Rocks and bottles littered the path of Schubart Park residents who marched on Thursday demanding access to housing. The state government came to the party, but will the municipality? By GREG NICOLSON.
Looming over Pretoria’s canopy of jacarandas, the high-rise buildings of Schubart Park are fenced-in by coils of razor wire. The sun shines into more than 50 empty floors of low-cost apartments, leaving what some call Pretoria’s inner-city slum looking like a shell of the crammed centre of activity it once was. But a few of the 200 people toyi-toying in a taxi-rank across the road pointed out that it was once their home – an open window on this floor, a forgotten poster on that floor.
On Thursday the Schubart Park Residents’ Committee summoned those it could find and marched to the Union Buildings, demanding the housing debacle be addressed. Six weeks ago the Tshwane metropolitan municipality evicted them without notice, because, it said, the buildings were dangerous and needed to be upgraded. It came after a series of battles fought between police and residents in the buildings and surrounding streets.
The evictions went ahead on condition the thousands of residents could access appropriate accommodation elsewhere. But only a fraction of them have been put up in the alternative units at Ajo, where they are allowed to stay rent-free for three months. It is, we’re told, hardly appropriate. Lizzy Steenkamp, 48, lived in Schubart Park for nine years and was able to give her 12-year-old daughter a room of her own so that she had privacy to study. The family now stays in a one-room unit at Ajo and has to share a bathroom with other residents. Men enter the bathroom while her daughter is showering, she says. Once, the girl was stuck in the shower while a couple “bumped” outside.
Others, like 21-year-old Lucky Mngomezulu, have been shuffled around the housing department while sleeping rough in parks or shelters in the city. Mngomezulu is living in a parking garage with her husband and two children with no access to water, electricity or a toilet. She works, although it’s becoming more difficult while being homeless, and is willing to pay for reasonable accommodation, she says.
The local ward councillor, Democratic Alliance member Sam Moimane, says the council lied when it said it would provide accommodation. “They should respect the court ruling and take care of these people,” he says, adding that he’s been threatened because residents expect results from him. He says the Tshwane mayor and the member for housing and human settlements have refused to discuss the issue.
After a peaceful march to the Union Buildings featuring the usual struggle songs and placards, spiced with a few supporting embattled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, the leaders of the residents’ committee pleaded with marchers that only they, not the whole angry mob, present their memorandum to the representative of the president.
On the wrong side of the fence and shaded in darkness, the crowd screamed to be heard, pressing their placards against the wire and demanding they reach the steps of the executive. Trevor Buckland, a community leader who stood in the recent local elections, explained that at no point had the Tshwane municipality tried to engage in dialogue with the residents of Schubart Park about what would happen to them.
“The City of Tshwane has violated our rights by evicting us without a court order,” read the leader of the residents’ committee Aaubre Ramothale from the their memorandum. They demanded the resignation of mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, MMC for human settlements and housing, Joshua Ngonyema, and the head of the Tshwane Housing Company, Mapule Phora. It also called for an investigation by the Public Protector, prompting screams of “Viva, Thuli, viva!”
The Residents’ Committee has so far been frustrated by their own attempts to overturn the eviction through the courts. After their application to overturn a high court judge’s evacuation order was rejected, they have applied to the High Court for leave of appeal, but haven’t received a response in three weeks. They will soon move to seek damages, said Louise du Plessis from Lawyers for Human Rights.
From the government, the group demanded that the refurbishment of Schubart Park be completed in 18 months and must involve community consultation. They want an independent engineer to assess the buildings and for temporary accommodation to be extended to all residents for the duration of the refurbishment. “This is not negotiable,” read Ramathale, demanding a response from the state and local government within seven days.
The poor sap who came to receive the memorandum on the president’s behalf was Eugene Mthethwa. In front of a posse of police he said it was clear the council was ignoring the residents and would arrange a meeting for tomorrow. “I don’t know how it feels to sleep outside,” he told the crowd. “Let it be short-lived. Let our intervention help you get back to your homes.”
But Tshwane had a rather lacklustre response: “These people told us they have other places to squeeze in with relatives and friends around town. We went ahead and provided shelter for those who needed it,” said spokesman Pieter de Necker. “We were instructed to provide temporary accommodation, not permanently.” DM
Photo: Greg Nicolson for iMAVERICK
"I do not understand how holding a placard to protest against gender-based violence would be interpreted as insulting the modesty of a woman." ~ Beatrice Mateyo