Stellenbosch backyard dwellers declare that they have exhausted peaceful engagement with the municipality
Backyard dwellers from Cloetesville in Stellenbosch marched to the municipal offices on Wednesday to hand over a petition saying that their rights are continuously violated as they do not have houses and live under bad conditions. About 50 protesters, mainly women, handed over a petition of 966 signatures to the Stellenbosch municipality on Wednesday. To press home the urgency of their demands, they also declared that they have identified the Stellenbosch Golf Course as prime land to occupy “as a housing solution to our Backyard Dwellers.”
“The land where the golf course is situated belongs to the municipality. Rich people play golf there everyday while we don’t have houses. It is a violation of human rights,” said Lawrence Seals, the chairperson of Stellenbosch Backyard Dwellers Forum. “We have tried to solve this issue and engage the municipality peacefully but we will not remain peaceful anymore.”.
Christine Steyn, the treasurer of the forum said that most of the land that they have identified since 2011 for the building of low-cost housing has been sold to private developers by the municipality. “We have been peaceful long enough,” she said.
The Stellenbosch municipality said that they are not sure about the claims that the forum is making as the current mayor’s first term only started in 2016.
In their petition, the forum raised the different treatment of Cloetesville backyarders compared to those of Khayamandi. Here, the protest took on a racial dimension as Cloetesville is a predominantly ‘Coloured’ (mixed race) community while Khayamandi is ‘Black’. “The Municipality of Stellenbosch bought part of the farm for the residents of Khayamandi after they invaded the land illegally. Furthermore, you are now building houses for them on this land. The fact that you bought them land and is now building there following this illegal land invasion is a sore spot for our people. This action blatantly spurs on racial tensions. Should we also start invading land illegally before we are listened to and assisted?” reads the statement.
Asked why they did not join and go put up shacks among the Khayamandi residents who occupied the land, the forum’s secretary, Peter Jacques Plaatjies said that they are too “mild” and that the organisation is apolitical and does not engage in race politics. “We feel that those residents of Khayamandi were pushed to the corner. We need to fight the system together as it is rigged against us,” he said.
Backyard living conditions
18-year-old Karen Booysen, who lost her mother due to a heart attack brought on by an eviction notice from their landlord, said she shares a two-roomed shack with her father and three siblings. “We have been renting backyard wendy houses for the past ten years and we currently pay R1,200 per month. There are other families who are also renting and we have a problem of drugs being sold on the premises. The environment is not good for us,” she said.
Unemployed mother of four, Candice Valentyn said that they share a toilet with three other tenant families. “It has become normal for us to relieve ourselves in a bucket as the toilet is not always accessible and is most of the time dirty. When it rains I have to move the furniture as the wendy house leaks,” she said.
The Stellenbosch Municipality promised to respond to the memorandum within the stipulated seven days.