Domestics ask for housing, not hovels
By Helen Bamford
Property along the Atlantic Seaboard is among the most sought-after and expensive in the country.
But wander round the back of many of these luxurious and plush buildings and a different story unfolds.
You'll see rows of tiny hovels, some not much bigger than cupboards, where domestic workers have lived for decades.
They are relics from the apartheid days when "maids" were allowed to live in these formerly whites-only areas on condition they did so alone, without their families.
In 1996, a group of about 350 domestic workers who work in and around the Atlantic Seaboard, organised themselves into a housing project called the Rainbow Housing Co-operative Limited. Their aim was to lobby the city council for affordable and adequate housing where they could live close to work, but with their families.
It was also to save collectively towards buying houses.
Sea Point ward councillor JP Smith said the issue of finding appropriate housing had been dragging on for six years and it was time for creative solutions.
He said there was a possibility that certain problem buildings in Sea Point like the notorious El Rio slum block could be seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit, which could be turned into appropriate rental stock.
"The council could also buy unused or derelict buildings like the former Junction Hotel, which is now used by drug dealers, and convert it into domestic worker accommodation."
Sindiswa September of the Development Action Group, a non-government organisation which is assisting the housing co-operative, said the group realised that property along the Atlantic Seaboard was expensive and that they did not earn good salaries.
"But they are not that fussy and are aware of the land shortage. Their main concern is that their families can live with them. So many of these people barely get to see their kids."
September said the conditions under which many of the domestic workers were living was unacceptable.
"The rooms are very small and often 10 or more people have to share one bathroom." She said many had arrived as young women and had since been employed for 45 years or more, living alone and seldom seeing their families.
Smith said sites like the two shack settlements between the Bo-Kaap and De Waterkant as well as various large empty buildings standing unused around the city could be used.
"The sale of unused land around the City Bowl and Atlantic Seaboard like the three empty erven adjacent to the mausoleum on High Level Road in Sea Point could also be sold for normal residential development to raise money for the council to create suitable accommodation."
Smith said most of the group, who also include gardeners, caretakers, chauffeurs and restaurant and hotel workers, were keen not to limit the investigation to the Atlantic Seaboard with its massive property prices, but wanted to look at the larger picture of the general City Bowl area as well as Woodstock, Salt River and Maitland.
He said the housing situation for the approximately 1 300 domestic workers had now become urgent because many blocks of flats were closing their domestic rooms.
Norah Duiker, who has spent 31 years in a tiny room at the back of a Sea Point block of flats, said she was not terribly concerned for herself but wanted something better for her children.
"I am old now so it doesn't matter any more but I don't want my children to live in a place like I did for all these years."