On the 25th of March three sites (buildings) owned by the provincial government of the Western Cape were occupied by activists from various organisations and led by Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU). The building sites are the old Woodstock Hospital, the Helen Bowden building and the old Tafelberg High building in Sea Point. The third building was not originally in the occupation plan, but during the week before the occupations the court ruled on the Tafelberg site, giving the City of Cape Town (CCT) the green light to sell the property.
NU has recently embarked on the ‘Reclaim the City’ campaign, demanding affordable social housing in the inner city and emphasising that these three buildings and many others the CCT is trying to sell to private property developers, can be used for mixed income housing.
Domestic workers are evicted weekly out of the backyards of their employers and even when they still reside in these backrooms, some of them are barred from cooking and have to live off takeaways in expensive areas closer to the CBD or inner city. Staying far away from the CBD brings the burden of not being able to afford transport.
The ‘Reclaim the City’ campaign mainly organises low wage workers like the gardeners, domestic and security workers staying in places like Cape Town, Sea Point, Woodstock and surrounding areas.
After continuous protests, pickets and memoranda handed to the CCT not to sell these properties and these pleas falling on deaf ears, NU decided to occupy some of the buildings as a way to try to force the CCT to reconsider their position and as a way to create and inspire occupations across the province.
NU has put the call out to various organisations in the housing struggle to participate in the occupations, inviting them to the strategy and planning meetings, but strictly forbidding them from divulging the information to their constituencies until three days after the occupations had taken place. Amongst the organisations that are participating are Housing Assembly, Sonke Gender Justice, Right2Know and Blikkiesdorp Joint Committee.
In spite of the numbers, the occupations were successful as no comrades were arrested and the CCT has recently put out a plan for low cost housing in the surrounding areas of Woodstock and Salt River. Due to NU having a relationship with media houses the event received good coverage.
Kenneth Matlawe is an activist and member of the Housing Assembly.