Queer activist collective #WeSeeYou due in court on Friday for occupation of Camps Bay house
The occupation of a Camps Bay home by the queer activist collective #WeSeeYou, advocating safer and affordable housing, has been supported by some and condemned by others. Those who disagree with the activists feel the group’s actions undermine LGBTI struggles and contravene the law.
On Friday 18 September, a group of seven low-income and middle-class queer people booked a Camps Bay Airbnb home for three days with no intention of leaving. They say they did this to highlight the lack of safe and affordable housing for queer people.
Days after the queer collective #WeSeeYou activists, got extensive media coverage for refusing to leave the home, they stopped speaking to the media, so Daily Maverick knocked on the door of the luxury home to request an interview.
The house has six bedrooms, a Jacuzzi and views that tourists pay top dollar to enjoy. This writer was allowed to enter.
“We’re stressed, tired and anxious,” said Xena Scullard, sitting at the dining room table near the balcony, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
“We didn’t look at this house and think that this is the one we’re going to come to. We saw the inequality in the city and we knew that there was a way to infiltrate it and this is the way that we did it,” said Devaarne Muller.
“There’s this narrative that what we’re doing is unprecedented, but internationally there have been hotels and homes that have been occupied,” said another collective member, Kelly-Eve Koopman.
The group raised funds from friends and family for the R12,000 Airbnb fee. When they had to vacate the premises on Monday 21 September, they emailed the rental company, Turnkey365 Property Management, saying they wouldn’t be leaving.
“We told them what we’re doing, who we are and why we’re doing it and that we’d like to speak to the owner of the property,” said Scullard.
A sit-in on private property hasn’t been seen before in South Africa, said Gustav Visser, an academic with an interest in queer sexualities and tourism.
Lethabo Hanong, a transgender member of the collective, said it was “difficult to feel safe in the township and then you come here and you feel safe”. Wewe Ngidi, a lesbian left homeless after losing her job because of the pandemic, expressed the same sentiments.
“There definitely is a crisis in terms of housing for queer communities. Lesbian, gay and transgender people are often poorly resourced because of the discrimination they face, which makes the housing issue of more pertinence,” Visser told Daily Maverick.
In a radio interview, Western Cape Human settlements MEC Tertius Simmers said that more than 600,000 people are on the Western Cape housing waiting list, at least 65% of them in Cape Town. Since lockdown, there have been more than 200 land occupations across the City of Cape Town. This has largely been due to people being evicted – despite the prohibition on evictions – because of a loss of income.
Paul Mudau, a researcher at the school of law at the University of Witwatersrand, empathises with the collective’s need for housing, “but their continued stay at the house is unlawful”.
“The rental period has lapsed, so by law they have to leave the premises, their continued stay makes them illegal occupiers. The [rental] company has the right to apply to a court for the eviction of the illegal occupants,” said Mudau.
Turnkey365 said, “We sympathise with their cause and support the right to protest within the confines of the law. We intend to fulfil our mandate and protect the legal rights of the homeowner.”
Triangle Project, an LGBTI organisation, and Gender DynamiX, which advocates transgender rights, said the occupation “brings to the fore the limits of legal justice in relation to social justice and social equity”.
Karen Hendricks from Reclaim the City said they supported #WeSeeYou. “The problem here is that there is no inclusionary housing policy that would allow private owners to work towards providing affordable housing,” said Hendricks.
The collective has received a notice for immediate eviction from the lawyer who represents the property owner and Turnkey365. The group will appear in court on Friday 2 October.
Visser thinks that the points raised by the group are valid, but that the occupation “sets a very dangerous precedent”.
In a statement released on Facebook, the collective said: “We are in solidarity with occupations globally, but especially locally, as police brutality illegally removes occupiers from their homes. We are occupying in protest of the lack of safe space for queer people, women and children in a country with disgusting rates of gender-based violence.”
Chris Willemse, the chair of the Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, acknowledged that the lack of housing was a big issue.
“However, we can’t support home invasions, but we hope that this gets resolved one way or another,” Willemse told Daily Maverick.
The DA’s Zakhele Mbhele criticised the collective, saying, “The cause to highlight these injustices is righteous; the actions of these occupiers are not.” DM