'Heroine' dies while still waiting

Time of article published Aug 4, 2008

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By Francis Hweshe

Only days after speaking of her desire for a proper house, Irene Grootboom, who spearheaded a Constitutional Court case in 2000 for proper housing for the poor, died in her shack in Wallacedene. She was 39.

Grootboom died last Wednesday night in Wallacedene informal settlement after a short illness, her partner Peter Roman said on Sunday.

Grootboom's family declined to divulge the cause of her death.

Eight years ago Grootboom brought an application to court on behalf of 510 children and 290 adults living in deplorable conditions in Wallacedene, demanding better housing.

The benchmark judgment declared that the state was obliged to devise and implement "a comprehensive and co-ordinated programme to realise the right of access to adequate housing".

However, Grootboom has died "sick and tired" of being on the housing list.

Last Monday, when the Cape Argus visited her, she said: "When it rains water seeps through every crevice. I try to repair it but I can't do much.

"I was supposed to get a house but I'm still in a shack with my sister-in-law and her three children. They keep promising us. I'm sick and tired of the whole thing."

She said she was proud of the judgment and what it meant for the poor.

"Everybody was scared to go forward. I decided to go forward because we were poor and wanted a place to live."

On Sunday when the Cape Argus visited her family, residents on Grootboom street, named after her, and those in surrounding areas, said they had lost a heroine.

"She was the first person to get the struggle on its feet," said Magdalene May who also lives in a shack.

Roman, 46, said: "She was a lovely woman and fought for the poor. We started staying together since the time of the struggle for housing."

Roman said for the past six years he and Grootboom had lived on empty promises of better housing.

Grootboom's sister-in-law, Mary Baadtjies, said through tears: "During her last moment I was with her."

Ward councillor Magwetshu Ndumiso said the community was shattered by the death of a woman dedicated to improving the lot of others.

"Most developments in this community are through her."

The funeral is scheduled to take place on Saturday .

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