Scene 13: Shack Demolition


The social development team went into 7de Laan with the intent of continuing the profiling of available community members. After completing four profiles, we saw a group of security officers and construction workers enter the north side of the settlement.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
City Employees: Anneline Plaaitjies, Reggie O’Brian, Estralita Kwalo
7de Laan Residents
Municipal Security and Contrition Personnel


The 7de Laan informal settlement. This scene took place in the north side, centered on a shack towards the entrance of the settlement, number 34.


In an effort to continue with our project of improving 7de Laan, the WPI Project Team team went into 7de Laan to engage the community members about themselves – their life stories, their present situation, their families, and their hopes and aspirations. This was a continuation of the exercises the previous day, which had gone surprisingly well.

Shortly after completing our second interview, Anneline approached us and told us to stop interviewing for the day – we were done. Naturally curious, we all inquired why. Rather than tell us, she lead us to the center road in the settlement.

As we entered the center path, we looked up to see that a large group composed of residents and officials had formed. Workers were carrying metal poles and wooden sticks. Security guards were wearing bright colors for identification, and carrying firearms for protection. At first glance it seemed as if a malicious force was entering the settlement.

Seeing our expressions – ranging from confusion to shock to excitement to fear – Anneline explained to us that saying the group had come to demolish some shacks in the settlement. To our surprise, some shacks in the settlement were unoccupied, despite the need for more living space as many community members expressed. Whereas we had thought shacks were locked to protect those living there and their possessions, the locks were instead used to bar further entry and squatting and to identify shacks that will be destroyed.

The process began. Security guards formed a lookout perimeter, the construction workers broke the lock, and more residents began to leave their shacks, curious as to what the commotion was. The people actually seemed excited for the shack to be destroyed. First the walls were hit in using metal bars, damaging the zinc siding. With the siding gone, the workers’ attentions shifted to the shack’s contents. While the family had been moved out in June, they still had some possessions there – an old sweatshirt, a couch, an old table, and some trash.  Anneline told us these possessions would be relocated to a storage locker by the municipality.


Shack 34 being demolished with the community and law enforcement looking on

With the shack emptied, the workers focused on destroying the roof. Rather than unfasten the panels, they took their wooden sticks and repeatedly swung and crashed the sticks against the roof, filling the settlement with continuous bangs that were so loud they could easily be mistaken for gun shots.  The roof fell in pieces, but finally it was completely gone.  Where there once was a metal roof, now only the sky remained. The process both bent and put holes in the panels. The parts were not reusable.

The crowd was steadily growing   easily over thirty people gathered. People started moving closer, children inched forward, and the energy in the air was tangible. What had begun as an organized demolish had begun to turn into a tense gathering.

With the roof gone, the workers took to destroying the last parts still standing. The frame was shaken, the wood began to bow, and ultimately the snapping of the beams caused the structure to collapse inward on itself. The shack was no more.


During the course of this event, an organized demolition shifted to a frenzied destruction. Some people reacted with interest and energy, creating a stronger sense of chaos, while others recognized the situation and brought their family away from it. None of our municipal personnel knew the shacks were being destroyed – a misunderstanding, a disconnection, a lack of communication clearly took place, a theme common to our project. The method for destroying the shack was also very poor – the demolition team, officials or city personnel showed no interest in rescuing the materials for future shacks.