The luxury hotel group “Four Seasons” conjures up images of grand lobby entrances, private elevators, airy and welcoming suites with natural light bouncing off each corner. It makes one think of Egyptian cotton sheets perfectly laid on king-size beds, concierge services and late-night dinners on a private terrace. It echoes wealth, elegance and class. Put this building on a beachfront and you have struck gold! While the hotel group is often trending on the ‘socials’, this is not why it has been on the media circuit this past month.
Earlier this month the abandoned Four Seasons hotel situated on the Durban beachfront was occupied by a group of disgruntled former uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) veterans, despite it having no water and electricity. After being evicted for invading the building, the group insisted on sleeping outside the venue until their demands were heard. According to a statement issued by the Democratic Alliance on June 14th, 2021, the newly appointed Human Settlements MEC, Jomo Sibiya, assured members of the KwaZulu Natal portfolio committee that the MK Veterans housing was being dealt with.
This does not seem to be the case.
Instead, South Africa is facing Zimbabwean-style property occupations as MKMVA (Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association) members illegally occupied municipal housing projects in Msunduzi, Ray Nykonyeni in Margate and the Aloe Ridge rental housing complex in Pietermaritzburg. This is ostensibly being justified under the guise that government failed to provide the housing it promised. Most controversial is the fact that some of these “veterans” were not even born when real veterans returned from exile in 1994. To aggravate matters, 39 of the individuals who occupied the 950-unit Aloe Ridge were not registered on the Department of Military Veterans’ database. Since then, government has allocated almost R100 million for military veterans housing projects across the province. This is a small fortune and the country has over 80,000 registered military veterans. While government seeks to play a hands-on approach in providing accommodation, it needs to be careful of rewarding lawlessness.
The DA has urged government to use its’ unused and abandoned buildings in the Durban Central Business District as either student accommodation or as part of Social Housing. The former could assist in mitigating the City’s pressing student accommodation challenge, while the latter could assist those with some form of income to access safe accommodation. Perhaps these buildings should be repaired and used for bona fide veterans and use the allocated R100 million to build shelters for the 4,000 homeless and destitute people on the streets of Durban as well as for desperate students seeking shelter.
While this occupation resulted due to a host of ANC-led errors, it can be suggested that there are some sinister machinations at play here. It is important to note that uMkhonto we Sizwe is not a homogenous group and has two competing bodies: The MK Council and the MKMVA. The former was born at the height of calls for Zuma to step down as president, while the latter has largely served as a mouthpiece for Zuma and his associates. The split between the two became clear after the MKMVA acted as Zuma’s private militia, deploying its members to protect him, following his defiance of the Constitutional Court and the Zondo Commission. A lot has changed since then. The MKMVA is currently in a weakened position as law enforcement agencies have acted against their ally Ace Magashule, their Treasurer-General Des van Rooyen is under scrutiny and Zuma is on trial for corruption allegations related to the Arms Deal.
Amid it all, the Cyril Ramaphosa and Ace Magashule / Carl Niehaus factions are fighting for control over the MK Veterans. The MKMVA is calling on the promises made over two decades ago. Its’ demands have ranged from seeking to be absorbed into the security cluster in 2020 to requesting a once-off payment of R250,000 for their role in the struggle against apartheid. All this places Ramaphosa in a challenging position. Not adhering to the MK Veterans demands could negatively affect his position in the ANC, while adhering to their demands could hurt South Africa’s frail economy.
Party or state? Party or state, Mr. President?