Thrown to the wolves

Residents of Wolwerivier feel left out and isolated saying they were dumped there and forgotten.

A City of Cape Town emergency housing site, Wolwerivier is a remote settlement about 40 to 45 minutes away from the Cape Town CBD.

Uprooted from places where they had been living – some, most of their lives – and being relocated to the temporary housing settlement, residents are not happy with the way they are treated by the City.

Wolweriviercurrentlyhas around 500 housing units with the City planning to add 4 500 more units to house people needing temporary housing.

Residents are, however, wary of the City’s proposed plan to extend Wolwerivier.

“We are already struggling here as it is and now they want to bring more people here. That is like adding poverty on top of more poverty. The City is creating more problems by doing this. We don’t know where those other people come from and what if they have

gangs? How are we all going to cope?” said community leader, Magdalene Minnaar.

With the proposed extension of the settlement, the people of Wolwerivier said there were still some basic services they needed to receive.

“People might be tired of hearing about this, but we need street lights. It gets very dark here and it becomes dangerous when people come from work at night. We need drain ditches so that the rainwater can flow and not make puddles all over the place. We still have gravel roads here, so you can imagine the mess created when it rains,” said Ms Minnaar.

Brett Herron, the mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said the development of Wolwerivier had been initiated before the adoption of the City’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Strategic Framework in 2016.

“The TOD strategy seeks to reverse spatial apartheid by developing housing close to centres of employment or key commuter nodes that facilitate access to employment.

“Where people live matters – this underpins the entire focus of the City of Cape Town’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA). We must acknowledge that, to date, our efforts to radically transform Cape Town’s spatial reality to enable all of our residents to participate more equally in the local economy have fallen short.”

Mr Herron said the dire need for housing for Cape Town’s most vulnerable households was the single biggest challenge facing local government today.

He said they estimated that approximately 650 000 families earning less than R13 000 a month would rely on local government for some kind of assistance for housing between now and 2032. This was partly as a result of unemployment, slow economic growth, and rapid urbanisation. Cape Town’s population has increased by 56% between 1996 and 2016. This trend is set to continue.

Hopolang Selebalo from Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to know), a non-profit activist organisation and law centre, said there were much better ways to help people with housing than cramming them into a remote area far from work and schools.

“There is almost no affordable alternative housing options. Rather than the City displacing people and sending them to Wolwerivier, it should provide transitional housing (which is a form of temporary housing) and affordable rental stock. But there is a lack of political will. There are numerous vacant or under-utilised parcels of public land in the area. The City could also refurbish existing buildings like the Woodstock Hospital site to house people,” said Ms Selebalo.

One major factor that residents of this area face is accessibility. It is far from places of work, schools, shopping centres and other amenities.

Only two taxis operate in and out of the area and often people have to wait for two hours to get a taxi. If the 15-seater taxi is full, you have to wait another two hours to get another one. The only place those taxis will take you is to Dunoon and it costs R11 for that trip. From Dunoon you would have to take another means of transport to get to where you are going.

Some people in the area say they don’t work because all their hard-earned money goes to transport. Also having to wake up at five or six in the morning and only arriving back home around eight in the evening frustrates the working residents.

Children have dropped out of school because their parents can’t afford their fees, the children’s transport, their own transport, having to keep food on the table and buying electricity in efforts to keep the cold houses warm.

Ms Minnaar said children from families that live in settlements such as Wolwerivier had the same desires as any other child.

“It doesn’t matter where you are from; children deserve to be treated just like any other child, even if it’s just an ice-cream or a trip to the mall. Not to sound ungrateful, but I feel that people who want to help, should give those they are helping things they themselves would wear or eat. You can’t come to someone and just because they are poor, you give them your old sweater full of dog hair or holes and you can tell by the smell that it has been lying somewhere in the garage for a long time,” said Ms Minnaar.

One thing the residents agree on is that the housing units are well built. Even though they are cold on the inside because of the cement block foundation, the structure is solid.

The City said it was taking great strides in efforts to assist the residents of Wolwerivier.

“Wolwerivier is on the outskirts of the city and therefore not a key priority development area under the TOD strategy, but as people are already living there, services must be provided for these residents. The City is in the process of acquiring the services of planning consultants to determine what services and planning permissions are required for additional services that are required,” said Mr Herron.

Announcing plans for inner-city precinct affordable housing developments yesterday, Tuesday July 18, Mr Herron said they had identified 10 City-owned sites in the city centre, Salt River and Woodstock to be used for affordable housing opportunities for those who needed it most.

“We made a commitment to do everything within our means to expedite new housing developments that are inclusive and to ensure that housing opportunities for lower-income households are situated on well-located land, close to places of employment and social amenities.

“Part of the undertaking is to, within our means, provide those who are facing emergency situations with safe, decent, and affordable temporary housing as close as possible to where they are working; or at least as close as possible to where they can get onto a bus, train or minibus-taxi.”