South Africans fight eviction for World Cup car park

By Mohammed Allie
BBC News, Cape Town

  • Published
Workers flattening earth by the Athlone Stadium for the car park
Image caption,
Some homes around the stadium have already been demolished for the car park

For six families living in derelict changing rooms next to one of South Africa's official training venues in Cape Town, the prospect of the football World Cup has turned from a dream to a nightmare.

The families who comprise 24 people, half of them children, are facing eviction to make space for the parking area next to the Athlone Stadium which has been upgraded to the tune of 406m rand ($53m, £36m) to bring it up to Fifa standards.

The upgrade includes a brand new pitch, three new grandstands, VIP suites and improved player facilities.

The tenacity of the families, who have mounted a legal challenge with the help of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, has bought them time as Cape Town's City Council has been ordered by a local magistrate's court to find suitable alternative accommodation before the changing room can be demolished.

Some of the families have been living in the changing rooms for as long as 11 years, as the city's acute housing shortage, which is said to number 410,000 units, has driven desperate people to live rough in the poorer parts of Cape Town.

Football blackout

Following the closure of an AstroTurf hockey complex and the subsequent departure of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who used the changing rooms, the current occupants divided the facility into six tiny cement-floored rooms, one for each family.

They all share two toilets and two taps. They have had no electricity since the council cut off the power two years ago.

One of the changing room residents Lewellyn Wilters said he "cried with joy" when he first heard six years ago that South Africa would host the World Cup.

"I was overjoyed when I heard that Athlone would be upgraded. I thought it would bring good things for all of us in this area, which is desperately in need of development," he said.

"Now I'm crying again. I'm going to lose my home because of the World Cup, and what makes it worse is that we are being told that we must move for a parking lot."

The car park is now being built around them.

"We don't want the World Cup because these people [Fifa] come with their own rules and in the end it's the locals that suffer," Mr Wilters said.

"We don't even have electricity in here, so we won't be able to watch the games on television.

"What's the use of supporting Bafana [the South African team] when we can't watch them."

Image caption,
Official matches will be played at the new stadium by the city's waterfront

As a football-lover Mr Wilters is, however, still hoping that Brazil will train in Cape Town during the course of the month-long tournament, and is prepared to pay to watch them practise.

"Then I would say 'thank you' the World Cup did something for us. But at the back of my mind the eviction is still in my mind because I could be out on the street when it's all over."

But Blamo Brooks, the council's area manager for sport and recreation, is unrepentant about the planned eviction, saying the facility is not fit for human habitation.

"This venue was built as a changing] room to serve hockey and soccer players," he said.

"The living space is not properly partitioned to allow for household occupancy. The ablution facilities, the water and electricity provision is not suitable for occupancy.

"It certainly is not suitable to house six families - it's an undesirable situation for people to live under such conditions."

Next to the changing room, a semi-detached cottage which was built in the 1930s to house army officers, has already been demolished.

Architectural heritage

Yaseen Watson, 70, who lived in one of the cottages, was more fortunate than the six families since he was offered alternative accommodation across the road.

However, he regrets that the home in which he lived since 1966 was demolished to make way for the parking area.

"It was very sad, from the day the council came to me and said they wanted to move me to make way for a parking area.

"After all, 43 years is a long time. It was very hard for me, the house has so many memories - all 10 of my children were born and grew up there."

Ashraf Cassiem, co-ordinator for the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign in Cape Town, believes the council should have restored the house given its age because it was part of the area's heritage, rather than knocking it down.

Mr Brooks disagrees, saying: "The community has not been impoverished by the demolition of the two cottages and neither have the occupants been disadvantaged. On the contrary, they are better off as they are now living in two separate cottages which are bigger than the ones they lived in before."

Meanwhile, the council has unveiled an extensive plan to get homeless people off the street leading up to the World Cup and Cape Town's notoriously harsh winter season.

Working closely with NGOs, the city plans to accommodate and employ hundreds of homeless men, women and children, as well as reunite them with their families.

Armed with more than 1,000 disposable razors, 6,000 bars of soap, 6,000 toothbrushes, 4,000 tubes of toothpaste and 1,000 blankets, the city is also hoping to ensure the people are clean and well-groomed for the duration of the programme.

It will also create 600 temporary jobs to assist vulnerable people with the reintegration process, paying them 40 rand ($5.20, £3.60) a shift.

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