Struggle continues in Wolwerivier

Elmarie Sylvester finds it difficult to live far from medical services.

Sixteen families from Woodstock are fighting the City of Cape Town’s plans to pack them up and dump them in Wolwerivier.

The Bromwell Street residents were served an eviction order by the City and offered alternative housing at the isolated relocation camp some 30km from the city centre.

The residents – 16 adults and 11 children – have taken the City to court, refusing to budge from their homes where some of them have lived for more than 70 years.

In a statement, Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said Wolwerivier was the closest temporary emergency accommodation the City could offer to the seven households.

“The constitution does not guarantee a person the right to housing at government expense at the location of their choice, as locality is determined by a number of factors, including the availability of land,” said Mr Herron.

But while the handful of Bromwell Street residents and the City slug it out in court, the struggle continues for Wolwerivier residents who have been living at the site for a year and a half.

Tabletalk visited Wolwerivier last week and spoke to a number of residents about their struggle to adapt to life in the rows of tiny tin huts.

Tabletalk last visited in 2015, when residents were unhappy about the City moving people from Blikkiesdorp into the area (“Chaos breaks out at Wolwerivier protest,” Tabletalk, September 30, 2015).

The sun beats down on the 464 huts with no shade from trees to escape the heat, and the stench of dog faeces hangs in the air as you walk the gravel streets.

Most of the houses have been fenced by the owners and have been extended with scrap materials. Besides the wild vegetation surrounding the Wolwerivier site, the only other greenery found is the mielies or tomatoes growing in crates or old tyres.

Magdalene Minnaar, a community leader, says people are finding different ways to survive here – most of them are illegal.

“It’s common to find a few families living together and renting out their homes. This is their only source of income. A number of people have actually sold their homes. We’ve heard of sales between R40 000 to R50 000,” said Ms Minnaar.

Drugs and prostitution were other social ills starting to rear their ugly heads in the poverty-stricken community.

Ms Minnaar can’t pinpoint who the drug dealers are, although she has her suspicions.

The prostitutes, on the other hand, are hard to miss as they “advertise” their services close to the Wolwerivier entrance along the old Mamre Road.

“These girls are standing along the main road and showing their private parts. It’s so embarrassing. There are school buses filled with children passing on this road, and these girls are exposing themselves,” she said.

Wolwerivier has no clinic and the closest schools are several kilometres away.

The non-profit organisation, TLC, runs a creche in Table View and fetches children from Wolwerivier during the week.

Ms Minnaar is also going through a lot of red tape to lease land for a church.

“We need a church just as much as we need the other things. It’s important for the soul and keeping on the right track. At the moment, we are using someone’s home for church services and choir practice.”

Another resident, Elmarie Sylvester, told Tabletalk she spent the previous evening at a hospital in Atlantis with her seven-year-old daughter.

“She had a virus and I had to wait an hour for the ambulance to arrive. They put her on a drip at the hospital and the police had to bring us back home at three in the morning,” said Ms Sylvester.

Ms Minnaar also criticised the City for not saying anything to them about the Bromwell Street residents’ possible move to the area.

They had only heard about it when the residents pitched for a site visit with journalists.

Ms Minnaar said she did not know where the families would stay if they did end up in Wolwerivier, as all the houses were occupied, some illegally.

When Tabletalk raised Ms Minnaar’s comments with the City, Mr Herron said: “The City is awaiting the Western Cape High Court’s ruling in the Bromwell case and will comment only once this case has been concluded.”

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, said residents who sold their houses at Wolwerivier were committing fraud.

“Unfortunately, it is very challenging for the City to know when these fraudulent transactions take place. This would be an illegal sale and the ‘buyer’ would not have recourse to get the money back. Often a ‘seller’ will disappear with the money that has been paid.

“This fraudulent activity must be reported to the South African Police Service for investigation. Evidence is crucial and the City urges victims of this fraud to finalise affidavits to encourage investigation. City officials are standing by to assist in order to bring culprits to book,” said Ms Limberg.