13 April 2016
Bulelwa* has worked as a domestic worker for an employer in the Sea Point area for 17 years. But the agents who manage the Green Point flat her employers rent for her don’t want her to live with her son, have visitors - or cook.
Bulelwa is one of a group of Sea Point residents who are to launch a social audit in the suburb in a few weeks, with help from activist organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU). They will visit friends and neighbours and collect personal testimony about housing in Sea Point, with a view to building solidarity among workers in the area, drawing attention to the shortage of affordable housing, and finding a solution.
Bulelwa’s employers rent a flat for her near her place of work. Recently the agency that manages the apartment building has made new rules, she says. She is now not allowed to cook in the building, is not supposed to live with her son in the building, and cannot have visitors after certain times, she says. She has also been told she is not allowed to wash her clothes in her flat, though she is able to finish her washing at work, she says.
It’s the ban on cooking which she finds hardest to deal with.
When she cannot eat at work and during weekends and public holidays, she cannot afford to eat in a restaurant constantly, she says.
“If they ask me, ‘You’re not supposed to cook in the room,’ then where am I supposed to eat?”
“I know my rights and I don’t like to be treated like … I don’t know what,” she says.
“It’s like we don’t have any say.”
Yet her own situation is not as bad as others she knows of.
Bulelwa’s concerns were echoed by other residents at a meeting last Thursday at NU offices in Cape Town. The residents decided during that meeting to go ahead with the social audit.
The residents are concerned about the lack of affordable housing in the area; the condition of the little accommodation which is available to them; unfair rules and threats of eviction by owners; and high and increasing rents.
While most social audits focus on the government, the Sea Point audit will look at private sector issues. The social audit will act as a tool for the residents to lead their own movement within Sea Point. Volunteers will be trained on the weekend of 22 April by NU.
The partnership between NU and the residents comes after demands by NU and other organisations that the Western Cape government stop the sale or lease of Sea Point properties to private investors so that the land can instead be used for affordable housing. On Monday, a court application was filed by current and former Sea Point residents and Reclaim the City – a campaign supported by NU – to halt the provincial government’s sale of the Tafelberg School site to a private investor.
Linda*, a 50-year-old domestic worker, has been working in Sea Point since she was a teenager. She has been living in the same building in Sea Point for more than ten years.
She feels that the landlord is trying to “force her out” of the building. The landlord has moved other occupants into her apartment without her say, she says. Currently 12 people live in her two-bedroom apartment.
The landlord has also added new restrictions on visiting, does not respond to her complaints about dirtiness and ignores her requests for apartment repairs, she says.
Sharing a bathroom with so many people has raised concerns about infections and sickness.
“I’m not sleeping as well as other people sleep,” she says. “I’m sitting up and I’m looking at my kids when they are sleeping and then sometimes I’m praying.”
Linda is also frustrated with the government, saying that the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town does not help people like her.
“If the City was helping us, we wouldn’t have struggled like this,” she says.
A response from the City by Zara Nicholson, spokesperson for executive mayor Patricia de Lille, was provided via email: “The City of Cape Town is going to use the development fees from the Clifton development to build affordable rental stock in the city as a response to the public request for social housing and improved community integration.”
“A total of 10% of the financial offer of the sale/lease proceeds by the successful tenderer for the Clifton development will be earmarked for future City-developed, near inner-city social housing projects – the sites of which would be determined in the future.”
The City has announced plans to sell and lease several plots of land between Clifton and Camps Bay and use the proceeds for social housing.
One woman in Thursday’s meeting described how her flat has no electricity and there are wires still hanging from when the installation of electricity was halted years ago.
NU has been meeting with the group of residents since mid-February. The residents in the meeting were Reclaim the City supporters. In early March, some of them participated in a march organised by the Reclaim the City campaign that focused on the sale of Tafelberg School.
Bulelwa thinks the partnership with NU will be helpful. Her ideal solution would be that the residents get their own premises in Sea Point so that they do not have to follow the rules laid out by others.
“We don’t want to stay for free,” says Linda. “ It’s just that we also want to stay comfortable and we also want to stay [with a] peaceful mind.”
“We joined them so that we can come out of the struggles to get in the light,” Linda says.
Many of the residents are afraid to speak up for fear of victimisation from employers or landlords. The culture of fear which persists in Sea Point was one of the challenges to the residents’ campaign discussed in the meeting.
The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.
* Not their real names. The women did not want to give their names in case of repercussions from their landlords.