‘Woodstock’s still our home – trendy or not’

Published Sep 29, 2014


It’s blooming into a commercial and creative hub, but amid the chatter and hum of gentrification, Woodstock locals are not enamoured of this “progress”. Nontando Mposo reports.

Cape Town - A mix of hipsters and trendy tourists converge on the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock every Saturday without fail.

They sit on haystacks under umbrellas, sipping overpriced fruit smoothies and German-styled beers, and eating an array of organic food.

On the other side of the market, over a high boundary wall, a very different scene is playing out in Bromwell Street.

The street is lined with drab and rundown houses – in sharp contrast to the freshly painted and chicly decorated businesses on the other side of the road.

Bromwell Street is home to a close-knit mixed community mostly made up of second- and third-generation Cape Malay and “coloured” families.

With the Woodstock revival in full swing and developers buying properties to convert into businesses, the small community is likely to disappear and make way for the blossoming creative hub that Woodstock has become. The suburb is also popular with first-time buyers wanting affordable homes in a convenient central location.

Bromwell Street residents told the Cape Argus how estate agents were falling over themselves to outbid competitors.

A number of the residents who have been renting in the area for decades, have been served with eviction notices, and they believe gentrification is to blame for the predicament.

Homeowner Jack Mhuslanga bought his three-bedroom house for R100 000 13 years ago and has almost paid it off. In the past few months estate agencies have visited him almost every week with offers of between R650 000 and R700 000 for the house he shares with his wife, children, grandchildren and in-laws.

“I will consider moving if they offer me a bigger house which is in good condition. The house also has to be close to the city so I can get to work easily,” he said.

“Part of why I love living here is because I am near my work. I’ve known the people that stay here for years. We have our problems, but mostly we all get along.”

Mhuslanga, 55, said the facelift the suburb was getting was not a problem for him and his family, but he would prefer it if developers consulted the locals when making development plans. “There are lots of rumours flying around, but most people are refusing to sell,” he said.

Close to Mhuslanga’s home, next to the Salt River market, a group of squatters at the Bromwell Stables are upset at the prospect of being kicked out.

Ursula Augustine told the Cape Argus they had been given an evicton notice to vacate the former horse stables by November 28.

Twenty-two families share the stables, which are divided into 3x3m rooms. The mouldy bricks are punctured with holes patched up with scraps of wood.

Augustine has been living at the stables for 13 years.

“We are planning to ignore the eviction letter. What else can we do? We have nowhere to go.”

Augustine, 45, shares her room with her dog Mia. Her home is sparsely furnished with a single bed, a clothes cabinet and a gas stove. “I’ve made it liveable for myself. It’s not much but it’s home.”

Augustine and her neighbours suspect that the owners of the Biscuit Mill are behind the planned takeover to extend the market and its parking area.

Parking space is sought-after on market day and many locals make money by offering marketgoers parking spaces.

But Jody Aufrichtig, one of the owners of the Old Biscuit Mill, said they were not behind the buyout of residential properties. “We are commercially focused.”

He said the acquisition was more likely being driven by property investors who had been picking up real estate in Woodstock for the past 60-70 years.

City of Cape Town media manager Priya Reddy said the city had obtained approval to evict the Bromwell Stables residents because the structures were “unfit for human habitation and are posing a health and safety risk”.

She said the city was looking at the housing feasibility of the area.

Most of the residents tell a similar story of estate agencies popping in at all times of the day and offering to buy their properties. Some said they received daily phone calls from agents wanting to know how much it would take for them to sell their properties.

Homeowner Ayesha de Vries said her family would only consider moving out if they were offered between R1 million and R2m. She has received an offer for R650 000 so far.

“It’s a big decision to make because I have to root up my whole family. The children’s schools have to be changed… there are a lot of factors to consider, so the price has to be right.

“These people (developers) have got money but they are going for the cheapest options to cut corners… All of my family have lived in this street for years, It’s comfortable living close to each other.”

Most of the families complained about the Saturday-morning traffic congestion brought on by people visiting businesses in the area, and the noise from some of the drinking holes.

“The developments have not done much for us locals. The shops around here are expensive and most of them sell old, expensive antiques which are no use to us. We are also a Muslim community and our Friday midday prayer is sometimes disturbed by the noise,” De Vries said.

“If they want us out than they must pay the right price. Property is expensive now. Our main worry is that the increasing rates will affect us in the future.”

One of the oldest homeowners in Bromwell Street, Maria Adonis, 81, said she had “told off” many agents looking to buy her house. “The only move I will be making at this age is to the graveyard. I am not interested in what they have to offer me…

Way, way back…

The history of Woodstock starts with the hamlet of Papendorp, which was populated by a group of fishermen and farmers in the early days of the fledgling neighbourhood in the late 1700s.

The real development began in the mid-1800s when the construction of a railway line turned it into a trendy seaside town. After being declared a municipality it flourished, becoming the third-biggest town in the Mother City.

Its reputation as a seaside resort was short-lived. In the 1950s, with the land reclamation of Table Bay, Woodstock beach was lost and industrialisation quickly took over the neighbourhood.

It was one of the few places that remained integrated during apartheid; it dodged being declared a “whites only” area. Black and coloured people flocked there in the 1970s and 80s, laying the foundation for the area’s modern renaissance. – From www.ilovewoodstock.co.za

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