Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa — A group of between 30-40 unidentified individuals entered and emptied the nonprofit arts house, Mthubi the Hub, in the suburban area of Hatfield early Saturdaymorning around 8am, damaging property and artwork. Carrying plastic gloves and black bags, but no warrant or court order calling for eviction, the group acted with immunity while four SAPS officers stood watch.
With physical assault and intimidation, the group pushed the artist residents from their house. They emptied all the rooms and dumped everything on the dirt outside the front yard, while also looting several items from the Hub’s thrift store, the artist’s personal belongings, and official documents of the organisation.
Attempting to identify the organisations responsible for the illegal eviction, Mthubi the Hub executives engaged with those who appeared to be the leaders of the group. These individuals became very hostile, refusing to produce documentation of their authority or identify themselves. They harassed a cameraman, chased him with shovels threatening shouts of “re tla ho bulaya” (sizoku Bulala / we will kill you). They repeatedly manhandled, smacked, assaulted, and pulled the hair of two women leaders advocating for the community arts space.
“Three of the men were here a few days before the incident,” says Mthubi the Hub Chairperson Amanda Mjindi, who spoke with them personally. “I showed them around our space, told them about our challenges, so they knew that inside in the front yard there are great things happening. There are young people doing amazing things here, so they were quite aware of this. But they chose to, I mean . . . one artist feels like they stole her dream from her. They completely trashed that. They destroyed so many artists’ work. It was painful.”
After the vigilante mob seemed satisfied with their illegal eviction, they left down the street with broken paintings and the NPO turned upside down behind them.
“We have taken many strides to insure that artists have a sustainable environment to produce and exhibit their works,” explains Mthubi the Hub Deputy Chairperson, Izah Kutsh, “we’ve made communication to the community as well the government, informing them of our presence in the space.”
The Hub members reclaimed the house within an hour of the mob’s departure, asserting their rights to operate within the space as they have since the NPO’s establishment in 2016. They began cleaning the large mess made by the perpetrators and prepared for that evening’s arts programme.
On Monday morning, Mthubi received a visit from Gauteng infrastructure’s head of security, Frank Moliya, and his office. They assured the Hub that the mob was not associated with the government and that there would be no evictions on the property without proper protocol. Mr. Moliya also questioned the coincidence of a truck delivering two loads of bricks to the house a week earlier, with no plans for their use and nobody claiming to have sent them, and this mob action happening soon after. He alluded that there was an unseen third party with intentions to hijack the property on Arcadia Street from the artists.
Minutes after Moliya’s meeting, the Hub was visited by DA ward councillor Abel Tau, who heard about the plight of the artists hub from a local news outlet. He toured the property, surveyed the state of damage, and promised to investigate the perpetrators of Saturday’s ransacking.
Roughly 20 pieces of artwork were severely damaged, and several residents lost their ID’s and personal property in the looting during the illegal eviction. Hub members opened a case at the Sunnyside police station Monday afternoon. Anybody with information about the perpetrators of the illegal eviction are encouraged to contact the police immediately.
As of this writing, all Hub members are safe and the space is slowly returning to its prior look and feel.