South Africa


Pleas for help from families living in filth and decay in abandoned Cape Flats building

The centre of a two-storey building in Gugulethu is covered in rubbish and human waste. There are over 30 rooms filled with families living there, most of whom say they have nowhere else to go. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Gugulethu ward councillor acknowledges the building is falling apart but says he can’t help the occupants because it’s privately owned.

First published by GroundUp.

Nestled in Gugulethu’s Kanana informal settlement is a two-storey building occupied by over two dozen families. Walking through the 34-room dome-shaped building, it’s hard to ignore the strong stench of faeces and decay.

From the first floor balcony, resident Nonzondelelo Ntlombe pointed down to a stagnant pool of water in the centre of the building filled with plastic bottles, and human excrement. The drain is blocked and the sewer pipes broken.

Down a dark passage, Ntlombe opened a door to one of the shared bathrooms. “All the toilets don’t work. You have to bring a bucket of water so you can flush.”

Nontuthuzelo Nqotholo has been living in the building for more than 20 years. Her room is so tiny that the three-quarter bed takes up most of the space. “I live here with my boyfriend, it’s tough but we have nowhere else to go,” said Nqotholo.

The back of the building is also flooded with dirty water. Frogs can be heard croaking in there.

In pink pyjamas and only wearing one shoe, seven-year-old Ithana Nolubabalo Swaartbooi stood outside the room she shares with her mother and four other people. Inside the room, Nolubabalo’s mother Beauty was sweeping away water that had flooded her unit. The bedroom has a double size bed, a bunk bed and a small wardrobe.

“I live with five children. I moved here in 2002 after my mother passed away. This was her place. There are rats all over. It stinks, it’s wet. I always have to make sure that the door is closed because of the smell and the flies,” she said.

The room Beauty Swaartbooi and her daughter share with six other people is so small, they have set up a small lounge area in this space. But this space is directly next to waste and floods when it rains. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

“My seven-year-old has sores on her body and I think they were caused by the dirtiness of this place. I was told at the hospital that she has a fungus,” said Swaartbooi.

Ntlombe, who is also a community leader, said residents had repeatedly asked the City of Cape Town for help but had been told that the building is privately owned.

She said the City’s rubbish collection truck did not empty the outside bins.

When asked for information, City spokesperson Zama Feni said officials could not locate the building, although GroundUp had explained the exact location both over the phone and on email and had sent a photograph from Google Maps.

Ward councillor Bongani Ngcombolo said residents had asked him for help but his hands were tied. “The property is privately owned so the municipality cannot make any provisions. All I can do is note down the concerns and make sure that I refer them to the council. But those residents living there are South African voters, the municipality is supposed to intervene given the situation that they are living under. That place is really bad. The building looks like it can collapse at any time,” he said. DM

The exterior of the two-storey building in Gugulethu. There are over 30 rooms filled with families living there, most of whom say they have nowhere else to go. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)


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All Comments 8

  • I have a little sympathy, but that’s about it. Problem – living there with 5 kids. Problem – asking the municipality for help. Problem – a community leader who can’t actually organise her community (the place where she lives) to actually clean up their filth. The residents could easily form a cooperative and actually clean the place up, fix toilets etc. But that’s South Africa, apparently government or some other poor fool has to come and sort out these people’s problems.

  • I have to agree with Fanie Tshabalala – clean up your own @#$%^ mess instead of crying like babies for someone else to do it for you.

    • I find it difficult to believe that residents don’t know how to clean the place themselves . Surely its not that hard for each do a little every day. Maybe they are waiting for the clean up fairy to help.

  • Some questions I feel Mary-Ann ought to have covered:
    1. What condition was the building in before the squatters moved in 20 years ago?
    2. What rentals have the occupants paid to the owners over the last 20 years?
    3. All those electrical cables visible in the photo – are those metered?
    4. There are two Golf polos (fairly new) and one old Mercedes SE in the parking lot – do these belong to tenants?
    5. Who was responsible for throwing the garbage into the central courtyard?
    6. Surely no one should have to live like this – why aren’t these folk on the RDP housing list? The Western Cape is the leading RDP housing provider in the country.

    Without answers to the above it is difficult to assess the situation objectively.

    • I suspect the RDP housing would end up the same as this building – neglected.
      Something given for free holds no value to the receiver so they have no incentive to maintain or improve it. This is a symptom of a welfare state and is difficult to undo once it manifests.

  • Fairly pristine satellite dishes they have there…
    Perhaps if they spent more time looking for work or creating work for themselves instead of watching endless reruns…

  • This is a disgrace and surely a major health hazard. While I agree with Fanie that the residents should get their act together and clean up the place, the municipal health dept together with the local ward councillor should show some muscle and demand action the part of the owner who has responsibility towards the broader community to see that this mess gets cleaned up by the residents.