South Africa

South Africa

A place called home: Tensions boil over in Gugulethu over land squeeze

A place called home: Tensions boil over in Gugulethu over land squeeze

In tension over housing and land, Gugulethu residents recently built shacks on vacant land to protest against the lack of adequate housing. Some residents set fire to a car that was parked outside the popular Tshisa Nyama, Mzoli’s, and looted a supermarket. The City’s anti-land invasion unit razed their shacks. But backyard dwellers are making it clear that they have had enough. By HLUMELA DYANTYI and APHIWE NGALO.

A Google Maps search of Gugulethu reveals how congested the yards in the township are.

In 2016 Mayoral Committee Member Benedicta Minnen said that more than 80,000 people live in backyard dwellings in Cape Town.

Cheryl Jonas is just one backyard dweller who has grown tired of living in these subhuman conditions. She is 49 years old, unemployed and lives in a shack with her parents, brother, sister, their children and her own children. The family’s only source of income is the grant her parents receive from the state. Cheryl has lived in Gugulethu her entire life.

All three generations of Jonas’s family live in the same backyard and her siblings have built themselves ihokie. These are small back rooms, usually made out of zinc and mud. Jonas said: Kudala nda applayela indlu, kwango 1999, sendisuka uzama uapplaya, eDeflt, eBellville nalapha eGugulethu, kodwa nangoku andikayifumani indlu.” (I have been (applying) for a house since 1999, I have even applied in Delft, Belville and here in Gugulethu, but I am still without a house.)

Photo: Brenda Lange has been applying for an RDP home since the 1990s. 13 March 2018. Photo: Aphiwe Ngalo

Brenda Lange is a community leader in the housing battles faced by residents of Gugulethu. She lives in a two-roomed house. She and her mother share a room, while her siblings and their children are backyard dwellers on the same property. They have, like Jonas’ family, built themselves iihokie. Lange tells a story similar to Jonas and, as is common in the area, she too has been waiting for an RDP house for more than a decade.

Photo: Brenda Lange lives in a two-room backyard home in Gugulethu, 13 March 2018. Photo: Hlumela Dyantyi

In the many meetings they have had, Lange has questioned their local councillor, Sharon Manatha, about why people who have been on the housing list for decades have not seen any success. “Sathi ku Mimi, ingathi thina siyi Gugulethu asihoyeki, kukho abantu ngoku abafumana izindlu, kuyokhiwa eCrossroad, ide iyofika e airport. Sambuza ba sizongena na? Wathi yiproject yabantu base Nyanga East.” (We said to Mimi, as Gugulethu residents we feel forgotten, there are people who get houses. There are houses being built from Crossroads to the airport, we asked if we are included, she said that the project was for the people of Nyanga.)

Citing the developments in Crossroads, Lange disputes the claims made by officials that there is no land in the province. “If uthi akanaso ispace sethu singabantu base Gugulethu, sizom’nika ispace. Ukwazelaphi uninika abantu befika, abanike ispace, kude bayofika e airport. Bawuthathe phi lamhlaba, besithi akekho umhlaba eWestern Cape?” (If they say there is no space for us, the people of Gugulethu, we will give them space. How can people who have only just arrived get space, all the way to the airport? Where did they get that land when they say there is no land in the Western Cape?)

The owner of the Tshisa Nyama, Mzoli’s, has agreed to sell of some of his land so that a few families can benefit. Gugulethu businessman and owner Mzoli Ngcawuzele said he is willing to hand over land in the area that has been earmarked for a supermarket.

This is another contentious site in the fight for land in the area. On Sunday 25 February, land invaders targeted the popular restaurant, Mzoli’s, by setting alight an ATM and a car outside the eatery. The violence was driven by backyarders who also barricaded Klipfontein Road with stones and burning tires.

Photo: Mzoli Ngcawuzela stands beside his twin brother Mthobi Ngcawuzele and his daughter Sisanda Ngcawuzele outside the popular eatery, Mzoli’s, in Gugulethu, Cape Town, 2 March 2018. Photo: Leila Dougan

Backyard dwellers claim that they were attacking the Tshisa Nyama because of a new shopping centre Mzoli was rumoured to be opening in Gugulethu.

In an interview a week after the protests, a disappointed Ngcawuzele emphasised how betrayed he felt by the Gugulethu community and considers himself a “father to the Gugulethu community”.

I am ploughing back into the community in so many ways. I contribute to education and to the elderly. Out there, there are graduates I have taken care of through their studies. I organised three lunches for the elderly, and during Christmas I always have parties for them. I support HIV positive people with meals, and I employ people from the neighbourhood, and people from Khayelitsha,” he said.

Even though Mzoli’s did not face any damage to his restaurant, the relationship between the business owner and the larger community has soured. However, having grown up in the area, Ngcawuzele is all too aware of the daily challenges residents face. His family were forcibly removed to Gugulethu in the 1960s following the passing of the Group Areas Act, which entrenched apartheid segregation and racial inequality.

There are ongoing political debates around the theme of land expropriation without compensation. During his maiden question-and-answer session in the National Assembly, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke earnestly about the importance of correcting historical injustice, while emphasising that land expropriation does not mean “smash and grab”. This after the Economic Freedom Fighter supporters invaded unoccupied land in Tshwane and Johannesburg earlier this month.

The reality for thousands, such as Lange, is a loss of faith in politicians, businessmen and councillors. “Into esiyifunayo, sifuna kuze uBonginkosi Madikizela, ngoba kuthiwa nguye ophethe izindlu. uDe Lille naye. Asizombetha, sifuna ianwser eziright,” said Lange. (We want houses, We want (Housing MEC) Bonginkosi Madikizela to come here, apparently he is the one in charge of housing. (Mayor Patricia) De Lille must come too. We’re not going to fight her, we just want answers.)

Sitting on the couch in her two-bedroomed home, Lange went on to say that neglect is “making people angry” and more violence can be expected.

Abantu abaninzi barhalela umlilo, and xasizo phemba lomlilo, asizobanyo imall, asizobanaye uSassa, uSassa unceda thina. Ishopping mall, uSassa neclinic, zisondelene, so utshiswa kwemall, noSassa uzotsha neclinic.” (People want fire, and if we fuel the fire we won’t have a mall, or a Sassa, Sassa assists us. The shopping mall, Sassa and the clinic are in close proximity to each other, so if one burns they all burn.)

Lange and the people of Gugulethu recognise that the burning of buildings will only affect them badly. “Into abangayi cingiyo bona kulandawo bahleli kuyo, yinto ba inqondo zethu azifani, abantu banomsindo” said Lange, referring to the councillors, who they feel do not care about the people of Gugulethu. (What the councillors don’t think about is that people reason differently, people are angry.)

Lange said that Gugulethu residents have been fighting for housing since the dawn of democracy and, even though it was one of the first townships to be built during the apartheid era, residents have been on the housing list for years.

Gugulethu is recognised as one of the first townships in Cape Town yet we still do not have proper houses. The city does not care for us,” she said.

Lange believes that even though today’s government no longer governs under apartheid laws, it remains oppressive towards poor black people and that the need for housing in Gugulethu has caused tension between locally born community members versus those who move to the city from the rural Eastern Cape.

Why is it that they get houses before us, yet we are still waiting?” Lange said.

Lange remembers a time when people from Gugulethu would rush to check for their names in the local newspaper to see if they qualified for an RDP home, only to be left disappointed.

Not even 3% of people from Gugulethu were on that list… because people had applied so many years ago, their parents or grandparents would pass away. When you as the heir would go and ask if you could get that house, they would tell you ‘no you can’t be given the rights to that house’ and my question would always be ‘okay then, what is going to happen to that house?’ They wouldn’t even know what was going to happen to those houses,” Lange said.

The residents of Gugulethu seem to have lost hope in receiving houses from the housing department, all they want now is land. Lange emphasises this, saying, “Sifuna umhlaba, sifuna ubeka ihokie zethu.” (We want land, we want a place to build our hokkies.)

Xolani Koyana, spokesperson for Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille, said the City of Cape Town’s policy states that the municipality must stop those who “illegally occupy city or provincial government-owned land”.

(L)and invasions are illegal, pose fire, health and flood risks,” he said.

According to Koyana, De Lille has met with one of the landowners of the vacant property who made it clear that they are proceeding with an application for a court interdict against the land invasion and that the land, which was invaded by protesting residents, has been earmarked for development.

The City cannot take further action on this matter due to the ongoing litigation, he said. DM

Main Photo: Gugulethu backyard dwellers from NY 108 have erected barricades to protest over housing delivery issues. 13 March, 2018. Photo: Hlumela Dyantyi


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