South Africa


Cape winter bites: Misery for Delft backyard dwellers as they wait for houses

Backyarders from Eindhoven in Delft were interdicted from occupying city-owned land after a rumour that houses would be built there. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

A group of backyard dwellers from Eindhoven in Delft are at the centre of a story that involves the waiting list, an interdict from the City of Cape Town and a lawyer who allegedly ran off with their money — but ultimately, all they really want to know is when they will get houses, as some have been waiting for almost 20 years.

On Tuesday 25 June 2019, a group of backyarders will head back to the Western Cape High Court to decide the next steps after they were interdicted from occupying a piece of City of Cape Town land.

In 2018, the City interdicted a group of Eindhoven residents from occupying plots owned by the council. The group, all backyarders from Eindhoven, which forms part of Ward 20 in Delft, were interdicted from occupying city-owned land after a rumour which spread in the community that houses would be built on the pockets of land.

Earlier in June, Judge Penelope Nolwazi Boqwana told the occupiers to find legal representation before any hearings would proceed. This was after their lawyer — identified to the group’s community leader Patricia Michaels only as “Anthony” — had not been in contact with the group.

But Michaels told Daily Maverick the group had paid him R3,100 they raised for his services, but never heard back from him when she tried contacting him in the lead-up to their appearance before Judge Boqwana. On 14 June 2019, Judge Boqwana told the occupiers to find legal representation. On 18 June, the group confirmed to Judge Boqwana that they had received help from the Cape Law Society.

The case will now return to court on Tuesday 25 June for further hearings.

The occupation site in Eindhoven is about 25km from Cape Town’s CBD. According to the South African 2011 census, the ward had 1,179 informal dwellings, which could be labelled as shacks or backyard dwellings.

Michaels told Daily Maverick that early in 2018 the community heard a rumour that houses would be built in the area — but there had been “no community involvement” on the development, including who the houses would be built for. Then during the course of February 2018 some community members hosted public meetings with the ward councillor and the police over the development.

Courtney van Wyk, ward councillor for Ward 20, promised to show up – but never showed up”, according to Michaels.

On the afternoon of 1 March 2018, the community began to mark out plots of land for themselves. On the evening of Saturday 2 March, Michaels said the occupation was still peaceful — law enforcement officials monitored the occupation, but they had “didn’t bother us”. However, Michaels told Daily Maverick if any violence erupted, law enforcement would need to intervene.

According to Michaels this is what happened next:

  • On the following Sunday, law enforcement, the Red Ants and the City of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit began demolishing shacks. Community members said some of their belongings were broken, destroyed or stolen;

  • Monday: Seven people were injured as law enforcement officials began shooting at community members. Community members then sought to rebuild their destroyed shacks;

  • Tuesday: after a public meeting, as Michaels was walking with her assistant, a gun was pointed at the assistant by law enforcement officials. “That night they drove with their guns,” said Michaels;

  • By Friday, a court interdict was in place, instructing the occupiers to leave the property; and

  • On Saturday, another court interdict was posted while community members slept.

Additionally, Michaels told Daily Maverick, police did not answer any questions about the second interdict, but instead fired rubber bullets and used teargas on about 70 families who were still occupying the land.

Nobody has a stable place to stay,” said Michaels.

The place I’m staying at leaks. It is only the bed area that doesn’t leak,” said Peter Moses, who has been a backyarder for about nine years after the death of his wife, who had been on the City’s housing waiting list.

I don’t know if I’d survive another winter in that place (his shack that he shares with his partner Samantha Levendale). Another winter in that place, I’d die” said the soft-spoken 68-year-old.

Moses told Daily Maverick that he had chronic illnesses — high blood pressure, water on his lungs, and had previously suffered a heart attack.

And now I have arthritis,” he said.

Moses’ late wife was on the waiting list for a City-built house, “but I went everywhere (with her) when she went to the office”. When his wife died, he tried asking at the council offices if her place on the list could be transferred to him.

Now, Moses stays in a shack that leaks when it rains. At the beginning of June, when Cape Town had heavy rain, “I’d have to throw water out. I didn’t sleep”, Moses told Daily Maverick.

Moses showed Daily Maverick where the rain came through his shack in the back yard of someone’s property. Orange silicon spots dot the roof of their shack.

Peter Moses points to water buckets lining his shack after heavy rains caused leaks on the evening of 11 June 2019. Moses lives with his partner who has been on the housing waiting list for more than 20 years. (Photo: Suné Payne)

I can’t even let her stay here,” said his partner, Samantha Levendale, who pointed to her granddaughter, who sat on a couch in the shack.

Look,” said Levendale, showing Daily Maverick cupboards wet and damaged from the rain in the week of 10 June.

I’ve been on the waiting list for 25 years — how long do I have to wait?” she asked.

Chris Tait, 52, said a day before Daily Maverick’s visit to the area, he had a doctor’s visit where “the doctor scolded me — how can I live in a place like this?”

The doctor said I needed a house. What can I tell him?”

Tait lives alone in the back yard of someone’s property. Inside his tiny shack is his bed, a cupboard and above him are sheets of plastic and pieces of cardboard to keep out the cold. On his bed are the numerous pills he needs to take daily — for epilepsy, diabetes and high blood pressure. Thirteen years ago Tait had a stroke which put him in hospital for a year, then wheelchair-bound. Today, he makes use of a crutch to walk, as he still has partial paralysis of his right side.

Tait said his shack “leaks like a tap… at night, I can’t sleep, the water drips”.

Chris Tait in his shack in Eindhoven, Delft on the Cape Flats. Tait was one of 70 families who occupied plots of city-owned land in hopes of finally getting a house of his own. (Photo: Suné Payne)

Tait said he applied for a house “almost 20 years ago, in Kuils River, from the City of Cape Town”.

Before the occupations, Tait told Daily Maverick he had bought a Wendy house to be repaid in instalments, but the Red Ants and the City of Cape Town’s Anti-Invasion Unit destroyed it and his belongings went missing.

What was in my Wendy house wasn’t returned,” said Tait, who now needs to fork out R750 on his instalment for the destroyed Wendy house plus an additional R700 for the renting of a shack. This all comes from his government disability grant of R1,780 a month.

There are younger people that have a house but I don’t — it’s strange,” said Tait.

City of Cape Town responds:

Daily Maverick sent queries about the housing waiting list and the disputed City-owned plots to Malusi Booi, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee (Mayco) member for Human Settlements.

Booi said 203 units would be built in Eindhoven:

Commencement is August 2019 and planned completion is October 2020, if all goes according to plan,” Booi said.

The City could not comment on rumours about who would receive the housing units. “If beneficiaries have any queries related to the Delft Housing Project, they can visit the Delft Subcouncil Five Satellite Office for assistance,” said Booi.

About the long wait for houses by some people — of about 20 years — Booi said:

There are applicants who applied many years ago. There are many reasons why an applicant may be on the database for some time. Some applicants only want to live in certain areas. Other factors relate to the target area from which applicants are selected, the number of housing opportunities, the criteria for selection, and so on.

Another important reason is that applicants fail to keep their details, including address and contact details, up to date. There is no specific timeframe as it depends on the availability of housing opportunities and whether applicants qualify when the opportunities do become available. It is important to remember that all housing projects have different dynamics in terms of the size of the project, the number of applicants who may qualify and the application date range for that project.”

Daily Maverick asked Booi if a person such as Moses or Tait could effectively jump the queue for a house, based on their various illnesses or disabilities.

All Breaking New Ground housing projects include beneficiaries with or who have dependants with special needs. Applicants who wish to be considered as special needs are required to submit supporting documentation such as medical records.”

Booi told Daily Maverick that “beneficiaries of all City housing projects are allocated in accordance with the City’s allocation policy and the housing database to ensure that housing opportunities are provided to qualifying applicants in a fair, transparent and equal manner, and to prevent queue-jumping.

Applicants will be selected for housing opportunities based on the date that they registered on the City’s housing database. Each project has a cut-off date determined by the project steering committee, to ensure that all people with older housing database dates are assisted before those with younger dates are approached. This year is moved up, with the input of the project steering committee, once all names in that date range are exhausted.

Each housing project would then invite applicants within the agreed date-range from the following three categories to apply for the specific project: Applicants who reside within the target area (the areas near or surrounding the planned housing development; applicants who have been on the housing database the longest outside of the target area, that is, the greater City of Cape Town; and applicants with special needs.”

But this housing policy does not take wards into account “as these are political boundaries not intended for housing allocation purposes,” said Booi. DM


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