that the community with support by CORC and Lawyers for Human Rights will be uncovering.

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