Open City opens – despite demos

Black and white protesters took a dip in the Hillbrow swimming pool yesterday, and set an historic precedent-despite a rowdy attempt by an Afrikaner Weerstaandsbeweging picket to keep them out.  The Hillbrow swim, organised by Democratic Party members, coincided with the launch of a campaign yesterday by Actstop and the Five Freedoms Forum to defy apartheid laws in Johannesburg. Police removed a number of AWB demonstrators who had blocked the entrance to the swimming pool, allowing DP members and black men and children to pay their fees and enter the pool. There was excitement around the pool as a number of black men joined DP councillors, including caucus leader Tony Leon, in a dip amid camera flashes. Leon praised police for ”acting promptly and with dignity”. 

Four black sisters aged between seven and 16 came along to share the experience. The two younger girls Winina and Nokuthula Ngwena, had worn swimming costumes hidden under their clothes. The four, who live in nearby Highpoint, are among thousands of black residents who had been denied access to the pool just a few steps from their homes. DP councillors and Actstop activists explained that the protest was a joint effort to break racial barriers in Johannesburg. The pool challenge was the brainchild of attorney Carl Stein, who had found that the City Council had never passed a by-law enforcing the segregation of the pool. He argued that although the Separate Amenities Act permitted segregation, it did not oblige it. Local governments still had to pass resolutions to effect enforcement.

No lights, no water. Welcome to the ‘Brow

Dr Franz Auerbach faces a miserable weekend in a decrepit Jo¬hannesburg block of flats with no lights, no hot water, an outside toilet and bathroom and pools of dirty wa¬ter everywhere. He will have to warm water to wash himself from a tiny plastic basin and hang his clothes on a nail on the wall. He will have to walk up the stairs, as the lift in the building is not working. Auerbach, an educationist and member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, is one of about 50 volunteers who, as part of an Actstop and Five Freedoms Forum campaign, is spending two nights in a Hillbrow flat with black tenants. The volunteers- including former mayoress Molly Sklaar, Democratic Party leader Tony Leon, Wits University’s Professor Noel Garson and Austrian embassy second secretary Gerhard Dedic – were introduced to their hosts last night. They spent last night and will spend tonight experiencing the living conditions of black tenants in the sprawling flatland of Hillbrow, Joubert Park and downtown Johannesburg. The purpose is to expose the living conditions of Group Areas ”illegals” in these areas by allowing high profile people to experience the conditions at first hand. 

The Weekly Mail this week visited some of the flats earmarked for the campaign and found that they have no electricity, no hot water, no lifts and blocked toilets. Some guests will have to share tiny rooms with two other people. Guests in some flats may have to do with bread and tea for lunch. Supper could be anything between pap en vleis and cabbage and mealie porridge. Auerbach is sharing a 4m by 3m room at flat number 25 Impala Lodge, in Bree Street, with a migrant worker couple, Paul Tlhapi and Sidney Mafoko. Auerbach’s wife, No¬reen, has moved into a similar room. 

 The Auerbachs will have to carry a torch after sunset, as the lights in the dilapidated three-storey building have been cut off for two months and there is no lift in the 83-year-old building. Residents have been refusing to pay rent of R200 a month for one of these rooms. They will only pay R75. They said the Rent Board had told them the state of the building did not the warrant such high rentals. Residents claimed white tenants who had vacated the block in 1983 had paid with two woman on the floor above. R44 a month, and that R75 was reasonable in the circumstances. The men with whom Auerbach is sharing have two beds -they will share one and offer the other to their guest. There is a basin and the men use a pressure-cooker to cook and warm water to wash themselves.

The water is kept in a plastic basin under the bed. As there is no wardrobe, clothes have to be hung on nails in the wall above the beds. A small cupboard serves as a table, and two chairs occupy the remaining space. Dirty water lies in pools in the corridors and bathroom and on the staircase. The Auerbachs will have to use a toilet and bathroom in the passage. Hot water is not available, and the bathroom and toilet doors cannot be locked from inside. Crime is rife in the building, tenants say, with muggings and stabbings. 

Professor Noel Garson, dean of the faculty of arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, will be the guest of Monica Mdatshulwa of 31 Ardenlee with Mdatshulwa, her visiting sister, Selina, and four children. A bed occupies most of the 3m by 4m room. A 1,5m strip represents the kitchen, which is equipped with a two-plate gas stove and basin. There is a tiny bathroom with no hot water. A portable TV set and transistor ra¬dio adorn a wall unit across the main room. In addition to the bed, there are two chairs and a tiny table in the room. The walls inside and outside the flats are filthy, but the balconies were in the process of being repainted. The building has had no electricity for some time, according to residents. They pay R110 rental, in defiance of the owner ‘s demand for R295. ”Yesterday we ate bread and cabbage for supper and may change to meat and porridge on Thursday, ” Selina said . 

The Austrian diplomat will have to be fit – the lift in his seven-storey block of flats does not work. Wendy Maseko is hosting the diplomat at 43 Ritz Plaza, in Plein Street. The bachelor flat consists of a 5m by 5m room, a kitchenette and a bathroom. Dedic will be offered a folding bed. The couple live with two children aged two and seven. If Dedic decides to stay in the flat during the day, he may have to eat bread and tea for lunch. 

The head of the DP caucus in the Johannesburg City Council, Tony Leon, has been allocated a slightly better flat. It is occupied by Myburgh and Lydia Rajuili and their son and daughter-in-law at 52 Export House, Bree Street. The flat has two bedrooms, one very small, a lounge and a kitchenette. The Rajuili couple have offered their bedroom to Leon, but the councillor yesterday declined the offer. He told his hosts he would bring a sleeping-bag and sleep on the floor. ”The block has not been maintained for a long time, ” said Myburgh, who is the chairman of the residents’ committee in the block. He said fused bulbs had not been replaced, the built-in wardrobes were falling apart, broken window panes had not been repaired and that residents cleaned the building themselves. The lift had not worked for eight months, residents said. The inner city encounter is the first stage in a two – pronged strategy. The second stage will be a campaign of defiance of apartheid laws.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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