19 December 2007: Backyarders in Delft occupy unfinished N2 Gateway houses.
24 December 2007: Cape High Court orders halt to evictions of Delft backyarders occupying N2 Gateway houses.
3 January 2008: Cape High Court throws out eviction order, under which evictions in Delft were carried out. Provincial government and Thubelisha Homes apply for a new eviction order.
5 February 2008: Cape High Court grants order to provincial government and Thubelisha homes to evict backyarders in Delft, to take effect on 17 February.
19 February 2008: After appeal is rejected, Delft backyarders are evicted from N2 Gateway houses.
– From Martin Legassick, “Western Cape Housing Crisis: Writings on Joe Slovo and Delft,” February 2008.
CAPE TOWN – At dawn on February 19 2007, police and private security moved into Delft, a sandy barren area on the Cape Flats slated for a pilot housing project called the N2 Gateway. With trucks and a dog unit, the eviction team went door-to-door to remove some 1,600 residents from the homes that they had occupied two months earlier at the alleged authorization of their local councilor. The scene of the February 19 eviction, broadcast on the nightly news, was violent: police fired rubber bullets into the gathering crowds on the street, chasing and shooting at residents as they ran for cover. At least twenty people were wounded and rushed to hospital, including a three-year-old child, who was hit by bullets in the foot, leg and shoulder. The evicted residents were then left on the pavement, their belongings – furniture, bedding, clothes – packed onto trucks by the eviction team and taken to the local police precinct.
The N2 Gateway Project has been described by Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu as “the biggest housing project ever undertaken by any Government.” It is a joint endeavor by the national Department of Housing, the provincial government and the city of Cape Town. A private company, Thubelisha, has been outsourced to manage and implement the project. Thubelisha estimates that some 25 000 units will be constructed, about 70% of which will be allocated to shack-dwellers, and 30% to backyard dwellers on the municipal housing waiting lists. Delft, 40km outside of Cape Town, is one of the primary sites of the Project.
This report compiles recent information on housing and evictions at the N2 Gateway site in Delft, shortly before and since February 19. Among those evicted on February 19 was Monique, a longtime resident of Delft, who, like many others, had been renting in backyards before occupying the N2 Gateway houses. She has lived in much of the housing at issue at the site in Delft, at the same time, working for a building contractor on the N2 Gateway Project. Her story, in brief, is told here.
Since February 19, those Delft residents without the option of returning to their backyard dwellings or joining family elsewhere – including Monique and her two-year-old daughter – have remained on the pavement of the N2 Gateway site.
The City of Cape Town, together with the Democratic Alliance (DA) provided about 500 of these evicted families with large communal tents – some of a military make, others brightly striped or white with frilly awnings, suited for a circus or a wedding. Still others were given “black sails,” plastic sheeting that was used to build tiny, makeshift shacks behind the tents, unseen from the street. The tent village, referred to as “Section 1,” is encircled with razor wire, with police stationed near the entrance. Several residents there described it as a “refugee camp.” Daily hot food deliveries have been supplied by the City, as well as outdoor water taps and portable toilets. “Section 1” was scheduled for relocation by mid-March, but it has since been delayed until an unspecified date.
The other 500 evictees, aligned with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC), refused to negotiate with political parties, the DA or the ANC, and secured their autonomy by building their own shacks along a road called Symphony Way, squatting on the pavement directly across from the now empty houses from which they had been violently expelled. Reasons given for living on Symphony Way instead of “Section 1” vary, many note their distrust of the DA negotiating on their behalf and of the City compelling them to sign forms to acquire space in the tent village, but nearly all characterize living on Symphony Way as a decision to represent and speak for themselves in their appeal for houses.
Here on Symphony Way, Monique and her daughter live in a two room shack, which she constructed herself from collected scrap materials: cloth advertisements, a plastic sail, branches and wood beams. Inside is a kitchen and sitting area, fitted with Styrofoam countertops, appliances, pots and pans, a handcrafted wooden table and bakki seat couch. The walls of the adjoining room are covered with mauve and green ruffled curtains, with matching mattress pads and pillows on the floor.
At the centre of Symphony Way, not far from where Monique lives, stands a self-made community office and kitchen, where food has been provided by Islamic Relief Worldwide. In the early weeks following the eviction, police blockaded Symphony Way, preventing Islamic Relief from making food deliveries and journalists from covering the pavement dwellers’ story. Currently, Symphony Way residents hold mass meetings nearly every evening to talk about their newly formed community and their grievances. They have created a night-watch that patrols the settlement, protecting residents from crime as well as from the potential hazards of unattended fires or candles. A crèche has been launched, run by community volunteers, and a children’s day camp has been operating during the school holidays.
With the support of the Anti-Eviction Campaign, residents are appealintheir eviction from the occupied houses in court, and are negotiating with the Provincial Department of Housing. Talks with provincial government officials were renewed after approximately 500 pavement-dwellers arrived en masse to the Housing Office in the city centre in April 2008 to apply for housing subsidies on the N2 Gateway Project.
The backyard rentals in Delft, where Monique lived before coming to Symphony Way, consist of ordinary shacks, made from scraps of tin, wood and plastic sheeting, or “Wendy houses,” which are comparatively more solid, wooden sheds. The backyard that Monique occupied was part of a government subsidized house, owned by a couple who collected rent to make ends meet. For more than a year, Monique paid 400R per month, not including electricity while staying there. Other Delft backyarders reported paying upwards of 2000R per month for similar structures. The electricity in Monique’s Wendy house, when it worked at all, was often switched off by the couple in the main house, which meant that she often had to use fires and candlelight. “It was not nice to live in other people’s houses like that, at their mercy,” she said.
After conflicts with her landlords, she moved with her daughter to a house in The Hague, one of many sections in Delft with Dutch appellations. It was a city council house, given free to the owners, who lived in another area in the Cape Flats and rented it to Monique for 1000R per month. After the city council learned of this and similar unlawful rentals, the owners – under threat of legal action from the council – arrived at the house at 3am to evict Monique and her daughter, carrying their belongings on to the street. She appealed to the Delft police, explaining that she had lived in the house for a year and a half, had no notice of the eviction and no place to go. The police told her that she could not press charges, given that she was not the rightful owner of the house.
Following the eviction from the house, Monique and her daughter lived on the street in a bakki for three weeks, while she continued to work at a cleaning company to save enough for another rental. When her employers learned of her situation, they helped her apply for “temporary accommodation” called TRAs in Delft. The TRAs were constructed for families waiting upon the completion of their N2 Gateway houses by the provincial government and its partner company Thubelisha.
As residents there suggest, the TRAs are, in essence, government shacks: 36 square-meter “empty boxes,” with no room-dividers, no sinks, just a tin roof, a paved cement floor and four plaster walls. Though the TRAs were built as “temporary” structures, many residents have lived there for three years with no indication from Thubelisha or provincial government about when or where they will be moved.
Most residents of the TRAs were relocated from the Joe Slovo shack settlement in Langa after over 10 000 people were made homeless by a devastating shack fire in 2005. Because Langa is comparatively close to the centre city, shops and a train station, the move to Delft has made transport costs unaffordable to some, who have lost their jobs as a result. Children from Joe Slovo, now living in the TRAs in Delft, must nonetheless be bussed back to Langa for school. Residents from Joe Slovo, who have lived in “temporary accommodation” for almost a year, have attempted to enroll their children in schools in Delft, but have been told that the schools are full.
Before the move, victims of the Joe Slovo fire were assured by government officials that the TRAs would have electricity; they were recently informed that no such service would ever be provided. Candlelight, fires or gas stoves are used for light and cooking, all of which are significant fire hazards and moreover must be purchased at the residents’ expense. Water taps, showers as well as portable toilets – apparently often blocked or broken – are provided outside for common use.
Monique and other women living in the “temporary accommodation” reported that they felt unsafe using the outside toilets, and none would do so at after dark. Another security concern shared by Monique and others is that the walls of the TRAs are thin and unsound; they could be punched through with a fist. The walls moreover have cracks, which allow the wind to blow through and residents report that many children develop serious bronchial conditions as a result, which will only worsen in winter. The walls also were reportedly constructed with asbestos, now a matter of investigation.
During this time, living in a TRA, Monique continued to work for the cleaning company, though her transport costs from Delft were draining her income, an estimated 100R per week for taxis. She left the cleaning company after her daughter developed a severe cough and a skin condition, which required care as much as the payment of doctor fees. By December 2007, she began temporary work for a subcontractor on the N2 Gateway site, managed by Thubelisha Homes. She fitted plumbing for the new houses, and assisted with their construction, laying the foundation and building the walls. She said that she still has not been paid for this work.
From Occupied Houses to the Courts:
On December 19, 2007, backyarders in Delft began to occupy the unfinished N2 Gateway houses, moving in their belongings and marking their names on the outside walls with spray-paint. Monique also moved into the unoccupied houses, fearful of her daughter’s illness and reports of asbestos in the TRAs. The occupation occurred shortly after local councilor Frank Martin (DA) issued letters to an estimated 300 families in Delft, which granted them permission to move into the houses, and stated that he would accept full responsibility for the consequences. Martin allegedly gave authorization to other backyarders for the move during community meetings. He was arrested on charges of “incitement,” and will stand trial in the coming months.
The Provincial government and Thubelisha soon sought the eviction of the 1,600 residents. Monique was one of the respondents in the case, which was brought to the Cape High Court on 24 December 2007. Initially, the court halted evictions, and on 3 January threw out the application brought by the Provincial government and Thubelisha. When the N2 Gateway partners reapplied, court hearings resumed on 5 February, at which point Judge Deon Van Zyl granted an eviction order. As the Judge stood to leave the packed courtroom, Delft residents shouted, “Ons gaan nerens!” (We are not moving!).
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign later issued a press release that condemned the decision and called attention to the fact that the majority of residents would be entirely without shelter once the eviction was carried out. Stated the AEC:
“The judge and the ANC government and Thubelisha Homes are treating the residents of Delft as if they have alternative accommodation. Yet not one of them has any place to go. All of those who moved into the new houses were either homeless or backyard dwellers. Many had been on the waiting list for 20 years. Many of those who considered themselves “backyarders” in fact were living in appalling conditions in the back yards of homeowners, such as those families who attached a piece of tarpaulin to the backs of bakkies and slept every night for years in this so-called “tent.”
Delft residents attempted to lodge an appeal, but the judge denied their application. The Department of Housing scolded the residents in a press release, suggesting that their late application for an appeal was in “bad faith” and “should be reported to the Law Society.” Far from wanting to protract legal proceedings or toy with the legal system, residents expressed their continued faith in the courts, and added that any sort of legal action – from court appearances to lawyer meetings to gathering affidavits – requires organizing, a considerable investment of time and often financial contributions on the part of community members, many of whom are unemployed and all of whom have little money to spare. Housing cases are draining on already stretched community resources, regardless of whether or not free legal services are available, which can itself be a challenge to access. Moreover, every postponement, loss or appeal takes an emotional toll, especially when the outcome of the case can mean the difference between keeping a roof over your head and living in the open air.
Eviction from the Occupied Houses:
On February 19, Monique and her daughter, along with 1,600 other Delft residents, were evicted from the occupied houses and left on the pavement at the N2 Gateway site. During the eviction, police shot rubber bullets at residents without warning, and continued firing as they ran for cover. Some were shot at close range. Some were shot in the head and face. A child was shot three times. Women and elderly people were trampled. One woman reported that, after being shot in the side with a rubber bullet and falling