Western Cape -
Three elderly residents are the last ones holding on to their homes in the idyllic lagoon-side De Mond Caravan Park in Hermanus.
They own the Plettenberg-style houses they’ve lived in for years, but not the land beneath – and now the municipality wants them out to develop the park into a “public resort”.
This follows the surprise eviction of some 200 other families from the park in late 2012, after the Caravan Park Association’s lease expired.
The court ruling was made on December 10. Eleven days later everybody and their homes had to be gone.
Now, over a year later, the park looks like the site of a hurricane, the forest floor littered with crushed boards and canvas from abandoned mobile homes.
Just three residents are left, refusing to leave their homes. They were exempt from the first eviction because they don’t own any other property.
However, the municipality has obtained an order to evict them too, which will come into effect after a hearing in the high court next month.
Keith Hampshire, 63, has been coming to the park since he was a child, and bought a structure there in 2011 when injury had left him without work and divorce depleted his savings.
“These are our only properties, our only places of abode,” he said. “We can’t afford anything else; that’s why we bought here.”
Hampshire and the remaining residents receive pension incomes that are just too high to qualify for state-subsidised housing, but too low to cover rent in a flat or retirement home.
“I would be quite prepared to move if I was given somewhere else to go, or if they gave me proper compensation,” he said.
Hampshire’s neighbour, Hanna Auret, has lived in the park for 10 years and invested all her savings in her house and wooden deck which overlooks the lagoon.
She also said she would be happy to move, if only she wasn’t left with nothing. “If they give me R150 000, I’ll go,” she said.
But Desmond Lakey, senior manager of legal services for the municipality, said there was no chance of compensation.
“There was no order for compensation of members of the association, as the lease allowed them only to erect movable structures and compelled them to remove them on termination of the lease,” he said. “Also these structures did not improve the land.”
According to Lakey, the municipality obtained a court order terminating the association’s lease and instructing all its members to remove their structures by the end of last March.
“Although some have done so, others have abandoned their structures and caravans and left rubble behind. There are also three remaining residents who claim to have resided there as their home and the municipality is busy with proceedings to compel them to vacate and remove their structures.”
But Auret cannot simply remove her home.
“This is a full-on house; it’s not a tent or a caravan,” she said. “The court order said we can stay here. Now the municipality wants us out. This is my house – it’s the only place I’ve got.”
Auret said residents knew when they bought structures that the municipality could order them off, but “nobody thought it was going to happen”.
Her friend Joey Jacobs used to spend weekends and holidays in the park. Because Jacobs had another house in Hermanus, she was forced to break up her De Mond home in the first round of evictions. Now, when she returns to visit Auret, she doesn’t go near where her holiday home stood.
“I had a long table, and I can’t tell you how many people sat around that table with good food and wine, thinking what a paradise this is,” she said. “This was our place for laughing and for crying.”
Jacobs bought the structure for R165 000, and was only able to sell it for R20 000 in the desperation of the eviction. ”It’s not about the money,” she said. “It’s about the memories we had.”