Evicted families living on a prayer in Joburg’s Jerusalem
They occupied flats after waiting 22 years for housing - now they’ve been hounded into an informal settlement
The deliverance a group of residents hoped to find in Jerusalem in the form of houses seems an elusive ideal.
The 88 families who are now destitute say the frustration of waiting up to 22 years for municipal housing had driven them to illegally occupy RDP flats in Fleurhof, west of Johannesburg.
They were evicted last month and are now living in tents, in the Jerusalem informal settlement, just a few hundred metres from the flats they once occupied.
The tents were provided by the City of Johannesburg following the eviction. One tent is shared by four families and there is no partitioning. Lack of privacy is a major problem.Following their eviction, Sipho Sithole, 75, and his wife Sarah, 65, were separated from their children and grandchildren. They asked a relative in Soweto if they could live with them.
“The conditions are very bad here. Men, women and children share the same room. When somebody’s wife is taking a bath we have to go outside to give them privacy. Most of the time this happens in the early hours of the morning while it is still very cold outside,” Sithole said.
He said he has been on the city’s housing waiting list since 1996, and showed Times Select his papers.For others, the eviction has left them with a loss of income.
Mosima Sekgothe, 45, who did part-time jobs, said she can no longer go to work because she has to take care of the few belongings she has left after some of her furniture was broken and some stolen during the eviction.
She never imagined she would live in such hard conditions. “There is no electricity here. During the day I have to go looking for wood so I can cook for my children.”
The 136 people living in this temporary shelter share 12 mobile toilets provided by the city. Two water tanks have also been provided.
More evictions are expected. About 212 flats were illegally occupied and the remaining 124 families say they are living in anguish.Pensioners Edith and Solomon Sehube, both 72, expect to be evicted at any time. Edith said they have been on the city’s waiting list since 2007. They illegally occupied the flat in May 2017.
They had nowhere else to go following a family dispute at a house they were living in at Meadowlands, she said.
They are part of a group from Meadowlands who were allegedly told the Fleurhof flats were theirs. She said her husband has dementia, which means they were classified as a “special case” and will receive preference when houses are allocated.“We can’t sleep at night. We live in panic as we don’t know when the eviction will take place. Even if we knew, we couldn’t do anything about it. We have nowhere else to go. As I speak to you now, I’m from the clinic and my blood pressure is very high because of stress,” explained Edith.
Community leader Sifiso Sithole said the people lost their patience because of empty promises from the city.
He said the RDP houses have been vacant since 2015, and that in 2016, just before the local government elections, they engaged with the city about allocation. He claimed they were told by a former housing MMC that people from Meadowlands who had right documents would be given priority “as the flats were actually built for them”.
Another reason for the illegal occupation, Sithole added, was that some of the flats were being vandalised and they needed to protect the property they knew would eventually be theirs.Another community leader, Kabelo Seoke, said it angered them to see foreigners being allocated flats while they were left with promises.
Mayor Herman Mashaba has said the city will embark on a social housing audit to establish whether those living in houses provided by the city are eligible to stay there.
Mashaba said the city is facing a housing crisis, and that about 300,000 units are needed.
He said the city is facing pressure when it comes to housing, and admitted some residents have been on the housing list since the mid-1990s.
The mayor said he hopes the audit will bring clarity to many housing issues – that they will understand how people waited for so long for houses, and hold those responsible to account.