In 2006, the Old Biscuit Mill business complex and luxury goods market opened next to the Bromwell Street families’ homes. The opening of the Old Biscuit Mill ushered in an era of gentrification and rising property prices in Woodstock – a working class area, and one of the few neighbourhoods where black and coloured people were not forcibly removed from during apartheid.
In 2013, the Woodstock Hub, property developers who specialise in rental housing development, purchased the Bromwell Street homes. The tenants tried to find the directors of the Woodstock Hub, so that they could continue paying rent. Instead of meeting with the new tenants, the company’s directors, Jacques van Embden, Arthur Winkler and Arnold Shapiro, started court proceedings in July 2015 and secured an order to finally evict the tenants on 9 September 2016.
With days to go before the eviction of Bromwell Street’s families, supporters from Reclaim the City rallied to support them. On 27 September, we marched with the tenants and occupied the Saturday market at the Old Biscuit Mill. The Old Biscuit Mill occupation brought the struggle against evictions to the heart of gentrification, and attention in the media and on social media made this struggle a city-wide talking point.
With increasing pressure on her government to intervene and assist the Bromwell Street families, Mayor Patricia de Lille called at their homes on 8 September. Although she committed to look into the possibility of rehousing the families in the Woodstock area, De Lille refused to acknowledge that her government has an obligation to do so. The City of Cape Town consider such evictions to be “private” matters, and that it therefore is absolved of any obligation to intervene or provide assistance.
In the past, the City has rehoused families evicted from the Woodstock area in a relocation camp, called Blikkiesdorp, kilometers from Woodstock and CBD
Reclaim the City, the Bromwell families argue that the City has a constitutional obligation to provide Bromwell Street, and all evicted families facing homelessness in Woodstock, Salt River and the city, with temporary alternative accommodation in the area. We base this argument on the jurisprudence of Constitutional Court. In 2011, the City of Johannesburg Metorpolitan Municipality v Blue Moonlight Properties 39 (Pty) Ltd and Another matter, the Constitutional Court ruled that municipalities were constitutionally obliged to provide evictees with temporary alternative accommodation as near as feasibly possible to the area from which they are evicted.
On 23 September 2016, the Bromwell Street families, represented by the Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre, brought an urgent application before the Western Cape High Court, to stall the eviction while the court rules on the City’s obligation to provide the evicted families with emergency accommodation in the area. The case is due to be heard on 31 January.
Read more: an oped by Hopolang Selebalo on the City of Cape Town’s constitutional obligation to provide temporary alternative accommodation (in the area) for families who face eviction and homelessness.
Read more: an oped by Daneel Knoetze about the perils of Wolwerivier relocation camp becoming a destination for Woodstock’s evicted poor.
Background – a new wave of removals in Woodstock, Salt River
Over the past decade, property prices have risen dramatically in and around the Cape Town inner city. This means that working class families, who have often lived in these communities for generations, increasingly face unaffordable rent increases or find that their homes are bought by developers who seek to renovate or develop these to maximise the return on their investment.
As a result, poor families are often intimidated, evicted, left homeless and forcibly removed to peripheral ghettos and relocation camps, like Blikkiesdorp, on the Cape Flats. On the urban periphery, such families face uncertain futures and fall victim to crime, substance abuse and joblessness. With every removal of a working-class black or coloured family from the city, we come one step closer to the apartheid ideal of reserving the best located and resourced neighbourhoods for white and wealthy people.
Reclaim the City advocates for government regulation of the private property sector and for developers, for and property-owners to respect the rights of poor tenants to remain in the city. We do this with reference to current sites of struggle, specifically where poor families face eviction or abuses by their landlords.
Read more: an oped by Sarita Pillay on the “displacement phenomenon” in Woodstock and Salt River.
Read more: an oped by Gavin Silber on the need for state intervention in the private sector to protect affordable housing.