Evicted SA squatters live on hope alone

Legsaan Levember can only pray for better days as he huddles with 12 family members in a roadside tent, another victim of South Africa’s spiralling housing backlog.

The family uses a plastic sheet to extend their tiny tent, which perches precariously on the slope of a small dune and is regularly blown away by Cape Town’s relentless south-easterly winds.

Levember and his kin inhabit one of countless makeshift homes lining the roadside in Delft, a small settlement 40km outside the tourist mecca where more than 1 000 people were left high and dry after being evicted from brick houses they had occupied illegally.

“It is the first time in my life I have to live like this,” said Levember. “Even during apartheid it was better,” he added.

Most black South Africans still live in townships on the fringes of cities and towns where they work.

The universal right to adequate housing has been a focus of the African National Congress since it was elected to power in 1994. But 14 years after the end of apartheid, the housing backlog shows few signs of abating, with squatter camps mushrooming around cities.

Impatient with the slow pace, a group of mainly coloured people invaded the Delft homes, meant for other beneficiaries, in December.

But they lost a high court appeal against their eviction, which turned violent last week as the squatters threw stones at police, who retaliated with stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.

As the group found itself on the roadside, the city government said it would provide chemical toilets and water while an alternative accommodation site was sought.

But the destitute said help has been slow in arriving, with several families sharing a single tap and relying on bucket toilets.

“I am old and sick.
I don’t even sleep at night because I guard the tent against strong winds or people breaking in and raping my kids,” said Levember.

“I don’t know what are we going to do when it rains. We only pray ... It’s bad.”

The tents are near a main road on which children now play. Residents say one was bitten by a scorpion in adjacent bushes, while another discovered a snake.

“We were thrown out like dogs,” Lola Wentzel said, adding she had nowhere to go with her four children.

“They just dump us,” added Latovica Philander, sitting on the roadside with scant possessions and heavily pregnant with her fourth child.

“We have no house to go to, no shack to go to. Nowhere to go. Nowhere.”

‘This is apartheid in reverse’

Last year, the national government said it had put roofs over the heads of 12-million citizens by building 2,4-million houses. This left 2,2-million individuals still in need.

The government aims to eradicate shack dwellings by 2014, but housing delivery has been hamstrung by slow and often shoddy construction.

The government has also warned that rising building costs could hamper progress as demand increases for materials as South Africa prepares stadiums and infrastructure for hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the first on the African continent.

The government has budgeted about R18-billion until 2009/10 for stadium construction and other costs associated with hosting the football spectacular, but critics say this money should be spent elsewhere.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, however, has insisted that World Cup preparations were boosting the economy and contributing to “sustained growth”.

Sporadic countrywide protests against dire living conditions are turning increasingly violent. The United Nations urged South Africa last year to halt forced evictions, saying they contravened the spirit of the Constitution.

In Delft, the situation has fuelled simmering racial tensions between coloured people and black people, each believing the other is getting preference for housing by political parties canvassing votes.

Coloured people suspect the ANC of reserving housing for black South Africans, who in turn accuse the main opposition Democratic Alliance, which governs the city of Cape Town, of favouring coloured people.

“This is apartheid in reverse,” lamented Lola Wentzel, who has been on the waiting list for over a decade.

“During apartheid, we were told we were not white enough to own houses. Now in democracy we are not black and poor enough. Where are we supposed to go?”—AFP

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