Media: It’s not paradise but it is home

10 05 2010

Athlone families turned a disused changeroom into a place to live, now it’s going to be paved for a parking lot. Report by Raymond Joseph, pictures by Fanie Jason


Photo: INLSA

May 09, 2010 Edition 1 – Weekend Argus

Six families who have been living in a derelict sports changeroom at one of Cape Town’s World Cup training venues for up to 11 years, are facing eviction to make space for parking.

Athlone Stadium, next to one of Cape Town’s poorest and roughest suburbs, has undergone a R406 million upgrade to bring it up to Fifa standards, including a brand-new pitch, three new grandstands, VIP suites and improved player facilities.

The Cape Town council, which owns the property, wants to demolish the changeroom to extend the stadium’s parking area in time for next month’s kick-off – and has gone to court to have the tenants removed after they ignored eviction orders served against them. The Wynberg Magistrate’s Court will rule on the fate of the families tomorrow.

Work on the parking area is at an advanced stage, except in the corner where the changeroom is, along with a small semi-detached house, the tenants of which have been moved to other homes.

But the changeroom residents say that they have nowhere to go and will be forced to put up shacks or tents in the area if they are evicted.

“If they throw me out I will set up a tent over there,” said Llewellyn Wilters, pointing to a nearby open field. “We were all born in this area. We went to school here, we know the people, and we have nowhere else to go.”

Wilters said he had “cried with joy” when he first heard that South Africa had been awarded the World Cup. “And I was overjoyed when I heard that Athlone would feature as part of it all. I thought it would bring good things for all of us in this area, which is desperately in need of development.

“Now I’m crying again. I’m going to lose my home because of the World Cup, and what makes it worse is that we are being told that we must move for a parking lot.”

The changeroom, on the edge of the stadium area, is home to 24 people, more than half children.

The occupants have divided it into six tiny cement-floored rooms, one for each family. They all share two toilets and two taps. They have had no electricity since the council cut off the power two years ago.

Another person facing eviction is Alwyn Abrahams, who lives with his wife, Cindy, and their two young children, in a tiny concrete-floored space not much bigger than a prison cell.

Abrahams, who served on a committee set up to help advise the council when the upgrade was first mooted a couple of years ago, said he rejoiced when he heard that Athlone would be part of the World Cup.

“Now suddenly the World Cup is almost here and they say they need this space for parking. We fixed the place up; we made it clean and habitable and sectioned it off so people with nowhere to stay could make a home for their families.

“I am unemployed, my wife is unemployed, and we have two kids. Now we are losing our homes for the World Cup and this isn’t even a venue where matches will be played, it’s just going to be used by teams to practise.”

At one stage the changerooms were used as offices by several local NGOs and the families moved in after these organisations moved out.

Abrahams, who worked as an officer for the Athlone Advice office, has lived in the changeroom for almost 11 years.

He said the council had served eviction notices on the squatters several times over the years, beginning in 2003, but had always failed to follow through. Their ward councillor, Charlotte Tabisher, had also told them not to worry, as she would help them find alternative accommodation, several residents claimed. Attempts to contact Tabisher were unsuccessful.

Pam Beukes, the area co-ordinator for the Anti Eviction Campaign, said: “The council wants to move these people to get them out of the eyes of tourists who will come to watch World Cup football practices at the stadium. They want to pretend there are no poor people. They do not want tourists to see the poorest of the poor.

“If it was not for the World Cup they would not be evicting these people. They are not looking forward to the World Cup, it is robbing them of their home and dignity,” she said.

In court papers, the council’s area manager for sports and recreation, Blamo Brooks, said the group was occupying the change-room illegally and all attempts to negotiate with them to leave had been unsuccessful.

He agreed that they were “persons in dire straits at the lowest end of the income bracket, if they receive any income at all, and doubtless include the very young and possibly ill”.

He conceded that any eviction order would “cause great disruption” in their lives, but said they had been living elsewhere before they moved in, “albeit with family in crowded houses” and, if possible, “they should move back”.

And while the “right to adequate housing is entrenched” in the constitution, the changeroom dwellers would first have to apply to council and be assessed.

There was a long waiting list for council housing and since they had moved out of “houses or accommodation” the council should not have to house them, Blamo told the court.

And if Tabisher had offered to arrange accommodation for them, she was acting outside her authority, the court was told.

The council also plans to demolish a semi-detached house that stands near the changeroom and has already moved the residents into new council homes across the road.

The house, which dates back to the 1930s, was used to house army officers during World War ll. The three blocks of flats opposite served as barracks for enlisted men.

Community member Joseph Masalie said the house was part of the area’s heritage and locals believed it would be a travesty to demolish it for parking space.

“It should be restored and used as a tourist office, or something else that would serve the committee. It is part of our history and it would be very wrong to knock it down.”

Yaseen Watson, 70, lived in one half of the semi-detached house for 44 years and it was where he and his wife, Farieda, had raised 10 children, until they moved last Christmas eve.

“My new house is nice, but we miss this one as it is filled with good memories. I can’t believe they want to knock it down for a parking lot. It makes me very sad to think of it.” – Southern Tip Media

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