Melanie Gosling – September 7 2011 at 12:36pm – Cape Times
FOR around 50 years Ellen Leputing has been trying to secure a home in Cape Town, but has been evicted, burnt out, betrayed and beaten by the system. Her family are facing eviction again.
On the surface, it is a straightforward case of the authorities trying to remove people from a condemned building. On a deeper level, it lays bare the battle of the poor and the powerless to keep a roof over their heads, a battle which, for some families, carries on over decades and across generations.
Leputing, 62, is a state pensioner living in Sandile Park, Gugulethu. She used to live in the adjacent Masonwabe Park, two blocks of 40 flats in Gugulethu’s Dr Moerat Road. Two of her adult children and several grandchildren still live there, as do four of her sister’s children.
It’s a ghastly place. An old hostel once owned by Murray & Roberts, it is now so run-down it has become a health hazard. The drainage system and parts of the roof have collapsed, the walls are cracked and raw sewage lies in pools in the courtyard. The
foundations are so unstable, the city engineer says a severe storm could flatten the entire building.
Next week, the city council goes to court to seek an order to have the 300-odd Masonwabe Park residents evicted so the building can be demolished. The city has offered them 56 single-room units in Blikkiesdorp, the temporary tin-shack settlement area near Delft. They don’t want to go.
“Blikkiesdorp, no, it’s too dangerous, my family can’t go there. Anyway, it is mos our own place, not the council’s. The Malaysians bought it for us,” she said.
Leputing was born in Cape Town in 1949 and grew up in Old Crossroads. When she had children of her own, she continued living with her parents, but it was a struggle in the tiny house with just a kitchen and one room. Her father died, her mother could not pay the rent and they were evicted. Leputing, her husband and six children moved to KTC squatter camp in the early 1980s.
KTC started with a few shelters in January 1983, made from branches and plastic sheeting, dotted between the Port Jackson bushes. Within a couple of months there were over 1 000 shacks. One of them was Leputing’s.
It was a tough life. Under the apartheid government, the Bantu Affairs Administration Board regularly moved in and demolished shacks of the “illegals” – those who did not have official “passes” to live in Cape Town. Apartheid minister Piet Koornhof said at the time that he would not allow another “uncontrolled squatter camp like Crossroads to develop”.
There were frequent police raids with tear gas and dogs, and many were arrested and their shacks destroyed. Leputing’s stayed intact – for a while. “But the witdoeke, they chased us out. They burnt down my house. We had to run.”
Apartheid police colluded with vigilantes, known as witdoeke because they wore white cloths around their heads or arms, to fight against the ANC-aligned “comrades”.
In May and June 1986, the witdoeke began a three-week attack on KTC, burning shacks and attacking residents, leaving 60 000 people homeless and 60 dead. One of them was Leputing’s 19-year-old son.
She and her children fled to the “rent office”, where they holed up while KTC burned.
Later, they went back and salvaged what they could from the cinders and built a new shack on Tambo Square. They had a roof over their heads again, but with the onset of the the Cape winter, Tambo Square soon flooded. They packed up and moved to Fezeke, where the municipality had set up a tent camp for KTC refugees, and lived under canvas for two rainy months.
It seemed as if she would never have a proper house. Then she learned from “Mayor Njoli” about an empty Murray & Roberts hostel in Gugulethu. It had 40 flats, each with three rooms, a toilet and bathroom. There were beds, cupboards and stoves. She and others persuaded the security guard to let them in.
Later, a residents’ committee met Murray & Roberts, who told them they no longer had any use for the building and they could live there. They said the land was the council’s.
Residents renamed it Masonwabe, meaning “place of peace”. In 1988, there were 74 adults and many children living in the flats.
According to Leputing’s affidavit in the court papers, in the early 1990s the ANC and Malaysian government agreed to create a project to provide housing to township dwellers around the country.
The old Masonwabe flats would be repaired and residents would get sectional title deeds. The Western Cape Housing and Development Trust was established to administer the project.
The trustees were Allan Boesak, Aburazak Soman, Mongezi Mngesi and Essa Moosa.
There was an official opening in August 1995, attended by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Steve Tshwete, other ANC representatives and Malaysian dignitaries. “Winnie Mandela, she congratulated me and said the flat was mine.”
But the promised repairs never happened, nor did they get sectional title deeds to the flats. Apparently there was a shortfall in the Malaysian money, which the trustees were to make up with housing subsidies, for which the residents qualified. But the trust appears to have been run in a slap-dash manner, and it never applied for the subsidies, so the residents never got title to the flats.
The deeds office shows that the trust still owns the flats, but the trust has become dysfunctional. The building, never built to last, began to deteriorate, but to the 315 people living there – mostly children and grandchildren of the KTC refugees – it was at least a roof over their heads.
The residents, unemployed or low-income earners, never had the money to repair it themselves.
The Malaysian donor project did build some houses on the property, and Leputing moved into one of them.
She was told she owned the house, but to date has no title deeds.
“It is so small, my children stayed in the flats next door. But the flats are so wet from leaks, they leave their clothes here,” she said, pointing to a room crammed with clothing and suitcases. She worries about her children and grandchildren. Believing she had at last secured a permanent home for her family, she finds they are to lose it again.
“Now they want to pull down the flats and make my children go to Blikkiesdorp. That is a dangerous place, and it is far.”
About five years ago, the city approached the residents and said it wanted to demolish the flats and redevelop the land. Councillor Sheaam Sims told them she would provide them with a written undertaking that those residents who qualified for housing would be able to return to the new development. She wanted them to sign documents saying they would move to Blikkiesdorp in the meanwhile.
The residents refused, believing if they moved they would languish in the wastes of Blikkiesdorp and join the endless waiting list of people wanting houses.
Leputing’s affidavit states that while the Masonwabe residents agree that the flats are unsound and they should move, the city has known for five years that the building was unsound but did nothing to secure other accommodation or redevelop the site. It also says they were led to believe by a city councillor that the site would be redeveloped for them.
Chennells Albertyn attorney Camilla Rose, who represents Leputing, said residents have brought counter-applications to compel the council to comply with its undertakings to the residents, and with its constitutional obligations.
Standing next to the pool of sewage, Leputing looks around her: “This is our place. Why must we go to Blikkiesdorp and the council fixes this for other people?”