“Parkwood has a problem, people live under inhumane conditions”

According to the police, there have been 145 protests in the first four months of the year. Photo by Shanice Appels

Widespread protests for land and housing are taking place with backyarders and landless people occupying vacant land in Cape Town.

Parkwood, Cape Town, South Africa

The City of Cape Town has called for a multi-agency probe into protest actions erupting in the city’s townships and urged owners of open tracts of land to protect their property. This comes after an ongoing spate of land occupations by backyard dwellers in Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain, Vrygrond and Grassy Park. Landowners should have interdicts in place, warns Alderman JP Smith in a press statement, to expedite the legal process if trespassing orders are needed and to “take all necessary measures, such as hiring private protection firms to guard their land 24/7.”

Backyard dwellers in Parkwood, Grassy Park are occupying an unused piece of land along Prince George Drive that they say should be used for housing. The field is otherwise unsafe for passers-by who are often robbed and harassed whilst on their way to work. Many of these backyarders have been on the housing waiting list for more than 20 years and they expressed grievances over maladministration, poor living conditions and limited resources.

“What you see happening here [today] is an outcry from the community to raise awareness around housing, backyard dwellers, people who are on the waiting list and boarders. We want to bring the message across to the public, the broader community and also to the authorities, Parkwood has a problem. People live under inhumane situations,” said Pastor Paul Phillips, a community leader.

“Our children have to live amongst the gangsters and grow up in crime-infested environments. I lost my 10-year-old son in 2016 and I don’t want my two daughters to experience the same thing, living in someone else’s yard. I can protect my family if I have a place of my own and as a community we feel we should be on our own,” said Joseph Boltman. His son was shot and killed in crossfire when rival gangs ran onto the property. He has been on the housing waiting list for nearly 12 years.

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“Help us: we don’t have a lot of money to apply for loans for housing; we are also struggling. We work and live from hand to mouth; we pay tax. They can at least give us a chance to start afresh. We don’t want much; all we want is for our rights to be considered and solutions [found] to our problems,” said Boltman.

A backyarder who identified herself as Aunt Maggie said that she was occupying the land because in the neighboring informal settlement where she had been staying, there was no access to water nor electricity. Her family has to empty their toilet buckets into a canal which is unhygienic and leads to diseases.

During the current financial year, the City has allocated R233.4-million for the installation and maintenance of sanitation facilities for residents living in backyards and informal settlements in areas across the city. The supposed beneficiaries of this programme, however, expressed their dissatisfaction with the services rendered.

“The government only came to install electricity boxes and that was it. The toilets are always blocked which causes our house to stink. It is not hygienic, especially for our children. We can all live with good hygiene but how can we live hygienic if the people who afforded us the opportunity to receive toilets don’t maintain it? We want maintenance,” said Boltman.

“Nothing has changed in Parkwood. We regress. We hear the ministers, government talk about millions of rands being allocated for development; we don’t see the results of that. We don’t reap the benefits of that and today there is an outcry from the community and as you can see there is a real need for housing,” said Pastor Paul Phillips.

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“There is a real need for proper development. A person without a house is a person without dignity. A person without a roof over their head is a person that is hopeless and we need to change that around.

“People nowadays don’t even have a bathroom anymore because the bathroom has become a bedroom. People sleep in their kitchens, in their toilets. This is inhumane. This can’t be normal and the people today we want to make a statement and we are rallying around a common cause. We need housing. We need improvement and we need Parkwood to become a better place for all our people to live in,” he concluded.

According to the City of Cape Town, the Anti-Land Invasion has removed 26,000 “illegal” structures in in the first four months of 2018. Photo by Shanice Appels

What started out as a peaceful land occupation turned violent after police dismantled shelters and forcefully removed people from the land. Residents resisted, burning tyres which caused the closure of Prince George Drive. Tension were high as law enforcement officers and community members clashed.

“We don’t want to use violence because violence solves nothing. We just want to be helped. Help us. Sort us out. We want to do everything peacefully. No violence. We are struggling. We are backyard dwellers. We have to pay rent to our landlords. We are sick and tired of living like this,” said Boltman.

31 residents were arrested, some of whom appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s court and were released on free bail. Their case has been postponed to 17 and 18 July.

Executive Mayor Patricia De Lille stated that she has delegated Executive Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson to hold discussions with representatives from Parkwood.

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