The City of Cape Town aims to move families living in Bromwell Street, Woodstock, to the Wolwerivier relocation camp, some 25km north of the CBD. If endorsed by the Western Cape High Court, it would set a disastrous precedent. At a time of already acute vulnerability and uncertainty for poor tenants around the inner city, planning documents reveal the City’s intent to transform Wolwerivier into a mega-camp.
In court on Wednesday 9 November, the tenants’ attorneys will argue that the City has a constitutional obligation to provide them with emergency accommodation in the Woodstock/Salt River area. This obligation was confirmed by the Constitutional Court in 2012 and has precedents elsewhere in Cape Town and inner-city Johannesburg.
The mention of Wolwerivier in the City’s answering affidavit in the Bromwell Street case should be flagged with concern by all poor tenants in Woodstock and Salt River. Bromwell’s families have commanded attention, compassion and support from many quarters in Cape Town. If the City succeeds in trucking them to a wasteland in the metro’s northern reaches, there may be little hope for the scores of families quietly served with eviction orders, week-on-week.
The impact of this new destination on Woodstock’s evicted poor is predictable. Wolwerivier’s first residents, forced to move from their homes at the Vissershok landfill site in June last year, conducted a social audit of the camp in 2015. Many of the challenges and injustices documented through that process remain.
Many of Woodstock’s own poor families have experienced similar challenges. P and Q blocks in Blikkiesdorp, a Delft camp designed along the same Group Areas Act planning principles as Wolwerivier, are filled with people who once lived in Woodstock. The families of Gympie Street, paid off and evicted in 2009, are still there. Seven years later, they testify that their lives and their children’s futures have been ruined. All the physical and social connections to the city, upon which they were once dependent, are severed. Today, Gympie Street’s art and appropriated character have become selling points for realty agents in Cape Town.
“That is a terrible place. It is a bush. I can’t see any future for my own children there. The City is absolutely mad for even suggesting this,” Bromwell tenant leader Graham Beukes told us after a visit to Wolwerivier on Sunday. He and a handful of neighbours drove through at their own expense to see what the City of Cape Town had in store for them.
Bromwell Street’s struggle against the City and the developers who seek to evict them speaks of a broader struggle. From the moment Bromwell Street’s residents lead an occupation of the Old Biscuit Mill in August, they have used their case as a platform to bring a more systematic challenge to forced removals in Woodstock.
On Monday evening, in the dim light of one of Albert Road’s last textile workshops, Graham Beukes met the tenants of 35 Albert Road – all of whom had their water cut upon receipt of termination notices last month. He convinced them of the justness in their plight and of the possibility to bring forth a challenge. Water is a human right, he said, and encouraged them to “picket” against the landlord: “because you do not want to see the place in the bush that they would like to take us”.
The Albert Road tenants will also be outside court in solidarity: tomorrow’s hearing is not about Bromwell Street, alone. The City’s refusal to help rehouse evictees in Woodstock and its proposal to remove some Bromwell families to Wolwerivier does not stand in isolation. The City may go to worrying lengths to obscure the bigger picture. Last month, at Wolwerivier, its Law Enforcement officers threatened to arrest a team from the Daily Maverick who are investigating the link between gentrification and the city’s relocation camps. The reporters’ surveys were confiscated.
Blikkiesdorp P and Q blocks remind us that these camps are built, partially, to accommodate inner-city evictees. Wolwerivier reminds us that the nightmare is not over. Not by a longshot. Take Wolwerivier’s first completed phase of development: 484 structures. Now, times that by ten and one begins to approach the scale of the camp that City Mayco member Benedicta van Minnen envisions for Wolwerivier.
Six thousand eight hundred units are planned over the course of Wolwerivier’s expansion, the City’s 2015/2016 Built Environment Performance Plan (BEPP) shows. A contractor has been appointed to build the next 500 units towards that monstrous target, confirms a recent review of the the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). There is no equivalent public commitment to provide work, education, health care, better transport and social services to what would invariably be a desperately poor black community. In this, we witness apartheid city design planned for and funded in real time. The City’s contemptuous “offer” to Bromwell Street families is merging this design with the wave of displacements from Cape Town.
Depressing as it may be, planning for Wolwerivier is not inconsistent with the City’s approach to housing delivery - present or future. Mapping by NU researcher Shaun Russell illustrates what planners and activists have known for some time: City housing developments are far from the CBD and white suburbs. In this design, the City consistently acts contrary to its policy commitments.
Now reconsider the City’s proposal to rehouse Bromwell Street’s families in Wolwerivier: consider a City housing plan which concentrates poor black families in ghettos reserved for them during apartheid; consider the establishment of new ones; consider Provincial and City administrations which forego their own policies and sell off prime parcels of public land for quick cash-flow; acknowledge the unchecked rampage of private evictions in Woodstock and Salt River and a mayor who denies her obligation to the evicted poor. Van Minnen’s “take it or leave it” attitude – an offer which is couched in a counter threat of homelessness – is insensitive at the best of times. In this instance, it is red alert.
But, disaster for Bromwell Street, and Woodstock’s poor can be averted. On Wednesday, Bromwell will ask the court to compel the City to provide emergency accommodation in the Woodstock area to those soon to be evicted and homeless. If they succeed, it may be the victory needed to finally turn the tide on Cape Town’s new wave of forced removals.
Bromwell Street supporters are invited to gather outside the Western Cape High Court at 9am on 9 November morning.
CORRECTION: The article originally stated that the reporters’ surveys and notebooks were confiscated. Only surveys were confiscated.
Daneel Knoetze is the communications officer at Ndifuna Ukwazi.
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