Today Reclaim the City will be celebrating three years organising for land and housing in Cape Town at 6:30 pm, Cissie Gool House.
In October 2018, the City of Cape Town obtained a High Court interdict against any further occupation of the Cissie Gool House, in Woodstock. Part of this interdict mandated the City and Reclaim the City to compile a list of occupiers living at Cissie Gool House who should be protected by the court order. A list was compiled and over 700 residents are now living at Cissie Gool House.
The court order affirms that the 700 residents living at Cissie Gool House are guaranteed a roof over their heads for the foreseeable future. This is a small victory for us because everyone on the list will continue to live in the occupation. Everyone can come in and out as they please and also bring in furniture to make it their home. This gives us a measure of dignity that we have not had for years.
Residents at Cissie Gool House have struggled to find affordable housing, they have been evicted or could no longer afford the rent. Families often feel ashamed if they are evicted, but it is a systemic housing problem and a symptom of the failure of government, we believe there can be no just eviction in a housing crisis. Right now, Cissie Gool House is the only place where poor and working-class people can find alternative accommodation. Since Reclaim the City was founded, we’ve faced hostility from those who think we are radical for asking for housing on well-located public land. The movement has successfully reclaimed three public buildings on prime land in our efforts to resist displacement and build solidarity. In this spirit, our movement has grown immensely since then.
The occupations are Cissie Gool House, Ahmed Kathrada House and Irene Grootboom House.
Cissie Gool House in Woodstock, in the process of being brought by the City of Cape Town, is named after the anti-apartheid and civil rights activist who was the only woman to serve on Cape Town’s City Council at a time when she did not have the right to vote.
Ahmed Kathrada House, owned by the Provincial Government, in Green Point is named after the anti-apartheid stalwart who served jail time while fighting against the apartheid regime.
Irene Grootboom House on Darling Street in the inner city was a housing activist who won a landmark judgment in the Constitutional Court affirming the states obligation to provide housing in an emergency, yet died living in a shack. In November 2017, Irene Grootboom House caught fire and made many residents left for destitute. Today the building, owned by National Public Works, is derelict and forgotten and has been declared a problem building by the City of Cape Town.
All three spheres of government have failed to redistribute public land for affordable housing. At the Courts, the City still refuses to provide alternative accommodation in well-located areas for evictees despite a commitment to roll out transitional housing with a policy. Commitments and promises to build affordable housing in Salt River, Woodstock and the inner city have so far come to nothing. Council dragged its feet on the decision to dispose of public land for social housing at Salt River Market, and officials have still not opened any of the tenders for other parcels.
Reclaim this land. Reclaim all public land. Reclaim the City.