How solving the Eldorado Park housing crisis could keep a family safe

In flat number 15 of the derelict apartheid-era apartment blocks in Eldorado Park, a blind man attacked his father, Martin Abrahams, after getting drunk one night in February, in an attack which placed the 69 year old in hospital care for two weeks. But due to the unavailability of houses in Eldorado Park, the pair have been forced to sleep next to one another in the same room ever since.

“Tomorrow we’re going to court. We have an active case because [the son] needs help getting to some rehabilitation centre [for alcohol abuse],” 30 year old Mark Phillips said, one of six residents living in the two-bedroom flat.

Phillips shares the flat with his wife, Marchelle, two kids and his wife’s father and brother.

He believes that if he had a house with more space or lived in a different area, the attack on his father-in-law would not have occurred. Since the family currently stays on the first floor of the apartment block, Phillips has to carry his father-in-law up and down the steps. When he isn’t home, Abrahams is confined to the house.

“If we had a bigger space we would be able to separate them. Even if we just had a yard, I was going to put up a shack in the yard for my brother in law,” Phillips said.

“[Abrahams] stayed in hospital for two weeks, but had we had a yard that wouldn’t have happened. Because… my brother in law is an alcoholic. He is trying but he just can’t leave alcohol and he gets so drunk [that] he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Phillips added.

Protests broke out in Eldorado Park on Monday and Tuesday over the lack of housing development. What started out as peaceful protests turned into a violent exchange of bricks and rubber bullets between residents and police.

There have been no houses built in the Johannesburg south suburb for over 20 years.

Read more: Eldorado Park: ‘Government doesn’t want us to build houses’ 

For the family of six, the fight for better living conditions in Eldorado Park truly hits home.

At one point, Phillips became so desperate to find alternative accommodation that he tried to exchange the flat for a house, a request that was denied. 

“I can’t remember the lady’s name at housing, but she told me at that time … that unfortunately we cannot do that because firstly there are no houses available; secondly we just have to wait because they are going to issue title deeds to the flats,” Phillips said.

But even if his title deed is issued, he would have to continue living in the four-room house for eight years before being eligible to sell it.

The 30 year old has also approached the social development department to secure care for the increasingly frail Abrahams, who hardly moved and didn’t say a word as his son-in-law bemoaned the treatment his family has received from the state.

“I went to several places. I went to [the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital] social workers; they say they’re going to get social development involved and all of the places to try to assist us with placement because he’s [Abrahams] developed a lot of bed sores,” Phillips said.

“I went to the clinic, asked the guys ‘you know what, please send us a caregiver, even if it’s just once a week – you understand – to come and help us. They say “madala” is malnourished, we don’t know what type of nutrients he needs,” he added.

For the young couple and their extended family, buying a house is simply out of their reach.

“We want to better our lives, but we are faced with a situation: I earn too much to get an RDP house and I earn too little to qualify for a bond. I cannot swap the flat for a house, because there are no houses available through housing,” said Phillips. 

“Everywhere you’re looking it’s bad,” he concluded.

This week Gauteng human settlements MEC Paul Mashatile told Radio 702 that preference for housing would be given to those who applied in 1994, to alleviate the housing backlog of around 600 000 people on the waiting list.

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Caroline Vakil
Caroline Vakil is a journalist based in the United States
Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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