They were shown the door, so they settled on the doorstep
The squatters’ new home in a middle-class Joburg suburb is, however, turning into an eyesore and a traffic hazard
There was a time when Barbara Nyika, 49, had a job with a major airline and could start building her double-storey house in Blairgowrie, in the north of Johannesburg.
Then in 2014 she lost her job and took in tenants to help cover her bond repayments even though the house was not completed yet. Now months after defaulting on payments and the bank foreclosing in October 2017, she is living on the pavement right outside the house she once called home.
She is now being assisted by the Socioeconomic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) with a view to appeal the eviction and rescind the sale of the house.
“I will sleep here till the court comes to another decision about my home,” she said.
For now she is fasting and praying, hoping her fortunes will change.
When the group was evicted from the repossessed home in July, they moved just a few steps away – to the pavement outside. And although the original group of about 15 people has dwindled to six, there is a growing concern about furniture obstructing motorists’ view and a possible hygiene hazard.
“It’s not only an eyesore, but it’s a safety hazard for road users,” said a neighbour who lives on Standard Street, where the impromptu informal settlement has taken shape. She is now concerned that if nothing is done, more people can join the group. “Just imagine what our neighbourhood will look like. It already looks bad as it is,” said the woman, who asked not to be named.
Building on the still incomplete double-storey home has now been resumed by the new owner.
One resident on Monday said a friend’s father was almost involved in a car accident because his view was obstructed by the squatters. “Their presence also negatively affects the outlook of our suburb. It’s unacceptable that the city is letting this happen.”
An 18-month-old baby is among the six people now living on the pavement.
Sitting on the side of the road, basking in the sun across a spot where they sleep at night, one of the former tenants, Edson Shumba, 50, said he lived in the house for years and paid R1,500 rent a month. He said in total, before the eviction, 14 people lived in the house, including the previous owner.
Shumba said they were now calling the spot their home.
“We have been sleeping here since we were evicted in July. We have nowhere else to go. The others have managed to find new places,” Shumba said.
Another neighbour said the situation was a bit better now. “You should have come here a few weeks ago. It was a squatter camp, right in the middle of the suburb.”
She said they expected the city to do something about it. “They can’t just let them stay there.”
The Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) has in the meantime issued a notice to the group to vacate, but by Monday – the deadline – they were still there.
Ward councillor Nicole van Dyk said she had received numerous complaints from residents, especially regarding the safety hazard for motorists. She said she managed to get JMPD involved. “They were issued with a notice last week to vacate the pavement within seven days, and today is the seventh day, and nothing has happened yet.”
JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said the city had a serious problem with vagrants. He said JMPD was in a citywide drive to remove all illegal occupiers, and that “those illegally occupying the pavement in Standard Drive will be removed soon”.
Wolfgang Phoenix, whose child attends the nearby Delta Park Primary School, said as a parent he felt sorry for the people who had been living on the street.
“The conditions they’re living under are not humane at all. They don’t have ablution facilities. How do they cook?”
Sympathetic to their situation as he is, Phoenix said the squatters needed to come up with a plan. “They can’t live there forever,” he said, adding they were a hindrance to traffic.
Another neighbour described the issue “as complicated”, and expressed her sympathy towards the evicted people. “The problem lies with the previous owner. I really feel sorry for them; they’re not at fault at all.”