Cape Town - Blikkiesdorp, the “hell hole” also known as “Tin Can Town”, is home to many victims of gender-based violence. One such victim is 39-year-old Monique Clark.
Clark is a mother of five children, aged between six and 19.
Just a year ago, she escaped the grips of her gangster ex-husband following over a decade of abuse.
The Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area (TRA) in the City of Cape Town Municipality, Blikkiesdorp, which is filled with social ills, was established in 2007 for people awaiting low-cost housing.
It was supposed to be a temporary solution but still exists 15 years later.
There are at least 1 400 one-roomed, 18 square metre zinc structures, built tightly squeezed against each other with no backyard, no proper roads or toilets, housing families anywhere from five to 15 people.
The land where Blikkiesdorp is located has since been incorporated into the Cape Town International Airport precinct, and the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) Symphony Way housing project is currently under way for Blikkiesdorp, Malawi Camp and Freedom Farm.
Clark, who has been on the housing waiting list since 2008, ended up in “Tin Can Town” after her husband went to prison and she was evicted from the Eastridge, Mitchells Plain, house they were renting, with two small children at the time.
“I was evicted due to my ex husband. He was into gangsterism, and we sold drugs. So they evicted me from the house I rented. That's how I end up here. In 2008, that year, I also went on the waiting list. I had two children at the time. The one was three, and the other was five.
“I was very devastated. How can life be like this with me, especially for the sake of my children, but my ex operated with gangsters? I had to accept things that came our way. You get blamed for what your husband does. The man I rented from was scared that they would shoot on his house.”
“My ex-husband went to jail, and I ended up in Blikkiesdorp with the children.”
She said they were made several promises over the years that they would receive “proper houses” to no avail.
“Life in Blikkiesdorp was very difficult in the beginning. I didn't know about making a pot of food with a R10 or a R20. I learned that here, buying R5 potatoes, one or two penny polonies. I make food and feed my family. It’s not an ideal place to live, but I’ve gotten used to the life. There are many cases of gender-based violence here, but this is an area where women don’t want to talk. One out of 50 will talk about it.”
Crime statistics for the Western Cape, in the second quarter released this week (July – September 2022), showed that for women, grievous bodily harm (GBH) cases increased by 399 or 23.1% when compared to the same period in the previous year.
In addition to this, five more women or, 4.4% were also murdered.
Delft police station, which also serves Blikkiesdorp, is among the top five crime stations in Cape Town.
Clark recalls her ex-husband becoming very abusive around 2010. “He smoked tik and mandrax, and he was cheating on me a lot while we were married. When I would find out and go to the places he was, he would fight with me. I was just supposed to believe that it is not true.
“In 2011, I gave birth to my third child, and the cheating and beating continued behind closed doors. Outside, he acted like a different person.
“In 2014, with my fourth child, he beat me right through the pregnancy. He didn’t care what he hit me with: brooms, spades, concrete blocks.
He said it was like I was taking his manhood away and embarrassing him when I went to look for him, where he was smoking.
“In that same year, I applied for a divorce. We got divorced after the baby's birth. After that, he was calmer, but he didn't want to move out. I went for an interdict two or three times, but he would lock me in the hokkie so I would not make it to my court appointments.”
One of her most horrific experiences happened in 2015. It was a matter of life and death.
“He put out all my stuff and threw me full of petrol. Then he told me if I would not have sex with him, he would set me alight. One of his children shouted ‘don't do it’, he closed the curtains of the place. Then I had to sleep with him so he could leave me. That is how I fell pregnant with my baby.”
Over the years, Clark said she lodged complaints with local police many times, but would always take it back, “because I always wondered what would happen to my children”.
Last year, she finally got the interdict she had been trying to get for years.
“I got my chance to appear before a magistrate and the interdict was granted”.
Vanessa Nelson, founder of NGO Hope for the Future, a survivor of gender-based violence, works with many women in Blikkiesdorp, Clark being one of them.
She said: “People who live in Blikkiesdorp have absolutely nothing.
People live in abstract poverty. There are no resources for them. There’s no toilets. They collect water from taps on the side of the road. Since they were forcefully removed and placed there, there has been no development, the living conditions are terrible, it is extremely overcrowded, alcohol, drugs; it is breeding ground for GBV.
“People's dignity and pride were taken away. Now they are frustrated, angry. The home is overcrowded with the amount of children, no food in the house, no work opportunities, so the husband lashes out at the wife.”
“From the sessions, several women have also come forward about being raped in relationships.”
Nelson said, however, most cases were not reported.
“We have referred women to various places for mental health and extra counselling because there's no support for women there and upliftment or empowerment. We do what we can with the little we have, but need more support.
“We do not have the funds. If we had funds, we would be able to capacitate the women so they can become independent and not so dependent on a man to provide.”
To assist Hope for the Future in realising its vision to help the women of Blikkiesdorp, Nelson can be contacted on 076 073 6777.
**The Cape Times’ Big Friday Read is a series of feature articles focusing on the forgotten issues that often disappear in the blur of fast news cycles, and where we also feature the everyday heroes who go out of their way to change the lives of others in their communities.