We will not be moved

MATTHEW HIRSCH

Maynard Street residents in Gardens who face possible eviction from their City-owned homes have vowed that they will not be moved.

While most Cape Town families were looking forward to Christmas, last year, families living in council-owned properties in Maynard Street weren’t sure where they’d be spending the next one.

By chance, on the day before Christmas, one of the tenants saw a newspaper advert in the gym that the rental properties were for sale.

Three days later they were sent letters by the City of Cape Town.

There are 12 council-owned houses in Maynard Street with one of them being vacant at present. The rest are all occupied by families.

Susanna Oelofse moved into her house at 31 Maynard Street when she was 15 years old.

““All my kids were born and raised here. People who were underprivileged and couldn’t afford housing would go on a waiting list. These were for the poor people and this was how my mom got a property here,” said Ms Oelofse.

She said her neighbour saw the houses for sale in an advert in the newspaper. “When we contacted the council about it, they sent us the exact article three days later.”

She said the way they found out the houses were on sale was very upsetting. “After living here for more than 20 years, you expect for them to at least have the decency to notify you before putting it in the newspaper. It is not a nice way to find out that you could soon be homeless.

“This is an up-and-coming area and people want to live in town. People are willing to pay lots of money to get housing. They know if they sell these houses they will be able to get a lot of money.”

She said her house was valued at more than R2 million, simply because it was close to the CBD. Ms Oelofse said all the residents had sent in letters of objection.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford to go anywhere else at the moment. We would be homeless. If they even think of relocating you they will put you in a far away area. My kids go to school in town.”

Ms Oelofse, who has been unemployed since December 2013, said her children were rattled to suddenly find out that the houses might be sold. “Suddenly we don’t matter and we are just a number in the system. We are a community and we have lived in this community for years. Now they want to tear all that apart for the sake of money. I have no income and I live off the maintenance that my ex-husband pays for my children. I don’t have family I can turn to, so we will literally be stranded. I didn’t finish school and at the moment finding a job is so difficult.”

Hester Capes has been living in Maynard Street for 34 years since she was a child. Now she lives in the house with 14 other family members, including an aunt who is wheelchair-bound since she suffered a stroke. She also said all the children in the house go to school in town.

She was working for the same company as her mom and sister when they were all retrenched a few years ago. She left school after Standard 6 (Grade 8)but was working to support her grandmother.

“My concern is where are we all going to go. We can’t afford our own places because nobody earns enough. My biggest fear is my aunt in the wheelchair because it is very difficult for her to get around. She is totally paralysed.”

She also said her children would find it difficult to move, having grown up in the area. “We all grew up here, this is my life. For us to move out of here is going to take a piece away from us. This house has so many memories.”

Ms Capes said she was very disappointed in the way they found out that the houses were for sale. “They didn’t have the decency to call us and tell us what’s happening. I was devastated for weeks.”

She said her blood pressure went up as a result of the stress and her son’s school work also suffered. “It doesn’t matter what colour you are or whether you are rich or poor, we all should be treated equally. All of us in this street will take (the matter) as far as we need to go. We will do whatever we have to but we are not moving. They can come with trucks and bulldozers – I will tie myself to the gate,” said Ms Capes.

Jerome Izaaks, who is the spokesperson for the group, added that mixed income housing worked in First World countries. “Why can’t it work in South Africa? It works in big industrial countries such as Germany and Hong Kong. If we pitch Cape Town as an up and coming first-class city why is it that we don’t look at housing? That’s how you start integrating people. “

He said his reaction to finding out the houses were on sale was “sheer shock and horror”.

Mr Izaaks said he expressed interest in buying the house in 2006 but was sent a rejection letter by the City a year later. “It is plain and simple, how are you going to integrate people if what you are doing is separating them? This is not just a normal street; we are all looking out for each other,” he added.

He also criticised the City’s public participation policy, saying it was inconsistent. “We are prepared to go as far as the people in Sea Point, De Waal Drive flats and (South Road) Wynberg. We are asking that they give us first option and if not, then offer us alternative housing,” he said.

Mr Izaaks also said they were getting help from Ndifuna Kwazi’s lawyers. Ndifuna Ukwazi is a non-profit organisation and legal clinic.

The City of Cape Town’s executive deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for finance, Ian Neilson confirmed that the 12 City-owned properties proposed for disposal are numbers 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 21, 23, 29, 39, 37, 33 and 31 in Maynard Street.

“The City is considering the disposal of these properties. Due process is being followed. Council will consider the proposal when all statutory processes, including public participation and council processes, have been completed.”

Mr Neilson said that public participation was under way and that, as part of this process, letters had been sent to the tenants of the properties and local residents. He added that the City had also placed a newspaper advert. “No decision has been taken regarding the subject properties. By law, the City is required to advertise its proposed intention and this forms part of the entire public participation process.

“The City is currently considering the responses that have been received to determine how the public participation process should proceed. Further engagement with the tenants of the properties in question is foreseen.”

He said the houses were originally obtained by the council for road upgrading and it was intended to demolish them. “This was communicated to the lessees from the start. The leases were thus ordinary commercial leases for a limited period and the City has no obligation to the lessees beyond the lease periods as laid down in the leases. Lessees would have to apply through the normal channels for any new lease of council property.”

When asked if the Maynard Street residents would be given first option to purchase these houses, Mr Neilson said: “There are very strict legislative prescripts applicable when it comes to the disposal of City-owned property. The City is investigating whether there is any legal manoeuvrability in this regard, but nothing can be confirmed at this stage.”