/ 9 October 2009

‘Dumping ground’ for unwanted people

A man with discoloured skin — dying alone in a shack of Aids — speaks volumes about conditions in Blikkiesdorp, described as a ”dumping ground” for unwanted people in Cape Town.

Set up in the Cape Flats settlement of Delft, primarily to stifle illegal invasions of newly constructed houses in the N2 Gateway Project, it has seen the resettlement of other people who have been relocated or evicted, including squatters ousted from Salt River’s derelict Junction Hotel.

Tensions were stirred when refugees displaced by xenophobic violence and held at the Blue Waters refugee camp were recently moved to the site.

The city’s official name for Blikkiesdorp — named after its 1 300 3m x 6m zinc structures — is the Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area. It is a deceptively soothing name for a sink of poverty, crime and disease.

According to city spokesperson Kylie Hatton, it is one of the Cape Town’s 223 informal settlements. Costing taxpayers R32-million to construct, Hatton said it is expected to grow to about 1 600 structures with a population of about 5 000.

She strenuously denied that it is a depository for the unwanted, saying ”it compares extremely favourably with all the other [settlements] with respect to services, shelter, environment and density”.

”It’s an emergency area in terms of a national housing programme for people in emergency living conditions.”

But Warda Jina, among Blikkiesdorp’s first residents, disagrees. ”This is just our dumping ground. It was a bad idea to expand the place and it’s getting worse.

”The government said it was temporary accommodation and we’d be moved to houses. They’re lying. We don’t know how long we’re going to live here — maybe 20 years.”

Ironically, the shack-dwellers initially faced threats from others who are even less fortunate who wanted to move into their structures.

”The refugees now have what others want. The same thing happened to us. People would bang on our windows and threaten to throw us out.”

Jina said the refugees have been moved to a place of ”crime and drugs next to the bush of evil” — a reference to the vast shrub-covered area surrounding Blikkiesdorp, where she and a friend stumbled across a murdered child’s body.

Blikkiesdorp resident Samsam Ahmad, a Somali refugee who has two small children, has warned other refugees still living in Blue Waters that Blikkiesdorp is not a safe alternative. She fears death and cannot sleep.

”We were told we’re going to get protection but our lives are in danger. Every night people knock on our doors and say they want to burn us. My children’s lives are at risk. We don’t sleep at night and don’t know how long we will stay here,” says Ahmad.

Eddie Swartz, one of 18 members of the community committee, told the Mail & Guardian that at least 2 500 residents that need medical care and ”most of them are HIV-positive”. Swartz also chairs the health committee.

”Things are very critical. Patients get anti-retroviral drugs from the Delft clinic but they don’t have food. We have some help from NGOs but we need a container with 24-hour healthcare. Patients will die if there’s no ambulance to fetch them,” said Swartz.

”We also have a TB problem. We have only three health volunteers. We know we’re not going to get houses but we can’t die here. We’re not animals.”

Charlene May, a Legal Resources Centre attorney, said the LRC was preparing do legal battle with thecity, which is seeking an order to evict about 300 refugees still at Blue Waters.

Moving refugees to Blikkiesdorp had been was part of out-of-court negotiations which were now frozen.

”No one else who was considering moving [to Blikkiesdorp] will move there now,” said May.

Hatton said Blikkiesdorp has access to the Delft Community Health Centre 2,5km away. Residents also received TB and child health care.