20th February 2008
For comment: Gympie Street lawyer Advocate Zehir Omar – 011 8151720 or 082 4925207 or Willy Heyn on 073 1443619
The Gympie Street Residents Co-ordinating Committee of 6 people will appear in the Cape Town magistrates court again on Monday 25th February 2008.
This after they were all arrested in a dawn raid by Woodstock police and unlawfully charged with contravening the High Court eviction order that was handed down against them in 2006.
None of the residents contravened the High Court Eviction Order granted to the owner of the Gympie Street flats in 2006. The order was for an eviction of the residents, but after spending 6 weeks living on the pavement outside their homes in the winter (the City having failed to provide alternative accommodation) the residents went back into the flats, but NOT the flats they were evicted from. They went to live in each other’s flats. This nullified the court order. It was then up to the owner of the flats to get a new court order against the occupants which he failed to do.
The Co-ordinating Committee are a courageous group of impoverished people who are making a stand against gentrification of the city by property developers. They are Willy Heyn; Margaret Petersen (single mother of two children, the youngest being 12 years old); Lydia Portland (single mother looking after two children of her own and three of her sister’s children who is currently in hospital – one of these children is 3 yrs old); Marietta Monagee (single mother of three children aged 5, 8 and 10yrs old); Sarah Jones (looking after her grandchildren who live with her – aged 2, 3, 5 and 6 years old) and Zubeida Brown (single mother of 4 kids – one who is 20 years old is in a wheelchair since birth, completely dependent on her mother for all aspects of her care.)
The backdrop to this story is a real tale of tragedy. These residents were paying their rent every month for years despite the owner never doing maintenance on the flats which are in a hazardous and rundown condition. Most of the residents are either jobless or doing casual domestic or factory work at pay of R50 per day so they have nowhere else to go and no possibility of renting other flats.
After the owner got a High Court eviction order against them last year, the residents were evicted to the pavement. The city refused to find suitable alternative accommodation for them despite there being available accommodation in Woodstock at the former hospital, which is standing 90% empty. About 100 people then slept and lived on the pavements in this crowded city area for about five weeks. The city told them to move to Happy Valley where each family would be given three sticks and a heavy piece of plastic to build a shelter. The residents refused because all their children are in Woodstock schools and because many of them are ill and cannot go and live in the sand far from the city.
Some residents were persuaded by the council to visit Happy Valley and see if it would be suitable. When those residents got there, they had the fright of their lives when the existing residents of Happy Valley told the Gympie Street residents that they would “burn them out on the first day” if they moved to Happy Valley.
As such, the residents are terrified of moving to Happy Valley, and at the same time are being forced out of Woodstock by a property developer. Their options are zero, which is unacceptable because the City has a responsibility to house the poor. The City has tried to dodge its responsibility by saying this is a private matter however, the Gympie Street residents are the City’s responsibility because these are poor people who should long ago have been allocated council housing like others on the waiting list.
Communities have vowed to mobilise to support the Gympie Street residents, as they did last year.
See also: ‘I live here or I die’ from the Mail & Guardian