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Four historic, semi-detached cottages in District Six are at the centre of a legal tussle that could end in the cottages – said to be 170 years old – being demolished.
At one end of the courtroom clash are four families who have deep roots as tenants at Jaggers Cottages in Francis Street, on the lower edge of District Six, close to Woodstock. At the other is owner Spearhead Property Holdings.
The company has an application at the Western Cape High Court in a bid to evict the four tenants – Nazeem Adams, Fazlin Parker, Gary Wilson and pensioner Mavis Fynn.
Spearhead bought the cottages in 1999 as part of a block of land known as Buchanan Square, which has since been upgraded.
In a response to Cape Times questions, Spearhead said it intended to demolish the cottages completely “due to their derelict state, and convert the area into a receiving yard for the Buchanan building”.
In a February 2009 letter, the tenants were notified that they had to be out by May 30, 2009 – a move that has been put on hold pending the outcome of the eviction application.
In the meantime, the tenants are refusing to budge. They claim that they have a years-old verbal agreement with the previous owner that allows them to rent their homes for an indefinite period.
Adams said the cottages dated back to 1841. “They’ve been declared a National Heritage Site, so they can’t be demolished,” he said.
According to a City of Cape Town planning document, the cottages were located in a “urban conservation/special area” and are over 60 years old, making them protected under the National Heritage Resources Act. However, Heritage Western Cape did not respond to queries on Tuesday to confirm this.
All of the families living in the cottages, or their relatives, worked for the former owner, whom they identified only as a Mr Sharp from Britain.
“He said we could live here for the rest of our lives,” said Wilson, who worked in Sharp’s printing factory.
Sharp, who had allowed his employees to rent the cottages “for peanuts”, had died.
Wilson said they had made this agreement over 20 years ago, but Sharp had never mentioned what would happen to them should the cottages be sold.
Up until recently, the tenants paid about R850 a month in rent.
“We live in fear. We don’t know when they’re going to throw us out,” said Wilson. “I’ve been looking for another place to live but I just can’t afford it.”
Adams said that for many of them, this attempt at eviction was opening old wounds.
“Our families were kicked out of District Six once before, by the NP government, now history is repeating itself,” he said.
Spearhead said that while it was sympathetic to the plight of the residents, it was not the company’s responsibility to find alternative accommodation for the tenants, but rather that of the local authority.
The city has been joined as a respondent to the court matter and, according to Spearhead, the city has offered the families alternative accommodation at Blikkiesdorp, a temporary relocation area in Delft.
They had until Friday to respond to the offer – but they have made it clear that they are not prepared to move to Blikkiesdorp.