Backyarders occupy houses in Cape Town

City has “ejected” them and laid criminal charges

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

7 December 2021

Backyarders from several areas in Cape Town moved into houses in Eersterivier at the weekend, only to be evicted. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Fed-up with being on a waiting list for years, backyarders from Eersteriver, Woodstock, Manenberg, Elsiesriver, Kalkfontein and surrounding areas have occupied houses in the Eersterivier Forest Village Project.

The houses were empty and are state-owned.

The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements said in a statement on 4 December that about 126 units had been occupied. “The extent of the damage is currently being ascertained and this will assist in determining what the cost of repairs will be. Last night the security ejected 80 occupiers, and today the Sheriff removed those who remained,” said MEC Tertuis Simmers.

He said a case had been opened with the police.

Simmers said people in genuine need of a housing opportunity should register at their local municipality. “Residents must keep in mind that the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements do not administer the Housing Demand Database. Instead this is done at a municipal level.”

“As the Western Cape Government, we’re open to engaging any and all communities about grievances which they might have. However this should be done in a legal and meaningful manner so that concerns can be addressed,” said Simmers.

But several backyarders said they had tried everything to get houses.

Speaking on behalf of the backyarders, Jeanefer Visser said some people had been waiting for more than 20 years for houses. She said they had held a number of meetings with the department asking to be considered for RDP houses but were getting only empty promises.

“What we were told is that as backyarders we will get 30% each time the department allocates people, but that is not happening,” said Visser.

“The department cannot tell us that we did not engage with them because we did. It was me who sent photos to them showing the living conditions of people in Kalkfontein. The National Department of Human Settlements is also aware of our problem and they also fed us empty promises. People are tired of waiting, they are taking action,” she said.

When GroundUp visited the area on 4 December, security guards were moving people out of the houses and some were refusing to leave. Most houses have broken windows.

Community leader Jali Matsoyile said the department was taking too long to allocate houses. “We are not involved in this invasion of the houses but we understand why people are doing it. They are tired of waiting. If you go around here there are houses with broken windows - most have been like that for four years,” said Matsoyile.

“My fear though is that this will cause conflict between the backyarders and beneficiaries. There are people from this community who are waiting for houses. Some have been waiting for more than 20 years.”

Simmers said the development had already benefited “in excess of 3,000 residents”. He said the occupation had caused unnecessary delays to the completion of small work that still needed to be done to the units, and damage that would have to be repaired