Spatial planning rips people from places they call home
As Cape Town rapidly gentrifies, evictions are becoming common. A Sea Point resident may lose her home forever, and a youngster in Salt River has woken up to a new reality. Two people, one in Blikkiesdorp and the other in Wolwerivier, say they have no room for strangers. As poor black and coloured people are moved from the inner city to faraway areas, the Mail & Guardian continues the story of a housing crisis faced by four people in part two of our three-part series.
Read Part one here: Shack dreams, shackled lives: Displaced poor pine for home
It had all been building up to this moment. Thandeka Sisusa had picketed on Sea Point’s Main Road, with the ocean whispering behind her. There had been meetings with lawyers. God is with me, she told herself.
But the high court in Cape Town had made its decision. Thandeka’s stomach knotted when the judge read out the date when she would have to leave her home. And she’d have to pay the costs of the opposing counsel. Her most expensive possession is her fridge.
She still didn’t understand why she was being evicted. She lived in the maid’s quarters of a Sea Point building. But she wasn’t a domestic worker or a security guard so she had to move, her landlords argued. Maybe she was unlucky. Others who didn’t work in the building got to stay. For now.
Until three days before her deadline to pack up and go, Thandeka believed in a miracle that would allow her to stay in Sea Point. In her home.
January 9 2017 arrived. Thandeka carefully packed away the motivational Christian quotes stuck to her wall. The day before, her friends had helped her pack up her belongings. Some of them had bakkies to take away clothes, the bed, leftover food and the fridge. There was nothing left of hers.
Thandeka closed the door to her home for the last time.
She had always feared the worst: that she would be moved to Blikkiesdorp or left homeless. She’d heard about the Tin Town from her friends who sit outside the Shoprite in Sea Point. They had left Blikkies to live under streetlamps in Sea Point. There’s nothing there; it’s too dangerous, they told her.
Thandeka sits in a car on the way out of Sea Point. Will there be a Shoprite in the next place she lives? It’s important — the Shoprite is where she meets her friends, where she buys her food. She is a creature of habit. She’s afraid of navigating a new, unfamiliar and inhospitable place.
Driving away from Sea Point, she thinks about the people she knows who have also received eviction letters in the seaside neighbourhood. And her anger spills over at the people who handed out such letters.
“We said we’re going to be harsh now here in Sea Point. They gave us the power to be harsh,” Thandeka says.
Her voice is heavy with confidence. She says that she and others who stand to lose their homes will be “uncontrollable”. Her tone suggests it’s a statement of fact, but in less than a month from now her feistiness will have been extinguished.
The City of Cape Town hadn’t made her a formal offer to stay in Blikkies, but such is the fear and imagination of Tin Town that Thandeka immediately assumed the worst: that she would have to live there. Her immediate desire is to find somewhere else where her daughter and grandchild can be safe for the night. But in the long run, she will do what she can to steer clear of Blikkiesdorp.
They came and erected shacks just a little way down the road in the middle of the night. Wolwerivier has only one main road, lined with tall blue gum trees that leave a shadowy reflection on the road.
Magdalene Minnaar is sitting comfortably in her home just a few metres away. “The tent people,” she whispers conspiratorially, “were led by a person who called himself a Khoisan king. The so-called Khoisan king said it was their land, but who made him king anyway?” she says, sitting on her couch.
In the background, her washing machine gurgles. It’s been close on two years now that people have lived in this new settlement in Wolwerivier and there has been much to gossip about.
The man just across the way sold his shack for at least R10 000 and a few neighbours have begun renting out their shacks for R1 000 a month.
Magdalene has watched Wolwerivier fill up. She’s seen people try to turn their homes into spaza shops, and now she is watching an entrepreneurial housing market begin to unfold. It happens outside her shack while she listens to opera, or on her way out when she escapes for a coffee with friends far away.
But the escape is temporary and Magdalene has a reputation to repair. She was a community leader when people began moving in, but says she was ousted by the ward councillor who cherry-picked his own team of leaders. Still, she believes it’s her responsibility to go to see what’s happening with this Khoisan king.
Things have worsened, she says. The overcrowding in some shacks has spread animosity. The City of Cape Town plans to develop Wolwerivier, and each person was given a title deed to their home when they moved in. But more shacks are needed.
Magdalene has been accused of stealing money. Some call her crazy, and others blame her for the poorly built structures in which they live.
“It’s like they think it’s me who built the structures,” she says.
She was there when the pipes were laid, and she was there when the builders came in to build the shacks. At first, she was excited. Her previous home on the Old Wolwerivier Farm had no running water or electricity.
But now she is trapped in a place where, years later, there are still no shops and no clinics nearby. She still wants to open a hair salon, but would prefer it if it could be somewhere other than here.
Magdalene still believes she is a community leader and that her job is to “set a first example”.
Wolwerivier is nothing like Blikkiesdorp. There are toilets inside shacks and it is safe for people to wander between houses. It may be isolated, but it is largely safe. In a few years’ time, however, it may become another Blikkiesdorp. Only this time there are no promises that it will be temporary — people here own their homes.
Already, there is something in common between the two areas: the residents don’t want newcomers. In some shacks, 11 people live together. They say they are on the housing list and each new shack that rises in Wolwerivier belongs to them.
If there are more new arrivals, Magdalene has one warning: “It will be war.”
No matter how busy it got, they somehow always found her. When she was appointed spokesperson for Salt River’s Bromwell Street residents, Charnell Commando never expected that people would show up at her work, looking for her. But they did, arriving at Café Ganesh, ready to show support or ask questions, while she snuck off to hide away in the restaurant’s kitchen.
It had been a long journey. There was the court case in 2016 where the Woodstock Hub, the owners of the Bromwell cottages, took tenants to court because they had not paid rent for two years.
The tenants argued they didn’t know who to pay after the cottages were sold in 2013. The judge granted an order for them to leave Bromwell or face eviction in August.
Whereas Charnell went to court and protested at the Old Biscuit Mill, Abu Bakr Smith didn’t really know what was happening. In that time, he had managed to get a few jobs after completing matric. He hung out with friends and went to parties at different bars.
Then there was a flood of people with notebooks and cameras. It was on the television, on the radio, in newspapers. His family was being evicted.
He’d seen it happen before here in Salt River, on the edge of the Cape Town city centre. There was the man in Albert Road with his family, and Abdullah not too far away who was moved to Milnerton. Just the other week, the uncle on the corner a few roads down was also forced to leave. Now it was happening to Abu Bakr.
Luckily, the eviction had been delayed to September, and then the tenants launched a new court bid to compel the City of Cape Town to give them emergency temporary accommodation closer to Salt River.
The city offered them homes in a place they’d never heard of. “They want to send us to Wolwerivier and that’s not in my schedule,” he says.
The image of Wolwerivier is like a boogeyman. He went there after hearing it could be his new home. After travelling the 30km from Salt River to Wolwerivier, Abu Bakr stepped out of the car and into another world. “There’s just bushes there and just one main road.”
The barren land dotted with green shacks held no appeal for a young man accustomed to the imperfect hoots and shouts and battered houses shaping familiar backways. It could never be home.
Abu Bakr’s “schedule” was to study robotic engineering and build cool electronics. He’d have to get a job to pay for his studies. For now, his first order of business is to find his mother and grandmother a new home in Salt River.
He’s used to “catching on kak” with his friends but now is not the time to play, he says. His youthful vibrance is muted beneath the mounting responsibilities of the adulting he knows is in store. Abu Bakr has tried to prepare for a potential eviction but, deep down, he doesn’t believe it will happen.
When he can, Abu Bakr plays football in the streets with his friends — Red Devils forever! — and tries to block out the growing, visible public interest in Bromwell Street. He watches strangers coming to speak to Charnell on weekends but during the week, he is out all day, knocking on doors to find a job.
One thing he’s come to understand in this world: people with money always win.
But he likes what the influx of wealth has done to Salt River, making it “more cooler” than it was before.
“Everything is different. It looks better and more modern compared to the old stuff,” he says.
Abu Bakr tries not to linger on what lies in store, but there’s always the fear that the stroke of a judge’s pen will change his life. He is just one judgment away from a future in a place that doesn’t want him.
Matilda Groepe may have experienced the biggest sweep of gentrification Cape Town has ever seen. It happened just before the World Cup in 2010, when the Belhar Symphony Way pavement occupiers were moved to Blikkiesdorp.
It was, Matilda says, an attempt by the city to clear out a protest on a main road to Cape Town International Airport before of tourists arrived for the premier event.
Unlike Woodstock, however, this wasn’t a gentrification that would lead to boutique coffee shops and hip youngsters visiting. It was a one-off event where everything was temporarily refurbished to accommodate a football tournament. Things would remain much the same, and that landmark protest on the pavement would slowly drift from public memory.
Today, Blikkiesdorp is still described as “hell” by its residents. They protested before “reclaiming the land” became a buzz phrase. They saw gangsters grow in their community and what hurt a lot was that they saw poor people stealing from other poor people. Just
the other day, Matilda shrugs, someone she knows tried to kill her brother.
She has been waiting for something to move ever since she first got here. When the Airports Company of South Africa announced it was building a runway through Blikkiesdorp in 2015, there was outrage. But there was also a tinge of hope that they would finally be able to move out.
Matilda is still there, and she can’t remember the last time anyone spoke of plans being made to move Blikkiesdorp residents out.
She sits in her home on most days. Other times she wanders around the expansive settlement where people greet her: “Môre, Aunty Tila.”
Mayor Patricia de Lille has told the Mail & Guardian that plans are underway to shut down Blikkies and move its residents, but Matilda doesn’t know about this. The mayor confesses that the city has been lax in keeping residents there informed.
As things stay the same in Blikkies, Abu Bakr and Thandeka are at a crossroads. Neither knows where they will be in the coming months. What they do know is that the places they may end up don’t want them.