Media: No home, no four walls, no warmth

12 06 2011

June 11 2011 at 04:05pm
By Kowthar Solomons – WEEKEND ARGUS


IOL news june 11  cw Tafelsig_2964Some of the land invaders prepare their makeshift tents. Photo; Neil Baynes

Three-year-old Jim-Bop clutches a white teddy bear. It’s a gift for Imaan – the baby who will soon come home from hospital to live in a field.

The 10-day-old girl is the latest member of a community who live in makeshift shelters next to Kapteinsklip train station.

Jim-Bop idolises Spider-Man, but the toddler and the rest of the 120-strong community living on a field in Swartklip don’t need fictional heroes – there are real heroes living next door.

It’s getting dark on Thursday evening, and the 20 families are setting up their makeshift tents. A High Court interdict prevents them from putting up any solid structures and their materials have been confiscated by City of Cape Town officials.

The community instead uses branches as support poles and a blanket or plastic sheet as cover. They put up the shelters at night and take them down before the regular inspections. If the structures are up for more than 48 hours, law enforcers cannot pull them down.

While the tents are being set up, Jim-Bop runs across the field, helping to get wood for tonight’s fire. His real name is Neville, but he answers only to Jim-Bop – the nickname his dad gave him.

IOL news june 11 cw Tafelsig coloureditUncle Fred, a former contractor, built his underground home after law enforcement officials destroyed his shack. Photo: Neil Baynes

WEEKEND ARGUS

The toddler has spent the past six months living in the field with his mother, Renecia Davids, 25, and his brother, one-year-old Jermaine.

Davids claims she was beaten by her drug-addict boyfriend, Jim-Bop’s father, who often threatened her with a knife. When Jim-Bop sees a knife, he hides.

Davids was so scared that her boyfriend would attack their six-year-old daughter Chanice, who tried to protect her mother from the abuse, she sent her to stay with a relative.

She thought the abuse would never stop, but help arrived in the form of “land invaders”, who moved on to a nearby field a month ago. These people, her heroes, saved her and her children.

“They noticed the bruises on my face and continually tried to get us to move to their camp. Eventually I took my children – and my boyfriend left us and never came back. Since then we’ve become a part of the community here, and this is how we survive.”

It’s 7pm and the fire that Jim-Bop helped make is roaring. The last group of commuters walk home from the nearby station. Many live in the camp and are greeted with smiles and a hot plate of food. Tonight’s supper is a pot of fish breyani, donated by Rene Adams, a nearby resident and another one of the community’s heroes. If it weren’t for her act of kindness, there would have been no food on the crates that serve as a table.

It’s a special night for the camp. New mother Ilhaam Abrahams, 27, has come home after giving birth to Imaan, Arabic for “faith”. Imaan, who was born six weeks prematurely and had to be delivered by Caesarean, remains in hospital. The camp residents helped to get Abrahams to the hospital after she started bleeding.

The area is barren except for the bushes which provide firewood. Some of the residents have dug underground shelters to protect themselves from the gale-force winds and heavy rains.

The camp’s residents offered to pay for a room for her to stay in with the baby, but Abrahams declined the offer, saying she wanted to stay at the camp with the people she knew cared about her and her child.

“It hurts so much to think I’ll have to bring her home to a field but I can’t give up my baby. I plan to look after the baby during the day, but I will leave her with relatives at night to keep her away from the harsh conditions here,” she said.

Residents chat about politics. They want new mayor Patricia de Lille to visit them – to see how they are living. They discuss Albertina Sisulu’s death. A man with a Manchester United beanie and scarf is chided by Liverpool supporters and told he’ll have to take off the kit or they’ll “evict him”. Everyone laughs – even the United supporter.

The residents catch up with each other until 1.30am, when they finally call it a night and retreat to their tents and trenches. The men take turns watching over the camp while the others sleep. There is no space in the camp for me or photographer Neil Baynes. We retreat to the car.

It is 6am and cold on Friday morning when the camp wakes up to start taking down the structures before law enforcement arrives.

Adams arrives at 8am to see how the people are doing.

A former member of the camp, Adams moved into the backyard of her parents’ house.

She often prepares food for the camp and stores any meat they receive. The children wash every second day at her house, and spend the day there when it is too wet and cold.

“I understand what the people go through because I went through the same thing, but I was fortunate enough to have a place to go back to after the raids started. The people here are like family and I’m only too happy to help where I can,” she says.

Faeza Meyer, one of the camp’s leaders, says the group has become stronger as a result of their adversities.

“Every challenge that comes our way we face together, whether it’s law enforcement taking down our tents or dealing with problems inside the camp.

“We are a real family and our bond will only become stronger.”

They have faith, none more so than Ilhaam Abrahams, who was about to make her way to hospital to feed Imaan.

“I’ve miscarried twice before, but with the faith of Allah, I knew I would give birth to my beautiful baby girl. I have faith that this child will live a blessed life.” – Weekend Argus

kowthar.solomons@inl.co.za

Timeline of the ongoing battle at Tafelsig

* May 15: Thousands of backyard dwellers invade four sites in Tafelsig, earmarked for housing development over the next four years.

* May 16: Violent clashes between the invaders and police follow, after hundreds of shacks are demolished at Swartklip, one of the four sites. Eighteen people are injured and 14 backyarders arrested during the incident.

* May 17: The day before local government elections, and the City of Cape Town wins a Western Cape High Court interdict, allowing them to demolish the illegal structures and prevent the building of any new structures on city land. The city also applies for an eviction order.

Police and residents continue their battle on the Swartklip sports field, with police taking down dozens shacks rebuilt overnight. Police force the invaders off the field only for ANC provincial head Marius Fransman to lead them back moments later. Albert Fritz, then Community Safety MEC, calls for an investigation into Fransman’s actions.

* May 18: Most of the invaders comply with the interdict and the numbers at the four sites start to drop.

* May 20: The city is accredited to build houses by national government and newly elected mayor Patricia de Lille admits housing is still a major problem for the province.

* May 22: Land invaders drop to a few hundred. The city announces its plans to take invaders to court on June 1.

* May 26: More than 500 invaders march through the CBD against eviction order.

* June 1: Hundreds of backyarders from across the city demonstrate outside the High Court in support of the Tafelsig land invaders, as the court hears the application for the eviction order. Both sides agree to postpone the case until July 27 to allow invaders to find legal representation.

* June 5: Nine Swartklip families press charges of assault against city law enforcement. A pregnant woman is rushed to the hospital undergoing contractions after she claims she was assaulted during an inspection.

* Present: Law enforcement continues to patrol the four sites. A group of around 120 remain on the Kapteinsklip site, despite the threat of eviction.

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