The Red Ants are a private eviction and security company notorious for their violence. They operate as a de facto militia, are easily recognized in their trademark red overalls and helmets, and often carry shields and crowbars. Up to 600 Red Ants can be deployed on a single, military-style operation.
They are hired by private property owners, often city councils, to enforce legally obtained eviction orders. They usually work in conjunction with the Sheriff and the Police, who can escort them on large-scale operations.
They specialize in evicting people from derelict and dangerous apartment blocks in the inner city of Johannesburg. The buildings have been “hijacked” and occupied, and while they can be dens of thieves and drug addicts, they are also homes for desperate families with nowhere to go.
The Red Ants may be called upon to repel “invasions” when large groups of people invade private land, building shacks and creating an informal settlement. Such operations can be very violent.
Accusations frequently levelled against the Red Ants include theft, sexual assault and murder. The Red Ants too can meet with extreme violence during their operations, with clashes causing injury and even death on both sides.
Most Red Ants are some of the poorest, least empowered members of society, from the same communities where their operations inflict so much pain.
The “Land Issue” is used contentiously by parties from across the political spectrum to rally support for political purposes. Huge commercial farms are owned predominantly by white Afrikaner families descended from European settlers, and the property has been passed down through the generations. Right-wing politicians consider these farmers to be the lawful owners of the land, and argue that there is a coordinated strategy to force them from their land by violent means, and sometimes even murder.
The black majority in the country live in poverty, have little or no land, and little or no access to the economy. Left-wing politicians argue that whites live on land stolen from the black people, and promise to deliver the land to the masses. Some parties advocate and encourage communities to invade land.
Land is a highly emotional subject in South Africa.
There is a lot of tension between the need for redevelopment and the actual experience of displacing poor people to relocate them in far-flung, impractical, low-cost housing projects.
“Ethics” and the “Law” clash when poor people are legally evicted, but have nowhere to go. This reality flies in the face of South Africa’s famously progressive Constitution.