On 19 December 2007, encouraged by their Democratic Alliance (DA) councilor, backyarders in Delft illegally occupied unfinished houses in the N2 Gateway scheme. After battling in court, they were evicted on 19 February 2008. Many of them decided to remain across the road from the N2 Gateway houses, and built shacks along the pavement of Symphony Way. After a further 20 months of contestation these people were evicted again, to the nearby Blikkiesdorp Temporary Relocation Area (TRA).
This book relates stories of their experiences on Symphony Way, told by the people themselves, in their own words. The text was also edited by them. It is a remarkable and moving volume, charged with emotion and satiated with reasonableness. There is both poetry and prose. It is written for the outside world: “Put your shoes into my shoes and wear me like a human being would wear another human being” Conway Payn starts his story. It is a book which will make you cry, and laugh, and get frustratingly angry at the crassness of government. I wish I could bury the noses of Tokyo Sexwale and Bonginkosi Madikazela in its pages. Everyone should buy this book and read it.We read of births and marriages on the pavement, of arrests and confrontations with police and cold government officials. One family describes how they occupied an N2 Gateway house after living in different backyards for 14 years – compelled to move on by close friends or relatives – and they were not the only ones. A 16 year-old girl describes her disgust at having to go to school with non-ironed clothes because of no electricity. Life on the pavement was tough but it was democratic and collective. One woman describes how her personality changed from introspective and fearful to outgoing as the result of her experiences on the pavement. What shines through is the persistence of their struggle, their self-confidence and pride as the result of the struggle. Constantly they insist on their human dignity, when treated like animals by officialdom. “We may be poor but we are not stupid” is a refrain that runs through the pages. And their desperate hope is encouraging and a sign of their collectivity – hope that they will get houses. Several children born on the pavement were named “Hope.”Let me conclude with an extract from a letter written by Bahiya Claasen to Richard Dyantyi, then Western Cape MEC for housing:
“I’m writing this letter on behalf of everyone who are staying on the pavement. Sir, we are so sick and tired of everybody who hords power in their hands, people who have deprived us of our rights. People who think they can throw us around and just walk over us. Mainly the people who sits on their high pedestals that thinks nother [nothing] of our poor Children, and they are the ones who suffer the most. Then I think to myself is this our New Generation? Or our Forgotten Generation?
“At night while your children enjoy a nice healthy meal, our children must eat sand in their food. While your children enjoy a nice hot bath we must wait for our water to boil on a fire. What I admire the most of our children is that they never complain. Our children think that life must be like this. And 1 think how wrong of you and everybody in Government to do this to our children. I’m writing this letter with tears in my eyes and a broken heart thinking what is going to happen to our NEW GENERATION Generation? Or should I say our FORGOTTON GENERATION?
“If Sir! You do not want to think of us! Then please please think of our children!!!
“Sir! My most concern is that winter is on its way. And like a lot of us, I am on the housing waiting list for more than 13 years…”
A short review cannot do justice to the book. Read it for yourselves – and learn.