Housing in DA country: Pelican Park

The streets in Pelican Park wind between rows of two bedroom houses and duplexes stacked tightly together. Each house has a ten meter long yard a five meter lawn in front followed by a wall, then half a meter of pavement. But garages are reserved for the houses available to fully purchase on bond, and not for subsided or RDP homes.

The suburb is home to the poor and middle class and was heralded by the local government as mayor Patricia De Lille’s flagship housing project for people who’ve been on the waiting list for decades. But it’s been plagued by complaints of poor construction and a lack of space by residents who were moved into new houses from outlying areas such as Mitchellsplain, Retreat, Lavender Hill, and even as far as Knysna.

“Most of the people living in the RDPs and the subsided houses have been on the list for 20 or 30 years. And some of the people on the list don’t even stay in Cape Town anymore. They were moved out during Apartheid and haven’t found a home since then, this is the first time they have a house again,” Pelican Park community leader John Bailey told the Mail & Guardian.

“The mayor is extremely popular here and you can definitely say this is her legacy project,”Bailey added.

The brand new mixed income neighborhood was constructed by the the city of Cape Town and provincial governments from 2004. There are about 4000 homes on an 80 hectare plot of land next to the Zeekoevlei in Grassy Park, and the area boasts modern styled houses, new roads and a clinic and community centre currently under construction.

At only five years old, Pelican Park is the quintessential example of the DA’s housing strategy in the city of Cape Town, and a stronghold for party support in the elections. In the 2016 polls, the DA scored nearly 90% of the vote, and on the neighborhoods streets, residents walking around in DA t-shirts are common place.

The Western Cape has issued 91 000 title deeds to new home owners since it took over governance in the metro in 2009, the most in any province, the department of Human Settlements spokesperson Xolani Xundu confirmed this week. Western Cape Bonginkosi Madikizela said Pelican Park was part of the province’s Integrated Residential Development Prorgramme, and was developed in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

“In the past and in many parts of the country the emphasis is on dotting the landscape building houses and allocate them to people without title deeds. In the Western Cape we emphasize on property ownership not just provision of shelter,” he said.

Even though they would rather stay closer to town, Pelican Park is good enough for its new residents who lived without a home to call their own after being evicted from neighborhoods declared as white only areas during Apartheid. Bailey explained that most residents in the RDP or subsided homes were backyard dwellers, while others came from informal settlements.

75 year old Mary Williams moved into her two bedroom home this week, nearly thirty years after being evicted from the new posh Empire Flats on the beachfront in Muizenberg.

“They just came and said we must no move and make way for the whites. That place was nice, it was a one bedroom but it had a bathroom and big sitting area…. The next thing they were saying it’s whites only,” Williams said.

“From there I went to Retreat with my daughter. We stayed in different places, renting rooms, in the backyard, and so it went on for years,” she said.

The last time 59 year old Raymond Jacobs had a place to call home he was 19 years old, living with his parents in Steenberg. Jacobs spent the next forty years in and out of jail, and decided to camp outside the City of Cape Town’s housing allocation office in Grassy Park before he was given a home in 2014.

“For three months I slept outside that container. I didn’t even build a shack, just a piece of sail to cover me,” he said.

After being released from jail in 1994, Jacobs stayed at various family members and friends homes before ending up on the street. By 2010, he had forgotten about the form he filled in applying for a home in 1992.

“When I got that letter in May 2014, I walked from Lavender Hill to Grassy Park to wait so I don’t miss my chance. In August 2014 I was moved into this house,” he said.

Jacobs was grateful for his home, but admitted that he was still threatened by crime as the house behind him was overtaken by drug dealers.

Both Jacobs and Williams live in free standing RDP houses, which are handed over with concrete flooring and without being painted inside. Two years later, Jacobs has made little improvements to his home and only rents out a room for extra money each month.

Though Williams’ had lived in a “alright place” in Retreat before getting her own home, she now has no fear of dying, she told the M&G.

“It feels like all these things I went through, and at a time I was living in a room with no toilet, all those things I’ve put behind me,” she said.

“Having this house is something that doesn’t make me fear death, because I know my children are set with a roof over their heads,” Williams added.

But residents of Oyster Catcher avenue in Pelican Park are not as happy as the elderly residents who waited years to find homes. The Fife family at number 232 complained of shoddy workmanship.

“We moved in here in 2014,” said Gabiba Fife. “Every time it rains there is flooding, and you can see the cracks at the front.”

Break-ins have become commonplace in the neighborhood and though it still looks brand new, it “feels like we’re just one level up from the flats,” a young man sitting on the corner next to a spaza shop said.

This was because despite the new look, the houses were still packed tightly together and foreign nationals operated the spaza shops, while drugs were being peddled throughout the community, he said.

“The flats got an upgrade,” another resident joked.

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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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