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Activists start occupation to demand social housing

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Premier Helen Zille says action is “less than honest”

Photo of protester hanging a banner
Jared Roussouw and other Reclaim the City supporters hang up a banner outside the Woodstock Hospital. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks
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Housing activists occupying the Helen Bowden Nurses Home and the Woodstock Hospital have vowed not to leave unless they are removed by force. About 30 supporters of the Reclaim the City campaign are demonstrating outside each site.

In a statement, the office of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said, “Reclaim the City is being less than honest with the public about the extensive affordable housing projects in the pipeline, spearheaded by the Western Cape Government and City of Cape Town, both in the inner city and feeder suburbs.”

About half a dozen people are occupying Helen Bowden site, which is near the Waterfront, and five people are occupying Woodstock Hospital. The occupiers are protesting against the sale of Tafelberg and are demanding clarity on affordable housing on the Helen Bowden and Woodstock Hospital sites.

Other demands include the expropriation of private land and buildings for housing and an end to the construction of relocation areas like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier.

“Cabinet’s announcement of affordable housing for large Waterfront and Woodstock properties is an inconvenience for Reclaim the City, who have based a campaign on the Tafelberg property, which is not ideally suited for affordable housing due to the requirements of scale, cross subsidisation and government subsidy, none of which pertain to that particular site,” said the Premier’s statement.

“The Waterfront and Woodstock properties are suitable for affordable housing at scale,” the statement said.

“By scrambling to stage pickets at the Waterfront and Woodstock properties, Reclaim the City are trying to claim credit for affordable housing decisions taken by the Western Cape Cabinet. Their call to lawlessness shows that they are not prepared to uphold the law when it doesn’t suit their purpose anymore.”

“Reclaim the City can have their allegation that Cabinet’s decision is unlawful tried and tested in a court of law, but it appears that this method of resolution is now not good enough for them.”

Hopolang Selebalo from Reclaim the City said the campaign wanted clarity “in terms of deadlines, in terms of the number of affordable housing units and in terms of what ‘affordable’ means to the Province”.

Occupiers at Helen Bowden said they would not leave unless a court order was secured and they are physically removed by the police.

At the Woodstock Hospital, the five activists have occupied an abandoned portion of the hospital. There is no electricity or running water and a few of the rooms are littered with dead birds.

An occupier at the hospital who did not want to be named said that it takes her three hours to travel from her home in Marikana settlement to her work in Muizenberg. Sometimes she wakes up as early as 3am to catch the train on time.

She earns about R2,800 a month as a factory worker and uses about R1,000 of her salary for transport. She said that staying closer to the city would allow her to save money on transport.

Ntombi Sambu, another occupier at the hospital, said they were there because of the provincial government’s decision not to use Tafelberg for social housing.

“We’re claiming our space. We’re claiming our city. If the government is not going to do it for us, then we’re just going to do it ourselves,” said Sambu.

Photo of a man in a corridor
Siphenathi Sakhele from Khayelitsha is one of five Reclaim the City occupiers. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Broken promises on social housing

Selebalo said that there had been “so many broken promises” about Woodstock Hospital, which had been in the pipeline for affordable housing since 2012.

“Office spaces often compromise social housing in the city,” said Selebalo. 

“It doesn’t seem that affordable housing is a priority in any way,” she said.

In a statement, Reclaim the City said the decision to sell the Tafelberg land was unlawful and it was prepared to take the matter all the way to the Constitutional Court.

Selebalo explained that though other departments in the Western Cape had asked for affordable housing to be built on Tafelberg, it had still been declared “surplus”. She added that Reclaim the City had yet to be provided with the rationale for the decision to declare Tafelberg “surplus” despite asking for it. “There is no legitimate reason that they could sell the site knowing that there is a housing crisis in the city,” said Selebalo.

Emile Engel from Reclaim the City told supporters outside Helen Bowden Nurses Home that he had gone inside the building with the police and the building’s security manager, where he spoke to the occupiers. “They are in good spirits,” he said. “They are sticking to their plan. They are going to stay for as long as possible and they want to force the authorities to get an eviction order to remove them. They are not going to vacate. If they are removed from this building, they have to be physically removed.”

Photo of protesters
Supporters of the occupiers inside Helen Bowden Nurses Home demonstrate outside the building. Photo: Ashleigh Furlong 

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TOPICS:  Housing