Zille, return the land, protesters say

On Human Rights Day, thousands of people from Sea Point, Khayelitsha, Woodstock, District Six and other areas who demand land justice marched from District Six to the Cape Town Civic Centre. (Ra'eesa Pather/Twitter)

On Human Rights Day, thousands of people from Sea Point, Khayelitsha, Woodstock, District Six and other areas who demand land justice marched from District Six to the Cape Town Civic Centre. (Ra'eesa Pather/Twitter)

Nomthandazo Nokubeke (45) once lived in a small room with Cape Town’s famed Lion’s Head mountain towering behind. Her home was in a Sea Point building, where poor women and men reside in what remains known as the “maid’s quarters”.

The quarters, a legacy of apartheid, still exist for domestic workers in many buildings in the area. The tiny rooms are barely big enough to fit a single bed, but for years, they have been the only place where poor people can afford to live in the seaside, touristy suburb.

Nokubeke has been sick of her room for two decades.

“I’m so fed up and tired to stay in a small room for 20 years. I’m looking for a place, the government must provide a place for us” she says.

Last year, Nokubeke was evicted from her room by the owners of the property. While housing activists were challenging evictions in the area in court, Nokubeke says that she was “too fed up” to fight.

Instead, she joined activists who occupied a public building called Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home near the swanky V&A Waterfront shopping mall. She and her fellow occupants, in housing pressure group Reclaim the City, re-named it Ahmed Kathrada House.

Now, Nokubeke has one clear demand: “We want our lands back.”

“Come on government, what’s wrong with you Helen Zille?,” she asks, her eyebrows raised.

On Human Rights Day, Nokubeke joined thousands of people from Sea Point, Khayelitsha, Woodstock, District Six and other areas who demanded land justice in a march from District Six to the Cape Town Civic Centre. She carried a banner, which read: “Stop selling our public land.”

Her message was a reminder of the Western Cape government’s decision to sell Tafelberg, province-owned land, to private buyers.  The building, an old school in the heart of Sea Point, was earmarked for social housing.

The sale of the Tafelberg site caused uproar last year, and applications opposing the decision have been filed in court.

But the process is taking a long time and tensions remain strong around affordable housing in the inner city.

At the weekend, Zamuxolo Patrick Dolophini, a protester in the Ahmed Kathrada House occupation, was killed after being fatally stabbed by a suspected member of the building’s security team.

The man who allegedly stabbed Dolophini, known as Rasta among activists, has been arrested by police in connection with his death.

“He tried to make his way to the Somerset Hospital, but died from his wounds on the street because he could not stop the bleeding,” Reclaim the City said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Very few people saw what happened and we don’t yet know the full details.”

But the housing group has raised the alarm on how fights have broken out between security officials and occupants. An eviction notice has also been handed to the occupants by the provincial government, accusing them of vandalising property and being unlawful occupants.

“When the Western Cape Government says that we must vacate and move on elsewhere, we say we are like most poor and working class Black and Coloured people in this City who have nowhere to go when evicted and displaced,” Reclaim the City responded.

On Wednesday, members of the organisation marched alongside the Social Justice Coalition, an NGO based in Khayelitsha, and the District Six Working Committee, which supports land claimants from the area.

Tahir Levy (85) is one of the elderly people who was forcefully removed from District Six during apartheid, but whose land was eventually returned to him.

In September 2016, there were 3000 land claimants who were still on the land restitution waiting list.

“I was one of those in 1966 [who were forcefully removed], and after that I was fighting for the area,” Levy said.

“Eventually, we got the area back, so we start building. But they take a very slow pace of building this area,” he said.

After he was forced out of District Six by apartheid police, Levy was moved nearby neighbourhood, Walmer Estate. He was displaced again, and moved to Woodstock, which has undergone swift gentrification in the democratic era.

When his District Six land was returned to him, Levy was able to pass it on to his son, while he remained in Woodstock. He marched with activists on Wednesday to demand restitution for the people who were once his neighbours in District Six.

“You will see that half the houses are incomplete. When are they going to build it? I don’t know. This is why I’m here, to support the claimants so they can get their houses back,” he said.

In the afternoon, the march arrived at the Civic Centre, where protesters had a disagreement over language. Shaheen Ajam, head of the District Six Working Committee, attempted to address the crowd in English, but the majority isiXhosa-speaking protesters wanted a speaker who could talk in isiXhosa.

There was a delay where Ajam urged for people to be “dignified”, but eventually SJC general secretary Axolile Notywala addressed protesters in their home-language.

Mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron received and signed the memorandum of demands, which included: commitment from government to a plan for inner city affordable housing within 21 days, release underused public hand for affordable and social housing, stop the Tafelberg sale, and restitution for District Six claimants.

“Black lives must be valued over property and money,” the demands read.

Herron said that he has committed, on behalf of the City of Cape Town, to fast track restitution and address spatial planning.

“I have made a commitment on behalf of this government that we will do everything we can to address spatial imbalance,” he said.

“We are working on identifying city-owned land for (housing),” he said.

At the end of the day, after the speeches and toyi-toying, Nokubeke will go home to Ahmed Kathrada House, where her fellow occupier was recently killed and where she is once again facing eviction. Like many others, she will try to find a place to stay near the inner city, but her only option may be a shack some 30km away from where she has spent the last 20 years of her life.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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