Masekane: a crisis in the heart of Woodstock
A hacking cough comes from the motley group of people huddled together in a flimsy shack alongside the railway line near Woodstock’s industrial area. It could be from the smoke from the fire; it could be from the cigarette smoke that fills the shack – or it could be tuberculosis.
This is an environment where the TB bacterium thrives and it is not long before stories emerge of people getting sick here.
The Masekane informal settlement is a place of socio-economic crisis. And until recently the City of Cape Town’s health officials were not even aware of its existence.
There are no basic services available at present to those who live here and they often wash in a nearby stream.
The group in the shack includes a Tanzanian and a Zimbabwean who share the space with a 30-year-old drifter from somewhere on the Cape Flats and a homeless woman from Woodstock.
Social problems have brought them together here. Some of them have resorted to selling unga to survive and this has attracted local drug users to the area.
Masekane was once a more organised community with dozens of shacks, until a fire razed it to the ground in 2010.
It has sprung up again but now the residents are spread more thinly in about 20 shelters, including a tent and makeshift living areas in the undergrowth, in a pile of boulders and along the unused railway track running parallel to the N1 highway towards Paarden Eiland.
Other people have settled in an abandoned building on the property.
One resident says he has been there for two years. “I have nowhere else to go. Every winter I get sick. The only time the authorities show any interest in this place is when they arrest someone for trespassing.”
A Woodstock resident who asked not to be named says he comes to Masekane sometimes to “score”.
“The people who sell drugs here are not high-fliers. They are just surviving.”
He says some of the residents have TB.
He speaks of a young woman who was a regular in the area until one day she just collapsed. He doesn’t what happened to her afterwards but she hasn’t been seen again.
“I have literally seen them carry bodies away,” he says.
The City of Cape Town has said it would look into providing certain basic services for the residents. But the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), which owns the land, wants them removed.
“We are concerned about this as we had cleared this site of squatters in the past in collaboration with the City and Transnet. The site does not have any services and is close to the City’s waste site, making it even more unsuitable for human settlement,” says Lindelo Matya, regional Manager of PRASA Corporate Real Estate Solutions “We have asked our security division to work with the City to regularly remove any squatters from occupying the site and old building on the site, which was an old substation, totally unsuitable for human settlement,” Lindelo says.
“Providing services is not a suitable solution and these people need to be accommodated elsewhere. We will again engage with the City in this regard.”
He said there were plans to let the premises to Robertson & Caine International Yachts whose headquarters are situated directly opposite Masekane.
Councillor Benedicta Van Minnen, Mayoral Committee Member for Health, says the City was unaware that the area had been settled again after the fire.
“A number of years ago there was a settlement in the area which was known as the Railway site. After a fire, people resettled in Delft. City Health was not yet aware that people had again resettled in the area as the area has become overgrown. “She says drinkable water, sanitation and refuse removal are made available to the residents of any informal settlement.
“City Health will engage with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and request that the overgrown bushes be cut and to ensure that the required services are provided to residents on their property,” she says.
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