DURBAN – A resident of a former Durban shelter known as The Ark died in December while awaiting the outcome of a protracted court battle involving eThekwini municipality.
Robert Mayer, 62, moved into The Ark in 1992; he relocated from upcountry after being told that the climate at the coast would improve his debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
According to his friends, who are also former The Ark residents, Mayer died in his sleep at Strollers, a makeshift shelter near the city centre.
“He just didn’t wake up, it’s painful,” Vusi Ncwane told African News Agency (ANA) on Monday.
Mayer was a long-term resident of the beachfront-based The Ark before being evicted with about 700 other residents in 2004 to make way for the area’s costly upmarket Point development, which included uShaka Marine World.
Following their eviction from the massive The Ark building, residents were taken to either Strollers or a former department of health warehouse-sized structure in Cato Manor called Ekuphileni house. Hundreds were sent to RDP housing in the Welbedacht area of Chatsworth. About 200 were bussed to shelters in Cape Town.
The then leaders of eThekwini municipality told the evicted Arkians -- as they call themselves -- that the shelters were temporary and they would be rehoused in a permanent premises. A provincial housing grant of R10 million was made available to the city for the relocation, but it never took place.
Fifteen years later, the Arkians remain in the squalid, dangerous Ekuphileni and Strollers buildings, most of them with no work, no income and foraging for food on a daily basis.
This forms the basis of the protracted civil case in which eThekwini is being sued for R528,369,297 for breach of contract for failing to relocate the residents to a permanent home that offered the same facilities as the original The Ark did. The building was set to be demolished but to this day it still stands and is up for rental.
The case is the most costly of the numerous, unrelated lawsuits being challenged by the city.
There was hope and joy amongst the Arkians in November as Dr Peter Munns, a doctor of Theology, appeared in the Durban High Court on their behalf.
Munns has said that if he is successful with his legal bid, the over R500 million will be used to construct or purchase a building bigger than the original The Ark building, which offers the same facilities on a larger scale.
Those facilities included 900 beds, training courses to skill the homeless, literacy classes, a medical clinic, crèche, and feeding of over 1000 indigent a day.
At Munns's court appearance, Judge Anton van Zyl removed the case from the roll, citing a necessary technicality that had to be cleared up. The case would continue once the technicality was sorted out, he stressed.
While they await this, the hundreds of remaining Arkians – many have died out – continue living in their makeshift shelters.
Ncwane told ANA: “We lost a good friend when Robert died. There are other old people among us who would like to see the city fulfil its promise before they die of old age or their chronic diseases.
“There are also us younger people – like me – who came to The Ark when we were teenagers, who would like to be skilled and trained so that we can get work. We would be very happy if the municipality would fulfil the promise it made almost 20 years ago.”
Those wanting to donate food, clothing or other items to the remaining The Ark residents can contact Ncwane – who is one of the resident-appointed caretakers at Ekuphileni house - on 067 828 1517.