South Africa

So Tired, Tired of Waiting: Cape Town protesters demand housing

By H Dyantyi & L Dougan 22 March 2018

On Wednesday, as the country celebrated Human Rights Day, thousands of residents marched to the Civic Centre in Cape Town. Brandishing placards that read “Land for living” and “Where people live matters” on a rather windy morning, activists demanded steps to advance the human rights of residents to access decent housing, land and security. By HLUMELA DYANTYI and LEILA DOUGAN.

We are here to take what is ours and to reclaim the city,” said Cayden Kiewietz in the parking lot of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, prior to a Human Rights Day march to the Civic Centre in Cape Town.

There are a lot of people who get thrown out of their homes. They’re throwing small children out of their homes,” he said.

Photo: A group of children hold placards in preparation for the march. Many of them are currently occupying the Woodstock Hospital as part of the Reclaim the City activists who are demanding that the derelict hospital be turned into low cost housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

And he would know. Cayden is just 12 years old but is one of a number of children currently occupying the Woodstock Hospital in an effort to get the dilapidated building turned into low-cost housing. They marched on Wednesday as part of the Reclaim the City group, which co-hosted the event with the Social Justice Coalition, Reclaim the City, District Six Working Committee and Ndifuna Ukwazi, among other civil society organisations.

Akisha Arendse, a head shorter than Cayden and all of nine, interrupts.

Photo: Axolile Notywala, General Secretary of the Social Justice Coalition, speaks at the Cape Town Civic Centre District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

I’m here because it’s not right when they put people out of their homes for nothing. They just come and chase us out.”

She is also among the activists currently occupying the Woodstock Hospital.

Photo: Thandaswa (did not give last name) speaks at the Cape Town Civic Centre District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Beside the group of kids stands Nazny Hendricks with his family. He is 51 years old and grew up in District Six. He and his family were removed to Hanover Park following the Group Areas Act in the 1960s.

I’m here to claim our land back. Our people must claim the land back.”

Photo: Mayoral committee member Brett Heron at the Cape Town Civic Centre District on Human Rights Day. He received a memorandum from demonstrators who gathered to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Director of the District Six Working Committee, Zahrah Nordien, said people are tired of waiting for land that they had been promised 17 years ago.

People are dying waiting for this land. Our grandchildren and children should also benefit from District Six. Why are we not involved in any of the decisions of our own land?” she asked.

This year marks 105 years since the Native Land Act was passed and 68 years since the Group Areas Act became law in South Africa. These laws have had long-lasting and detrimental effects to people all over the country and have knock-on effects when it comes to social services, healthcare, education and safety that residents are able to access.

Photo: Thousands of Cape Town residents gathered in the Central Business District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Joseph Makeleni, community leader from Marikana, Phillipi, said he is tired of what he claimed were the City’s empty promises when it comes to the security rights of Marikana residents. He wanted to draw attention to gangsterism in his community and the various kinds of systemic violence that is exacerbated in the townships.

People are dying every day in Marikana yet the state is not doing anything about it,” he said.

Photo: Thousands of Cape Town residents gathered in the Central Business District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. The demonstration was organised by the Social Justice Coalition, Equal Education and Reclaim the City, among other civil society groups. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Makeleni complained that most of the street lights in Marikana are not working which makes it unsafe for residents who come back from work late at night and impossible for the neighbourhood watch to do their job. As a community leader he has had little luck getting the attention of local council members to see to these problems.

The march moved peacefully to the Cape Town Civic Centre where police formed a barrier, prohibiting protesters from moving beyond the steps to the the City Council Chambers. Once there, Axolile Notywala, Secretary General of the Social Justice Coalition, addressed the crowd.

(The police) are protecting the building when they should be protecting us,” he said.

Photo: A group of children hold placards in preparation for the march. Many of them are currently occupying the Woodstock Hospital as part of the Reclaim the City activists who are demanding that the derelict hospital be turned into low cost housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

He addressing the police who stood stern-faced.

When political officials tell you that you must go shoot us you have no right to. You have no right to shoot us on our land,” he shouted, to loud applause.

Notywala said that apartheid spacial planning and land dispossession has continued well into the democratic era. And land in Cape Town is being sold “to the highest bidder”, with prime land being sold to developers for the rich, and the poor being forced to move to the outskirts of the city.

People are being evicted, there is land for people to be housed, but it’s being used as a commodity,” he said.

Photo: Thousands of Cape Town residents gathered in the Central Business District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Mzwandile Mgudlwa, a Reclaim the City member, addressed the crowd about being moved to the controversial temporary relocation settlement, Wolwerivier, on the outskirts of Cape Town, three years ago. Mgudlwa said the city “dumped them in the middle of nowhere” and pensioners struggle to collect their grants because of the high travel costs.

Mgudlwa complained that transport money was a huge issue with Wolwerivier residents and they did not understand why they were not moved to vacant land that is in the inner city. He stressed that households simply cannot afford the extra transport expenses.

Parents even have to pay for R4,000 for transport (to school) per month per child,” he added.

Nomvuyo Kewana said she lives in an informal settlement in Mfuleni, almost 40km from Cape Town. Kewana said that in Mfuleni up to 18 people live in one shack, and very often their structures are destroyed by law enforcement.

Kewana’s shack was destroyed just last week, along with many others in her community. This left many families without a place to sleep and they have been forced to rebuild their shacks.

Photo: Thousands of Cape Town residents gathered in the Central Business District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Nontuthuzelo Temba is also a backyarder from Mfuleni. She lives with five of her children and her husband in a two-roomed home. Temba and her husband are unemployed and rely solely on their children’s social grants to survive.

I moved here in 2006 from Mdantsane (Eastern Cape). I was hoping that I would get a job but I ended up with nothing. My daughter, who I hoped would save us from this situation, didn’t get into CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) even though she passed with a diploma. I was very confused because she was accepted online then when she went to register they told her it was full. Someone called me on the side and I was told that I needed to pay R500 bribe money for her to get in. Where am I going to get R500 when the only thing in my fridge is cold water? I’m tired of being poor. I’m tired of my children being poor,” she said.

Photo: Thousands of Cape Town residents gathered in the Central Business District on Human Rights Day to demand land and adequate housing. 21 March 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

The leaders of the march handed over a memorandum with a list of demands which was signed by a city, provincial and national representative. Their demands included adequate budget to allocate funds to the upgrading of informal settlements, halting the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point and fast-tracking the restitution process for District Six claimants.

Councillor Brett Herron, who is responsible for Transport and Urban Development, received the memorandum. He said he had been listening to the same demands of the protesters for five years ever since he had been placed in office and he had also met with the protesters in smaller groups. Herron agreed that the government has failed to address the apartheid laws which still separate many today and promised the crowd that “the City is doing everything in its power” to address these issues.

The City’s inner land like Woodstock and Salt River should house the poor. We need to identify more land in the inner city. I agree … 24 years after apartheid, the pace of restitution is too slow,” Herron said. DM

Photos: Leila Dougan

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