Happy Valley on edge as eviction call grows

Happy Valley squatters say the government promised them homes but now they fear having their shacks torn down.

Squatters living at the Happy Valley site opposite the Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital in Sunningdale say the government promised them homes more than 20 years ago, but now they have sleepless nights wondering when their shacks will be torn down.

An online petition, signed by thousands of residents from the neighbouring suburbs of Table View and Blouberg, is demanding that the municipality and the national Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, which owns the site, clear the squatters from the land.

Residents threatened to file a mandamus high court order against the City and Public Works if they failed to act by Friday February 25 (“Petition challenge over Happy Valley,” Tabletalk, February 2).

With the deadline having passed and the squatters still on the site, Dario Florentino, the man who started the petition, said residents had appointed legal representatives to deal with the case.

The next step was to send a letter of demand, with the petition signed by more than 7000 people, to Public Works, giving the department 30 days to start evicting the squatters, he said.

The second step, he said, was to send a letter to the City, giving it 30 days to approach the courts for an interdict that stopped further invasions until the eviction had been completed.

Public Works and the City should buy a piece of farmland in Melkbosstrand where the people of Happy Valley could settled with basic services, he said, adding that the Happy Valley site should then be fenced off to prevent further land invasions until a decision had been taken on what to do with the land.

Paula Delwaye, who lives near the camp, said the squatters posed a health risk to neighbouring residents as there was no sanitation or refuse removal and the bushes were used as toilets and for dumping.

But the Happy Valley squatters have vowed to stay put. They claim Public Works and City officials who visited them in 1994 said they would benefit from future housing planned for the site.

Community leader Michael Bodkin and his wife, Franscien, showed Tabletalk a two-page document that they said had been given to them by Public Works in 1995 and which recorded the names and numbers of 38 people who had set up camp there more than 30 years ago.

According to the Bodkins, these people were waiting for the department to build the houses promised to them, but some of them had already died and their children had “inherited” the shack.

There were only 19 “beneficiaries,” left, they said.

Ms Bodkin said the occupants of shacks that had had numbers painted on them by Public Works were the people who would get homes, but they had heard nothing from the department for more than 20 years.

Mr Bodkin said mobile toilets and one working tap were all that the camp had ever received from authorities.

The bushes had not been cleared in over ten years, and Happy Valley residents were being blamed for crime in the area while also being attacked by criminals who hid in the bushes, he said.

Another Happy Valley squatter, Yolanda Sinco, confirmed what the Bodkins said. The squatters were holding on to empty promises and would not like to be relocated, she said.

“All of my children attended nearby schools, we grew up here, this is the only place we know. Even though we had very little services and support from the government, we made this our home.”

Ms Sinco said she was afraid to sleep because residents had threatened to take matters into their own hands and break down their shacks.

However, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure denied that there were ever housing promises made to the squatters of Happy Valley.

Lunga Mahlangu, the departments’ spokesman, said the document shown to Tabletalk was to keep track of any new invasions on the land.

The department was busy with a “feasibility study” to determine the best use for the property, he said.

“The department is in the process of dealing with the matter. The department did an audit before the outbreak of Covid-19, in 2018, of the number of structures that are on the land as part of the actions that are required to apply for a containment order in the High Court,” he said.

A short-term plan was to erect a fence around the perimeter of the occupied area and implement security measures to prevent the increase of squatters until the department decided what to do with the land, he said.

He said no petition or letter of demand had been sent to the department from any residents, and there were no plans to evict or relocate any families living on the site because the department did not yet know what would be done at the property.

Ward 23 councillor Paul Swart said the City was busy with it’s own “available processes” to deal with the matter, but he could not disclose what those processes were.

The City did not respond to questions by time of publication.