Forty-two people staying in a 4mx5m shack in Mfuleni have the weekend to find a new home.
If they don’t, they will be evicted from their barely enclosed home made of zinc, broken cupboards and plastic.
Daniswa Matiso, 28, and her five-year-old son share the room with 18 other adults and 23 children. They have until Monday to find alternative accommodation or face eviction.
“We don’t know where we’ll go. We’ve been to city officials and they just send us back and forth between themselves, telling us they can’t help us,” Matiso said.
The group consists of eight men, 11 women, 15 boys and eight girls. One of the women was pregnant and gave birth to a girl on Thursday.
Matiso said: “We all have to live together, we have no choice.”
The shack has no windows. Zinc and broken cupboards serve as walls, and the roof is made largely of plastic.
“As you can see, water is coming in right now. When it rains we don’t sleep at all. We stand on our feet, and we take the children and put them under whichever sheltered spot we can find.”
The group was evicted from the backyards of homes in Phase One, Mfuleni, in January. They ended up in the tiny shack in March.
Matiso said: “We were living in backyards in phase One, in Bhadeni. Our landlords said they needed us out in January because their houses had been earmarked for renovations.”
She said not even their ward councillor, Themba Honono, could assist.
“He told us he’s not ward councillor for shack dwellers. He said he doesn’t even know us,” she said.
Honono said: “They know very well that they aren’t supposed to be on that land. They occupy the land, then law enforcement demolishes their homes, and then only do they come to me.”
The small structure does not have electricity, water, or toilets. The group makes a fire on the sandy floor to keep warm and boil water for tea.
“We go to the surrounding houses to ask for water to drink, cook, and bath. We go to the same houses during the day to use the toilet.
“We can’t do that at night so we use the grass patch behind the shack as a toilet and clean it up the next day,” said Thumeka Sitawuti, 24.
The unemployed mother said their living conditions made it difficult for people like her to go job hunting.
Nolubabalo Boso, 30, a mother of two, said it was tough to raise her children like this.
“We can’t live like this. We can’t even wash properly here. We have to ask the men to go to the neighbours or the nearest tavern when we want to wash,” Boso said.
“We sleep with one eye open, anything could happen. Everything we do is done looking over our shoulders. Thugs eavesdrop when we’re washing.”
Matiso said: “We can’t even control the children properly, there are too many of them. It’s often very difficult to keep tabs on who’s home and who isn’t.”
Sitawuti said their property was also under threat. “We get trouble from drunk people from shebeens stumbling into our space, and we have to deal with that too. The children are always getting sick. We also have to deal with theft. A plastic sail, which cost R300, was given to us on loan. We hadn’t even finished paying it off, and it was stripped down.”
Bongisisa Maqungo, 22, worries about the children. “Some of these children don’t go to school. They stay here the whole time and see everything that goes on here. We don’t have a door or gate to lock. Anyone can come in here. These children have seen their moms scream in horror when thugs accost them,” he said.
“When thieves come here they don’t do it politely, they are violent. This is what these children grow up watching almost every day.”
Bruce Oom, spokesman for Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela, said the department was aware of the backyarders’ plight.
“There are many families who are in a desperate situation but unfortunately we don’t have resources or legislation to accommodate them,” Oom said. “There are hundreds and thousands of people waiting for housing opportunities in the Western Cape. We cannot provide temporary housing. We can only build about 13 000 houses a year, and about 12 000 service sites (a piece of property with basic services) where people can build their own structures on the site.”
Ernest Sonnenberg, the city’s human settlements mayoral committee (Mayco) member, suggested that the group contact Social Development.
“We cannot prioritise illegal land invaders over those who are on the housing database. There are 350 000 people on the city’s housing database and some have been waiting on it for many years.
“It would be highly prejudicial and procedurally unfair to prioritise the needs of illegal land invaders over those of legitimate beneficiaries.”
Sonnenberg said if they were evicted without a court order they should approach one of the legal aid clinics at Stellenbosch University, UWC or UCT.