Cape Town - Kashiefa Watson is angry. Ten months after being served an eviction notice from the Woodstock home she has lived in for more than 20 years, she and 13 other families are being forced to leave.
But they have nowhere to go and have turned to the City of Cape Town to intervene and provide them with accommodation close to the CBD.
The families, some of whom were born in the area, or were moved from District Six under the Group Areas Act, have slammed the eviction as “racism in reverse”.
“They don’t want us here. The owner claims he wants to renovate the building yet he wants to sell it to developers who, even if they build flats, the possibility of them being expensive is high,” says Faghmeeda Ling. “They want to keep the area a rich man’s playground.”
The building in Albert Street which has been home to Ling for 50 years, is in need of repair. A few years ago, part of it being used as a shop, burnt down. An old wooden staircase leads residents up to their flats, which are small and drab.
Watson keeps her lights on throughout the day because no sunlight comes in and there is no ventilation either.
“We were desperate for a place to stay so we had to take it. And now we are being thrown out onto the street.”
Residents share two outside communal toilets and one tap. “We are fighting the eviction. We don’t want to end up in Wolwerivier or Blikkiesdorp (temporary relocation areas). It is our constitutional and democratic right to receive proper housing,” adds Delia Fillies, 65.
She moved into the building aged 32. She said on the same day of the Twin Towers attack in New York, the roof of her flat “blew off”.
“I have spent a lot of money trying to make my place habitable. I installed a shower, ceiling and floors. But the owner evicted me for owing him a few months’ rent,” she said.
Fillies said the eviction was similar to apartheid’s Group Areas Act which saw many people moved from their homes to the periphery of cities.
“My family was moved from District Six and we were pushed to the Cape Flats. At least we were provided with brick houses and not the zinc metal shacks that seem to be the preferred solution by the authorities these days.”
The residents said they had a verbal agreement with the landlord that they would spend their rent on fixing up the building.
However, electricity and water bills had run into thousands of rand, despite their rent allegedly covering these services.
Raelene Arendse, the City of Cape Town’s acting mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, said the city was liaising with Legal Aid regarding the residents’ pleas for alternative accommodation.
However, according to Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, they were busy finalising a “radical strategy” for the provision of affordable housing opportunities in the city centre and nearby.
“In addition, we are looking at other CBDs across the metropolitan area as good locations for affordable housing, especially where scheduled public transport exists or is planned,” he said.
Herron said he would make an announcement on the plans in the coming weeks.
“The housing projects we are planning will provide a few thousand opportunities to lower-income households in those areas.”
Briefing sessions with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), stakeholders and the local community were being planned.
Herron said the city was also looking into partnership agreements with social housing institutions to expedite the delivery of affordable housing opportunities.
The fate of the Albert Street, Woodstock residents will be decided in court and the case is to resume on Thursday.
But they have vowed to highlight their plight by holding protest actions.