Media: ‘This is no place for children to grow up’

4 11 2009

November 01, 2009 Edition 1 – Cape Argus
ZARA NICHOLSON and VUYO MABANDLA

The plight of Blikkiesdorp’s 5 000 residents has been highlighted in the past few months, but one of the area’s first residents says he has spent 18 years living in “similar dump areas”.
Residents claim conditions in Blikkiesdorp are today “appalling”, but Willie Stevens, 63, whose family was one of the first to move to the informal settlement two years ago, says conditions were much worse then.

Stevens’s shack in Blikkiesdorp is the fourth “hokkie” he has lived in since losing his house in Ravensmead 18 years ago.

Blikkiesdorp is in the headlines as the new home of the Symphony Way pavement dwellers, who last month were ordered by the Cape High Court to move.

Around five years ago, frustrated after houses they had been promised did not materialise, they illegally moved into unfinished houses in the N2 Gateway project in Delft. They were soon evicted, and settled on the pavement of Symphony Way.

They said they were tired of broken promises, corruption and lengthy council house waiting lists.

Stevens and his family, however, have been living in Blikkiesdorp for about two years. The former painting foreman lost his job after the company he worked for closed down 18 years ago. Unable to repay his bond, his Ravensmead house was repossessed.

Stevens moved into a backyard “hokkie” with his wife and four children. Life became a continuous struggle.

“I was the sole breadwinner and I nearly lost my wife because I couldn’t provide for the family. We moved from one hokkie to the next and everywhere we went people would cut off the lights and water,” he said.

In 1997, Stevens applied for a housing subsidy, but after waiting for months, he was told his forms had been lost. Along with others, Stevens and his family moved into the unfinished houses in Delft until they were eventually evicted.

The family was moved to the Delft area, and put up in tents. They called it the “Lapland”.

“That was very, very nasty. If the wind blew it would feel like the tents were going to blow away and when it rained all our things got wet for days on end. You can imagine what that feels like. Then the council moved us to Blikkiesdorp and things were just as bad,” Stevens said.

For the first Blikkiesdorp residents – when there was no electricity and no running water – life was a struggle and it was months before they received basic services.

“The structures we moved into had one window, no floor, no lining, it was just tin and wood.

“We had to make the structures more comfortable and we had no money.”

Stevens did small jobs through the years and managed to keep his four children at school.

He decided to start selling fruit and vegetables to survive.

“There are so many problems here in Blikkiesdorp. Three-quarters of the people don’t work and poverty is a huge problem. There is so much crime in this place. Just last week a woman stabbed her husband to death. Break-ins are also a huge problem because people have nothing and they are hungry so they steal.

“There is drug abuse as well and children as young as nine years old are using drugs because there is nothing else here for them.

“This is no place for children to grow up in.”

Blikkiesdorp received some plants from Stodels, the nursery chain, and Stevens is in charge of maintaining the garden. He has also organised a music class for children in the area.

While still frustrated at the living conditions, Stevens said he tried to do all he could to keep people’s spirits up.

He is still, however, not on a housing waiting list.

He and other families have been told they will be notified when they can apply.

The Symphony Way residents have said they were not keen to move to Blikkiesdorp.

Residents there said the new families could worsen everyone’s plight.

“Although we welcome their relocation to this area, we fear that the number of new residents compared to the already lack of medical resources here could contribute to our problems,” said Eddie Swartz, a community leader.

Manelisi Beja, a resident, said: “I have been here for more than a year and I have seen things go from bad to worse as more people are dumped here.

“It seems this will never stop.”

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