Imagine waking up to your home being demolished
That's just what happened to Cape Town tenants whose home was pulled down without warning
At a house tucked behind the low walls of a quiet street in Cape Town’s suburb of Kenilworth, the tenants –a couple and their baby, and two others – have seen it demolished bit by bit while they’re still living inside.
This is despite the fact that the owners, a development company called Newland Developers, do not have a court order for them to be evicted and are thus acting outside of the law.
At first, the doors were ripped off.
Then the windows.
By Wednesday last week, some of the walls had been turned to rubble, even though there are still people living inside – including a child of two years of age.
“On Monday, the builders arrived and started breaking down the house. They didn’t check –- they just came with machinery. We went outside and saw them chopping, chopping,” says Godfrey Nkandela, a computer science student.
The developers stand to gain a fortune from their proposed 28-unit, five-storey building on this quaint street in the sought-after suburb of Kenilworth.The developers visited the site again on Thursday after hearing that Times Select was writing a story and that the tenants had spoken to a reporter. They then threatened the tenants with the roof also being removed in the next few days.
Although the developers signed a lease with another man who sublet the rooms to the current tenants, the tenants are still protected by the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act which states that without a court order, no residential tenant can be forcibly removed from a property. This protects everyone from lease holders, to illegal squatters, to defaulting tenants, to those who have sublet rooms.
According to the act, the landlord cannot take the law into their own hands, for example by changing locks, disconnecting electricity, demolishing the house, or intimidating the residents.
However, Philip Nel, one of the owners at Newland Developers, claims that because they are not the direct signatories on the lease, it is simply their own problem that the house is being demolished around them.
The tenants of the house – a computer science student, a beautician and an industrial worker with a wife and a toddler – are all foreign nationals with legal papers to be in the country.
They say their lives are in chaos and their livelihoods under threat as they have nowhere to sleep, no time to find other accommodation, and literally woke up on Monday morning to the sound of their home being broken down while they slept inside. When they called police to assist them, the police arrived but said they could not interfere.Nkandela had lived in the house on a subdivided piece of the same land for a year. That house was also bought by the developers for their proposed apartment block.
Then, not long ago, he was told he had less than a day to move into the other house which sits just behind it. His housemates were told the same thing.
Then, this week, again with no warning, the second house started being torn down.
June Bradbury, a nurse who lives in the house next door, said: “There is a little two-year-old now seeing the house around him being broken down.”
Nadla Ntseka, and her husband Hugo and their child Obed cannot speak English. With no notice given to them, they have not been able to find another place to stay. When Times Select visited the property, Nadla constantly had to prevent Obed from falling over the rubble.Nouella Kaima, a close friend of Nadla’s, is a beautician who was sitting in a job interview on Monday when her phone kept ringing. It was her friend calling to say their house was being demolished.
Her new job was meant to have started, but she has no home and nowhere permanent to store her belongings. “The builders came here and started taking the windows and doors off. Then they started breaking walls and pulling doors off. We called the police but they said they could not help.”On the developers’ website, the property – for which they do not yet have council approval – is described as such: “The Wentworth: Newland is very excited at the recent launch of 28 upmarket apartments in a vibrant node of Kenilworth”.Nel told Times Select, “As far as we are concerned, anyone currently in either of the houses is occupying them illegally.”
The neighbours in Wessels Road have also resisted the development. They say their street is characterised by “modest, single-storey heritage properties” and that The Wentworth – as it is called – will ruin the social, historical and aesthetic value of the place while also increasing noise and traffic.
But, says Nel, developments of this nature “increase the appeal and value of neighbouring properties”.
The SAPS was not available for comment on why they could not assist the tenants.