Floodplain squatters face eviction

Thando Myolukana is seen watering his spinach in the Rivergate settlement near Dunoon.

Squatters in a settlement of some 400 shacks on the Diep River floodplain in Rivergate, near Dunoon, say they are having sleepless nights after the City threatened to evict them.

The squatters received notices from the City on Tuesday March 22 giving them 21 days to leave the site, Erf 79, or face eviction.

They say they have nowhere else to go and have refused to budge. Many are former backyard dwellers who invaded the site at the height of the pandemic in July 2020 saying they could no longer afford rent. Others came from the Zwelitsha informal settlement that same month after heavy rains and flooding destroyed shacks there (“Floods destroyed homes,” Tabletalk, July 15, 2020).

According to community leader, Phatiswa Gaqa, many of them came to the settlement with nothing but the clothes on their backs and they were trying to rebuild their lives.

She claimed the settlement was being watched by law enforcement and drones and she feared that “riot police will come like a thief in the night, to evict us”.

She fears for the safety of the settlement’s children and elderly, should they be forced from their shacks.

Ms Gaqa shares her one-bedroom shack with her husband and 21-year-old son.

The settlement had no electricity, running water or toilets, she said, adding that people had to confront rats and snakes in the tall grass along the river bank to relieve themselves, she said.

Pensioner Mapinga Msito, who is looking after her grandchildren, said that despite suffering from arthritis she had to walk to other parts of Dunoon to get water for washing and cooking.

She had been on the City’s housing waiting list since 2005, and had not heard anything from the City about a house she had been promised, she said.

“I want to give my grandkids a better life, but I was made a promise and now we have to live like this. It makes me angry and sad.”

Buhle Mpanda, a chef, was retrenched in August 2020 because of the pandemic. Unable to pay rent, he was kicked out of his two-bedroom shack in Dunoon and decided to settle at the Rivergate informal settlement.

He hopes the City will relocate the families squatting there to somewhere with basic services.

The people at Rivergate had the “spirit of ubuntu” and were always helping each other, he said.

The squatters showed Tabletalk gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables that they sell and barter with their neighbours. Chickens and geese roam the gardens.

Ward 104 councillor Meisie Makuwa said she could not comment and would leave it up to the City to decide what would be done at the site.

Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews, said the City would launch eviction proceedings if the squatters failed to move off the site. He said 230 families had originally settled there, but the City had been unable to evict them during the national state of disaster.

The land had rich biodiversity and endangered veld types such as renosterveld, he said.

“Due to its significance to conservation, it will be incorporated with the bordering Table Bay Nature Reserve in future,” said Mr Andrews.

“Erf 79 is a floodplain area, unsuited for habitation and it presents a flood-risk to the occupants, as well as to adjacent and downstream properties, and is therefore unsafe.”

Rivergate community leader Phatiswa Gaqa
Buhle Mpanda says he will be happy to move if the City provides accommodation with basic services.
More than 400 shacks are built on the Diep River floodplain