Mitchells Plain families face winter eviction

| Barbara Maregele
Igsak Abrahams and his daughter Imaan try to stay warm inside their small tent near the Kapteinsklip train station in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

It’s raining lightly and there’s a cold breeze as Isgak Abrahams and his two young children huddle inside the small makeshift tent they call home. The tent, built on an open field near the Kapteinsklip train station in Mitchells Plain, is made of three large blankets, cardboard boxes and plastic sheets, all held down by a few bricks.

“We have to share this tent with another family because we have nothing. The blankets help at night when it’s windy and cold, but when it rains, we are all wet. All our things are wet. Even now, we try and use our small gas stove here so the heat can stay inside,” he said while adjusting a pot of water boiling on the stove.

Abrahams and his wife Ilhaam, along with a dozen other families, have been living on the land around the station over the past four years. They have been involved in countless legal battles with the City of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit (ALIU).

The group first erected shacks on Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) owned land next to the railway line in May 2011. While the Cape High Court granted PRASA an eviction order against the group, Ilhaam Abrahams made local headlines when she gave birth to their daughter inside their home next to the station. The group then moved a few metres away onto City owned land.

In September 2011, the Western Cape High Court evicted the Tafelsig backyarders from council land at Swartklip and Kapteinsklip, giving them the option to move to Blikkiesdorp in Delft. Abrahams and most of the 20-odd families who were living on the land at the time, refused the offer to move to Blikkiesdorp.

Since then these families have been forcefully removed on a number of occasions by the ALIU. On 22 February 2014, six families moved to Blikkiesdorp, but most of them returned to live on the field soon after.

Stray dogs wander about the open field in Tafelsig opposite the Kapteinsklip train station where about 40 people have been living in small tents. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

The City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements Benedicta van Minnen said the group was living on the land, already earmarked for development, illegally. “During and after the court processes, the 21 families were repeatedly offered alternative emergency accommodation. Of that group,17 families accepted the offer and were relocated. The remaining four families refused any assistance to be relocated and three families have left on their own accord,” she said.

Van Minnen said everyone else besides Abrahams and his family occupied the field after the court orders were granted.

“Should they [Abrahams] take up the offer of emergency accommodation, they would have access to water, sanitation and electricity services. The rest of the occupants are all newcomers who are trying to get an opportunity ahead of other housing beneficiaries on the waiting list. The City urges them to return to their previous dwellings,” she said.

Van Minnen said the Anti-Land Invasion Unit would continue to legally remove illegally erected structures on the field.

“We didn’t move and we don’t want to move out of Mitchells Plain. We have been living in Mitchells Plain for more than 30 years. Why must we move to Blikkiesdorp where there is no infrastructure? It’s like a concentration camp,” Abrahams said.

In the most recent eviction last week, Abrahams and the 40 or so people currently living on the field woke up to their shelters being broken down and their belongings confiscated yet again.

“The City and Law Enforcement left us alone over the last three winters, but last week they came back and demolished all of our wendy houses. It was the third time they were here this winter. Social development also came here and took our names so we can go into a shelter. I don’t want my family to be separated. It has been raining and very cold the last few nights. There must be a law against them doing this in winter,” he said.

Abrahams said they planned to remain on the land until the City provided alternative accommodation in the Mitchells Plain area.

“There are about eight people sleeping in one tent. My family has to share a tent with another family. It’s not how I want my children to grow up,” he said.

Pointing to his four-year-old daughter Imaan, Abrahams said: “This is the baby Mayor Patricia de Lille held in her arms and told us that she will sort us out, but look we’re still here. My wife is a matriculant and I’m a qualified carpenter, but we are still struggling to find work. We are so scared that if we leave our tent to go look for work, we’ll come back to an empty field with all our stuff gone.”

Anwa Bowers showing the small tent he shares with his wife and their two young children. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

Anwa Bowers, 37, also lives in a small makeshift tent with wife and their two children aged seven and two.

“I moved here about seven months ago. We have a very big problem with Law Enforcement. When they came last week, we were still making breakfast and they just started breaking our stuff. They just don’t care,” he said.

Bowers said he often begs or does casual jobs in the area in a bid to provide for his family.

“The broken tent we are sleeping under was R600 and we had a mattress before they [law enforcement] came. Now, we have to sleep on blankets and clothes. We get water for a small fee from a nearby house. I can’t go to my mother because she is old and I don’t want us to be a burden on her,” he said.

Bowers said he planned to move his family to Knysna next year where he believes he can get work. “We really need people who can to help us with donations. Most of us don’t have jobs so we go beg or do odd jobs to get food. We don’t even have food now to feed my children at least. I really don’t know where to go for help. At least in Knysna we won’t have to worry about the police coming to harass us and take our things,” he said.

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