/ 16 March 2007

Unhappy valley

About 40 minutes from Cape Town, close to Kuils River, a Coca-Cola sign cheerfully announces: ‘Welcome to Happy Valley.” The notice is a tad misleading, judging from the daily queue outside the Afrika Breadline soup kitchen, the blocked toilets and the streets of wood and plastic shacks.

Happy Valley is one of two ‘temporary relocation areas” housing some of Cape Town’s half a million homeless people.

‘They mean welcome to Cape Town’s dump. All the spare and homeless kaffirs and hotnots are dumped here with a starter pack and promises of a house,” says Kleintjie Mayosi, a shack dweller who has been on a housing list for more than 10 years.

The ‘starter pack” is a council-issued kit for half a shack comprising 10 untreated wooden poles, five corrugated iron sheets, 15m of black plastic sheeting and 1,5kg of nails, all valued at R800.

Council officials say they cannot give people a full kit because, at R3 200, it’s too expensive. ‘Then everybody in the world will flock here. Nobody will want to build their own house; they’ll just wait for government handouts,” says mayoral committee member for housing, Dan Plato.

Happy Valley is home to about 2 400 families and 80% of the adults are unemployed. Although it is supposedly a short-term reception area, families hailing from all Cape Town’s townships have been living on these Port Jackson willow-infested dunes for 12 years or more.

After building 730 one- and two-bedroom houses, the former ANC council decided to use it for the ‘reception” of destitute people evicted by a court or living in illegal shacks in the city. The idea was also to house immigrants from the Eastern Cape and elsewhere until they found permanent shelter.

Plato admits the promise of housing is used to induce people to move. ‘Housing is the carrot we use, and we make sure they get on a housing list once they relocate to Happy Valley. We give them a serviced site until council can provide them with a formal house,” he says. ‘A lot of happy people live in beautiful shacks in Happy Valley. The unhappy ones just want council handouts.”

A serviced site consists of a couple of mobile toilets every few hundred metres, some communal taps, a grid of eight dirt roads and sandy plots on which to build.

The attractions were spelt out on every lamppost in Hout Bay during the recent municipal by-election. ‘We will not go to Happy Valley” read ANC election posters, referring to the city council’s plan to move the squatters of Imizamo Yethu.

Cape Town mayor Helen Zille has suggested that most of Imizamo Yethu’s homeless squatters be moved to Happy Valley to relieve a housing and land shortage.

When swathes of Joe Slovo squatter camp burnt down two years ago, displacing 12 000 people, government shifted hundreds of families to Happy Valley, Delft and Langa to make way for the controversy-plagued N2 Gateway Housing project.

They were promised houses if they agreed to move. But none of the fire survivors has been housed in the Gateway project, and the Gateway rentals are beyond the means of Happy Valley shack dwellers.

The council was accused of racism after it moved coloured people into an empty school in Ravensmead, on the Cape Flats, rather than African fire survivors. Ironically, the coloured school residents and Joe Slovo refugees now live cheek by jowl in Happy Valley.

The authorities also suggested Happy Valley as a rehousing option when Somali traders were driven from Masiphumelele, outside Kommetjie, after xenophobic attacks across the Western Cape.

Somali businessman Abdi Mohammed, now squatting with his family in Bellville, says: ‘The council and police came to talk to us about moving, so we drove to Happy Valley to see. When we got out of the car, residents came over and said that if Somalis move there, they will kill us. ‘We don’t have enough land for ourselves and you’re going to take our business away,’ they said.”

Frans Makwena, leader of Happy Valley’s Backyarders Forum, which represents 450 shack-dwelling families, says people are tired of promises. ‘Other homeless people aren’t our enemy. But the council and Zille just arrive and announce who’s going to be dumped here next. We have no say and we’re forced to live with whoever arrives. We also want houses and jobs, to live like humans,” says Makwena.

Happy Valley does not have a school or a clinic. Children are bussed to Khayelitsha or Mfuleni, about 10km away, or are taken by their parents to Blue Downs, 3km away.

The wooden Wendy house used as a crèche has neither electricity nor toilets and rainwater runs down between the walls and the roof. Next door, a community hall stands empty — it is kept for functions, when people pay the Kuils River council R150 an hour to use it.

Toilets in the RDP houses have been blocked for as long as three years. People have dug makeshift latrines in their yards for the human waste, because Kuils River provides no maintenance.

‘The councillor, Pieter van Daalen, recently told us they’ll build a park. We told him we don’t want a fucking park — we’ve got three already and nobody plays there because the skollies hang out there and sell tik to kids. Build us a crèche and houses, we said. Forget the park!” says Makwena.

During the Mail & Guardian‘s visit, a municipal bakkie dropped off two Woodstock families who had been living in a tent on a sports field.

Heslina Hubi, her husband and six children pointed to their new home — a hokkie of plastic sheeting. ‘They said we’ll get a house in Happy Valley — that’s why we moved. Our neighbours built our shack and also brought this wood we’re using as a door.

‘The council people and metro cops said if we don’t go willingly, they’re taking my children,” said Hubi. ‘But we moved because I’ll get a real house soon. They promised.”

Plato and Van Daalen say no new state housing is planned for Happy Valley for at least two years. There are rumours that Irish millionaire philanthropist Niam Mellon, who built 450 houses in Imizamo Yethu, is talking to the council about setting up a factory and building houses in the settlement.

Until Mellon starts building, those in Happy Valley are in for a long wait: even if the government starts building houses today, at its current rate of 10 000 a year in the province the people of Happy Valley could be on the waiting list for another 50 years.