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By Lindsey Stokes
LANGA--The cold wind blew through the open doors of the small cinderblock home despite the sun shining brightly outside. Nobody shivered. Nobody seemed to care.
Several members of Theadora "Noma" China's family sat on the two navy blue couches in the center of the room with their close friend and neighbor, Emma, as well as activists from the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign (AEC). The line between family member and activist at times was not clear. The two blended together seamlessly.
The reason why became apparent as both sides began the tumultuous, at points heartbreaking, tale of the forced eviction the family endured during their fight to keep the home where so many memories had been made.
Forced removals on the basis of race were common during the Apartheid Era, when tens of thousands were relocated to single-race townships. Evictions like this family experienced began after 1994, when residents of all races were finally given the right to own their homes and add on to the cramped spaces where extended family members frequently lived.
To make these additions, they borrowed from banks that demanded the Title Deed as collateral. These loans were bequeathed to younger members of the family after the original signers passed on. If the loan remained unpaid, the bank took the home with the assistance of the police, more often than not, by force.
Without warning the bank may even sell the home to another family. An eviction orchestrated by a sheriff can happen at any time, as it did in this house several weeks earlier, according to the AEC activists.
Founded in November 2000 to combat the issue of forced eviction and give a voice to the poor, the AEC works hand-in-hand with families facing an uncertain future.
"We always put our own head on the block to protect our people," said Mncedisi Twalo, the leader of the 16 activists in this branch of the organization.
"We are not safe, we are not being protected by the constitution of this country. That is why, when our people protest, they are violent."
Means used to force the move include but are not limited to water and electricity shut-offs, furniture removal by the police, and threats or threatening actions by criminal organizations hired by the new owners.
Often at the last possible moment members of the campaign are called to stop evictions by protests, sit-ins, negotiations with the sheriff and the courts or just breaking the locks on the home, and moving a family's furniture back in.
Mncedisi described one instance when the campaign was called to help two families, one that was being evicted and one standing outside the contested home with their furniture ready to move in.
If an eviction like this is successful the family may be forced onto a Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), a so-called government dumping ground. Shelters there usually consist of shacks made of wood, zinc, and asbestos. Lung problems such as tuberculosis and asthma, as well as numerous bone diseases, can result from living in them. There are no formal schools.
With the number of shacks across the country on the rise, the AEC estimates 3 million people across the Western Cape are without homes.
While the Noma China family is now back in their home, the road ahead is still unclear. Another attempted eviction could still be on the horizon.
One thing is clear: Despite the difficult, sometimes dangerous task of standing between force and family as well as having personal health problems, Mncedisi and the activists with the AEC will be there, day after day, fighting hard for what they believe.
"We have to provide the service for those who are hopeless." Mncedisi said.
"When the police come, we don't runaway, we have guts. We want to talk."