Media: No temporary solution

15 03 2009

Posted to the web on: 14 March 2009
Source: The Weekender

Life is uncertain for the residents of Blikkiesdorp, and they fear its thin tin walls may be permanent, writes JEANNE HROMNIK

BLIKKIESDORP won’t be found on any South African map. Its official name is Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area and it is not supposed to exist for more than a short time.

The residents prefer their nickname Blikkiesdorp — Tin Town — as it accurately describes the 1000 or more structures that the city of Cape Town erected in Delft last year to house them.

The temporary relocation area is a stone’s throw from the shacks of the Symphony Way pavement dwellers . The 100-odd families have been living illegally along a blocked-off section of Symphony Way since February last year.

On March 2, the city notified the pavement dwellers of its intention to seek an eviction order in the high court to remove them. But last week, the Durban High Court granted judicial oversight of a transit camp in KwaZulu-Natal, and now the Cape Town residents intend to use this precedent to defend their eviction.

Provincial governments across the country have been using these settlements — known as temporary relocation areas in Cape Town, transit camps in Durban and government shacks in Gauteng — to “temporarily” house residents from squatter camps and inner-city slums until formal housing is provided for them.

“Transit camps often look like concentration camps with razor-wire fencing, spotlights, single entrances and 24-hour police guards,” says shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which won the Durban High Court victory . “Residents are often highly controlled in these places, as if they are in prisons.

“In most cases, these camps are far from the cities where people live, work and school. People are taken there against their will with no guarantees about the conditions there, how long they will be kept there and where, if anywhere, they will be taken next.”

Unlike Tsunami, a neighbouring temporary relocation area , Blikkiesdorp does not look like a slum. The tin walls and roofs of the dwellings gleam in the afternoon sun. There is little space between the structures which are arranged in blocks, with one toilet shared by four households . The toilets appear to be functioning and do not emit the foul smell coming from those in Tsunami. There are taps with running water, but no ablution facilities.

Ashraf Cassiem, chairman of the Anti-Eviction Campaign in the Western Cape, says “the toilets (at Blikkiesdorp) are concrete, the pipelines are concrete” — an unexpected feature in a “temporary” camp .

At the entrance to Blikkiesdorp, three police vehicles and an armoured truck, manned by the Land Invasion Unit, are permanently stationed to maintain order and monitor the area .

Cassiem says there are no temporary relocation areas. The city, he claims, was given R20m to build Blikkiesdorp. It built 1200 structures for people evicted from the adjacent N2 Gateway houses in February last year and is planning to build 1200 more units.

Instead of a temporary stop and a prelude to permanent housing, it is being used to house everyone: people evicted by the council and other homeless families. The city has a 22-year lease on the land on which Blikkiesdorp is erected.

Blikkiesdorp, says Cassiem, is part of a strategy to move unwanted people — “like cattle … as if you are doing them a favour” — to the fringes of cities and outlying areas where they are less visible.

Temporary relocation areas in the Western Cape — such as Happy Valley, built more than 12 years ago outside Stellenbosch and now a vast informal settlement — are permanent relocation areas.

The metal sheets used to construct the walls and roofs of Blikkiesdorp are flimsy and poorly assembled. They can easily be penetrated and several residents have been robbed. Their locks have been cut and new occupiers installed . One resident, it is claimed, is living outside his former home — with his ID and other documents locked inside by the new occupiers.

Residents allege corrupt police officers hand out occupation rights for R600.

Life goes on at Tsunami. A sign above a defunct and odiferous ablution block reads: “Drink Beer Save Water.” Underneath, someone has written: “ibeer idrink ikhona apha”.

At Portia’s Hair Salon across the way, prices are low: R15 for a wash, R30 for a blow-dry and R50 for “Precise Dark and Lovely”. There are numerous spaza shops in the area. Blikkiesdorp already has six shops.

Xolani Bokolo has been living at Tsunami since 2005.

The authorities refused to allow him to rebuild his shack in Joe Slovo informal settlement after a fire there in 2005 left 12000 people homeless.

He says several Tsunami residents have been moved into the adjacent N2 Gateway houses, but when he followed up on his application for a house, he was told he was “not on the system yet”.

“The last forms that we filled in (applications for housing), they found them in the dustbin,” Bokolo says. He refuses to fill in another application , saying he cannot see a reason for doing so.

Bokolo has painted the interior walls of his tin shack a dull shade of powder pink, and has constructed a dividing wall to create a living room and a bedroom .

He says dust seeps through the walls, and despite stuffing paper into the cracks, he sometimes has difficulty sleeping at night because the dust is so thick.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits condemns the government’s policy of using transit camps as accommodation for forcibly removed shack dwellers.

“Relocation to transit camps is most often done to make way for infrastructure and development projects which will not benefit those being removed,” it says .

Last Friday, the Durban High Court ruled in favour of residents who had lived in the Siyanda informal settlement who had been moved to a transit camp in nearby Richmond Farm. The residents had been promised houses in a nearby development. However, angry at the conditions in the camp, they sought the protection of the high court. It ruled that they must be given permanent housing within a year.

The court also ruled that there should be an immediate investigation into the corrupt allocation of houses in Siyanda and, where necessary, restitution made to the victims of corruption. It ordered that a report be made to the court every three months on conditions in the camp and that Siyanda residents can return to the court after two weeks if conditions in the camp are not adequate

A decision is pending in the evictions case of 20000 Joe Slovo residents, who refuse to move to the Delft temporary relocation area. Their case was heard in the Constitutional Court in August last year.

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