Police officers arrive en masse, force their way into a house and unceremoniously throw furniture and household appliances out on the street, as the helpless residents look on.
The scene is a common one in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s bustling capital Kinshasa, where property disputes are endemic.
Unbridled corruption and soaring land prices often fuel the disputes — and lead to evictions.
“There are lots of land disputes in Kinshasa, thousands of them,” said Theo Sindani Kasita, a property lawyer in the megacity of an estimated 15 million people.
Families wage internecine legal battles to gain control of city plots. Swindles involving illegal land sales are also routine.
Rita Mitwens, 42, is a victim of the seemingly lawless system.
She, her husband and her 14-year-old son have been turfed out of their home twice in the space of six months.
“The first time was in March,” Mitwens told AFP, with tears in her eyes. “We spent four months outside.”
In late July, Mitwens managed to return to her apartment, which she says she purchased legally nearly two decades ago.
But she was kicked out again on September 1.
“We sleep outside,” said Mitwens, recounting her story in front of piled-up furniture near the roadside in a central city district.
Youngsters hired by the police to help with the eviction had also stolen valuables, she said.
– ‘Beware crooks’-
The 46-year-old civil servant said that Mitwens had indeed bought the property, but from an uncle of his who was not entitled to sell it.
“Everyone on the street knows that this house belonged to my dad, I was born here,” he said.
The dark-grey wall surrounding the plot is scrawled with hand-painted inscriptions left by bailiffs who came to carry out successive evictions.
A few streets away, a gate bears a sign that is ubiquitous in Kinshasa: “This plot is not for sale, beware crooks.”
The DRC is deeply impoverished, with weak government institutions, and beset by graft.
The central African nation ranked 166th out of 180 on Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Evicted before tenants can launch an appeal
Property disputes are also rife in Kinshasa’s well-heeled central district, known as Gombe.
AFP rents a villa, which serves as an office, in the district.
But police officers carried out an eviction on the property in August due to a dispute that dates back 20 years.
Office furniture and other items in the villa were flung onto the street and officers barricaded the gate.
AFP was able to regain access within 24 hours after a judicial inspector judged the eviction “manifestly illegal”.
Sindani, the property lawyer, said that unscrupulous people take advantage of the Congolese legal system to lay claim to plots of land to which they have no title.
Families are also regularly evicted without being notified of a court decision, he added, and before tenants can launch an appeal.
“That’s not justice,” the lawyer said, suggesting that “strongmen” often get away with property crimes.
“History will catch up with them one day,” he said.