April 08 2008 at 02:25PM
Along with the shrubs and desiccated undergrowth, Delft’s “Bush of Evil” was cut from people’s thoughts a long time ago.
Even Delft squatters sleeping on the ground that was once a hotbed of child rape and murder have shoved the sordid memories, like that of six-year-old Kim Abrahams or six-year-old “Little Rock” who survived after being abused and set alight, to the back of their minds.
But for Esmeralda Josephs, the mother of Kim Abrahams, it is difficult to forget.
“Most people don’t know what it is to lose a child, you never get over it,” she says, gently rocking the pram of her son, Waslie.
‘Most people don’t know what it is to lose a child’
She keeps him close, not letting him out of her sight for even a moment.
Every few seconds, she looks up at the faces of the other squatters standing in the food line, and while she knows most of them, she trusts very few.
She was pregnant with Waslie, she says, when Joey died just two years ago.
Her three-year-old daughter was lured from her home by a stranger offering her 50c. Her half-naked, battered body was later discovered just 3km away, concealed deep in the bushes near Leiden, Delft.
Now, this same piece of dune-like land has, ironically, become a safe haven to hundreds of families who were forcefully removed from unfinished N2 Gateway houses in February.
‘It feels like a refugee camp’
Josephs is just one of many with a heart-wrenching story to tell.
“When they evicted us, I just lost it. Those same policemen couldn’t arrest my child’s murderer, but they can kick us poor people out of the only houses we have.”
As she edges further towards the front of the queue, Josephs tries to recall how many times she has moved but eventually gives up, saying: “There’s too many times to count.”
She has set up a makeshift “hokkie” towards the back of the Section One camp.
It is positioned on the very spot where Joey’s body was uncovered.
She says it may seem strange to some, but it has helped her come to terms with her daughter’s murder.
“All I want is a house of my own where my son will be safe.
“Joey never had that,” she says.
But Josephs is not the only former backyard dweller fighting for a house to call her own.
The Delft families, who have set up camp on the outskirts of the N2 Gateway project for the past seven weeks, have all demanded formal housing.
They squatted there in a defiant act against the Cape High Court’s eviction order, enduring appalling living conditions in the hope that they will one day be given one of the finished two-bedroom houses.
In reality, only 30 percent of them will eventually get one.
“It’s a race thing,” explains resident Aziza Rhoda, as she washes sand from her crockery for the sixth time that day.
Like many other members of the tight-knit community, she believes she is being sidelined because she is “coloured and not black”.
“The African people from Joe Slovo don’t want to move here because it’s too far. If they don’t want it, why should we, as the people of Delft, not get it? The government only cares about the coloured people when it’s time to vote.”
As Rhoda speaks, she struggles to move around in her part of a 4×4-metre tent, provided by the City of Cape Town and shared with three families.
Nonetheless, she is thankful that she recently moved from the bigger tent, where even more families were housed together.
“When I was there, there were two times when women woke up in the night screaming because there were men trying to rape them. that’s when I decided to move,” she says.
And the last few days have been even harder on Rhoda and Josephs, both of whom had pinned their hopes on a move to a new Delft site in the next few days.
However, these hopes swiftly evaporated when the city announced that, as a result of building material setbacks, residents would remain where they were for at least another three months, well into the cold winter season.
Some hopeful residents still cling to a pamphlet they were handed by the city long ago, promising each family a 7×7-metre piece of land and materials to build a waterproof 18m? iron structure with a door and window.
It appears a cruel situation for the squatters, who wake up every day to see the “real houses” they so desperately fought for lying empty, just over the wire barrier that fences them in.
One woman, identifying herself only as Priscilla, describes life on the dusty dunes of Delft as a constant battle – if they weren’t fighting for houses, they were fighting off the cold and sand at night with nothing but a few blankets and the shelter of flimsy tents.
As winter approaches, they fear this could worsen.
A mother of two, Hania Albshary, says she would have no qualms about moving back into the vacant houses if her family could not bear the cold, in spite of the consequences that may follow.
“My husband is sick, he can’t work. I must think about him. I must think about my children,” she says.
Children as young as two, seemingly oblivious to the dire circumstances, occupy their time by scooping up buckets of sand or climbing in and out of a large rubbish container near the boundary of the site.
Most have stopped going to school because their parents fear they will be taunted for being dirty, others are too sick with diarrhoea and the flu, which they have supposedly picked up in the surroundings.
“It feels like a refugee camp,” says Priscilla angrily. “We are closed in with fences like animals and we’ve been living in tents for weeks. If we are on the housing list, why should we have to go through this?”
Twice a day, residents are given a warm meal, a load shared by the municipality and Islamic Relief South Africa , but at meetings residents make their feelings heard.
“We don’t want food,” one man shouts, “it’s not food we need, it’s houses!”
The same sentiments echo through the Gateway’s second camp, a group settled on a Symphony Way pavement bordering Section Two.
This group has largely been perceived as rebellious because it has declined the help of the city.
More significantly, the members have fervently refused to move to the new site, even if that means a repeat of February’s violent evictions.
Like Josephs they fear that, even after 14 years of democracy, they may just be forgotten.
Behind the empty promises of politicians, the frantic fight for houses and an immense housing backlog they will remain just another name on an ever-growing housing list.