/ 9 January 2017

Sea Point resident lets go of home after protests and defiance

A group of Reclaim the City supporters march through Sea Point in protest against evictions in the area.
A group of Reclaim the City supporters march through Sea Point in protest against evictions in the area.

After a rigorous two-year battle to hold on to her room in the Rapallo apartment block in Sea Point, Thandeka Sisusa (38) has finally let go. Although Sisusa had inspired support and protest against evictions in Sea Point, a court ordered her to leave by January 9. Her colleagues have stepped in, however, to offer her a place to stay.

“I’m tired of fighting,” Sisusa says as she leaves Sea Point.

Her former home is a few blocks away from the Sea Point beachfront, which has grown in popularity. She lived in the basement, known as the “maids’ quarters”, of the Rapallo building. The rooms were meant to be used as storage lockers for Rapallo residents, but were turned into living quarters for the apartment block’s domestic workers and security guards.

Sisusa, her daughter and her four-month old grandchild stayed in the room, sharing a single bed. Her eviction notice came in 2015, but she managed to block it until now. Lawyers working with social housing activist group, Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), represented Sisusa in a court case for, but a judge ruled against her in December and she was ordered to pay legal costs.

The Lior Chen Trust owns her room and, last year, activists protested in Sea Point outside the apartment block where Lior Van Embden, a beneficiary of the trust, lives. Sisusa had previously worked as a domestic worker, cleaning the apartment Van Embden owned before getting a new job. The reasons for the eviction remain unclear and Van Embden was unavailable for comment. After her colleagues offered her a place to stay, Sisusa decided it was time to go so she could be rid of the pressure and fear of having nowhere to stay.

“It’s a bit of a relief. Now I can breathe,” Sisusa says.

Helping hands
The court gave her three weeks to find an apartment, but Sisusa says that she has been unable to find an affordable place near her job. Although Reclaim the City and Sea Point For All have spurred support for her case, it hasn’t been enough. 

“We thought the residents would’ve stood up for us, not only the residents of Rapallo, but the people in the entire Sea Point. We thought they would’ve listened to our call, but apparently it just fell on deaf ears and there was nothing we could do about it,” said Elizabeth Gqoboka, a spokesperson for the Sea Point chapter of Reclaim the City.

Gqoboka told the Mail & Guardian that Reclaim the City had done all it could, but the court ruling had made it difficult to continue. She said the focus now would be to ensure that others facing eviction in Sea Point would not lose their cases. But the support their campaign gained has helped Sisusa.

People have now helped Sisusa to potentially find permanent accommodation in Woodstock, but there are doubts that the rent will be as low as the R450 she paid in Sea Point. In Woodstock, rent prices have increased as the suburb has become sought after for its proximity to the city centre. Some believe the same kind of gentrification has unfolded in Sea Point.

“Instead of redress what we’re seeing is a second wave of evictions under the auspices of gentrification,” says Lucy Graham, a Sea Point resident.

But Sisusa hasn’t completely given up. She says there are meetings planned for later this week to take action against evictions in Sea Point.

“We’re going to be harsh now. They mustn’t think because they got rid of me everything is going to be okay now,” Sisusa said.