Wed Oct 26 07:53:31 SAST 2016

Fed-up squatters take over houses

By unknown | Apr 23, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Shack dwellers in the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn who have waited years for a home have occupied houses nearing completion on the edge of the suburb of Bridgton.

Shack dwellers in the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn who have waited years for a home have occupied houses nearing completion on the edge of the suburb of Bridgton.

They claim officials are not allocating the houses to people on the council's waiting list. Instead, they allege, the houses are going to people who have paid the officials R3000 and who have provided them with a slagding (animal to slaughter).

"The women got together and said it was time to act," one mother said.

"We've lived in shacks for years and are too poor to pay officials, so we are overlooked when new houses become available.

"This is not fair. We have been waiting years." She claimed newly-weds and single men who had money were receiving preference, while families with children living in shacks were ignored.

Several dozen families, about 200 people, moved into the council houses about a week ago, just as Oudtshoorn's Klein Karoo National Kunstefees was about to start.

They say when they opened some of the houses, they found sheep and donkeys inside.

Window panes still had to be added to the houses and locks fitted to the doors. The "invaders" set about shuttering the windows with corrugated iron or cardboard and added their own locks.

The acting town manager has written to the "illegal occupants" telling them that no one is allowed to occupy a dwelling before an occupation certificate has been issued.

The letter reads: "You are committing an offence. No housing subsidy has been allocated to you and you are therefore illegally occupying the house.

"You are urgently requested to vacate the house in order for the contractor to complete the unit and allow the necessary handover to the legitimate owner."

The occupants, however, have no intention of giving up their "new homes".

Among them are Hester and Benjamin Olifant who say they have been on the waiting list since 1991. The couple applied for a house when their daughter Vanessa was four. She is 22 now and still shares a small room with her brother, Bennet, 17.

Hester never gave up hope. She wanted a place where her children could grow up "nicely". Through the years she checked regularly when their name would top the housing list.

"I was always given the same story: 'You must wait, be patient'," she says.

But, like the other illegal invaders, she became increasingly disheartened when she saw newly-weds, whose names could not have been ahead of hers on the list, being given houses.

She and other shack dwellers noted with growing anger that even unmarried men were allocated houses. When work started on the new housing development in Rosebank, they watched to see who would get the properties - but this time they decided to act.

"We knew that if we were to get a house of our own we would have to just go and take it," Hester said.

"We weren't going to watch newcomers being given our homes when we had waited such a long time for one."

The "room" Vanessa and Bennet shared throughout their childhood is so small that just a small double bunk fits in, with one sibling sleeping in the top bed, the other below. It is here, too, that Bennet does his homework. He uses a chair as his desk, and the bottom bunk as his seat.

The family's old makeshift home was tucked in the backyard of their landlord's house. In summer it is hot - temperatures often reach 40 degrees Celcius - and in winter it is icy cold. When it rains, the roof leaks. There is no bathroom. The family has to share their landlord's facilities. Privacy is a luxury they do not have.

Yet, for all its limitations, the couple did their best to make the "informal house" comfortable.

Hester's husband is a builder and once the property is in his name - he does not doubt it will become his - he plans to add an extra bedroom for his daughter.

Most of the illegal occupants have similar stories to tell.

Their corrugated iron shacks have been erected in the backyards of "formal" houses, providing an income for the owners of the properties, but little more than a roof for the tenants. As they grow older, children spend less time at home, preferring places with more space to meet their friends.

The Olifants believe their application for a house was overlooked because they did not have the cash to have their names moved to the top of the list. Hester is a domestic worker, her husband an unemployed builder.

Efforts to contact the acting municipal manager, Wessel Rabets, or his assistant for comment failed. - Sapa


Login OR Join up TO COMMENT