A developer intent on changing the face of a Woodstock street has ordered two elderly women who have lived there for about 50 years to vacate their homes within the next two weeks.
Property developer Peter le Roux, who recently took ownership of eight rowhouses on Carrie Street, Woodstock, told the Cape Argus on Tuesday that he was intent on removing the current tenants, renovating the houses and selling them to his staff and other buyers.
He said he was acting to evict the aged tenants because rent control statutes had fallen away and to be able to recoup the R1,8-million investment he had made when he bought the buildings.
"I am really scared that that man will simply come in here at the end of the month and throw me out of my house," said 75-year-old Rachel Smit, who has lived at 9 Carrie Street for more than 50 years.
She said many of her memories were finely intertwined with the half century she has lived on the historic block.
"I had both my children here and I saw many others grow up in front of me on this street."
Smit said she was shocked when a man knocked on her door a couple of weeks ago and furnished her with a typed note, ordering her to vacate her home by March 31. The Cape Argus has obtained a copy of the note directing the tenants to speak with Le Roux if they wish "to negotiate an occupational interest".
According to another long-term resident of Carrie Street, 69-year-old Alfreda Atherton, the occupational interest referred to in the note was spelled out in a communication to the tenants at the same time.
"We were told that we will simply have to accept that the only way we can live in our homes is if we pay more than double the rent we are paying now.
"Another thing is that that man wants to sell these buildings to us at such a high price that only rich people can afford them," Atherton said.
She said the uncertainty that resulted after receiving the letter, informing her to discuss the matter with Le Roux, had had a disastrous effect on her health.
"I am quite sick with worry, because I worry that they will just come here at the end of the month and chuck us out on to the street," Atherton said.
Le Roux, who claimed that he had worked closely with African National Congress-aligned businessman Alistair Ruiters and former housing minister Sankie Mthembu-Mahanyele, said he was proceeding with his plans because "we have gone away from a socialist society and are now a capitalist country". He said he was spurred on toward his goal of gentrification "because Thabo Mbeki is a capitalist".
Asked whether he had any feelings or concerns for the old women who would have to leave the housing units, Le Roux stated that there were other considerations that needed to be taken into account.
"I really do not wish to dislodge them, but in order to create rental stock you must have a fair market value, and the reason there was no building before is because of rent control," he said.
He maintains that the aged pensioners and other residents in the street had known for five years about the situation, but had failed to buy the places at a fair market value.
He said it was not his duty to see to the welfare of the old tenants, but that it was the responsibility of their families and the state, which had given him the green light to act by abolishing the rent tribunal that had protected the rights of tenants.
"I feel sorry for the old people, but it's not my problem."