‘We have been abandoned and forgotten despite democracy’
The quaint cafe and curio shop-lined streets of a sleepy Cape village belie the harsh struggles of its coloured residents
At first glance, the Cape Town town of Philadelphia is a picturesque place offering the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
But while the historic and immaculate Dutch Reformed Church building on the main road and surrounding cafes, curio shops and restaurants give this little town a charming character, a closer look down the road and past the cemetery reveals a tale of two communities that are still very much divided along racial and class lines.
Coloured residents who live about 3km away from the main road refer to the upper side of town as a “white people’s area”, and claim that their side of town is a “forgotten community” with no essential services such as healthcare, social services, transport or housing development despite a growing population.
Even though the country attained democracy 25 years ago, and despite the promise of a better life for all, poorer residents say they are yet to taste its fruits.
Housing remains their biggest concern and they claim that despite living in squalor there has never been any housing development in the area since the country’s first democratic election in 1994. Instead, there has been the mushrooming of backyard dwellers in every home, and an informal settlement, resulting in overcrowding in the area. The only houses are four-roomed homes built by a local factory in the 1950s.
The Western Cape’s human settlements department has, however, said that while it is aware of the presence of backyard dwellers, there is “no accessible land for development”.
Philadelphia also has no clinic and its residents are dependent on clinics in Durbanville and Atlantis, about 25km away. The only mobile clinic comes once a month and it only treats children under the age of 12. The closest ambulance station is in Atlantis, and residents say being away from everything, coupled with poor response times, means they are often stranded and women end up giving birth at home or in private vehicles on their way to the closest hospital in Atlantis.
Residents say the lack of a high school means their children end up dropping out of school before they reach matric.
According to the latest census there were just fewer than 600 people living in Philadelphia in 2011, mostly Afrikaans-speaking and coloured. Whites account for the second-biggest population and there were only 41 black people. Most residents are uneducated – more than 37% have primary school education, 28% have secondary education and only 12% have higher education.
Unemployment stood at 11.6%, while 5% worked in the informal sector, 7% in private households and 47.5% in the formal sector.
Jetie Afrikaner, 72, is one of the residents who claim that since she moved to Philadelphia in 1956, “nothing has changed”.
“I was only 12 when I moved to this town to work as a domestic worker. Over the last 63 years of living here nothing has really changed for me,” she said.
Last year (2018) was testament to her town’s poor service delivery when one of her backyard tenants lost her wendy house and furniture to fire.
“The fire truck only came a day later and the fire officer never even explained why they delayed. Instead, he rudely told me to clear out all the charred furniture as soon as possible. Their attitude made me feel like I didn’t matter at all ... like I’m not entitled to fire services,” she said.
Afrikaner, who is on chronic medication for high blood pressure, said that for years she’s been getting her medication from Durbanville Clinic. To get there she has to catch a 5.30am taxi – the only one that goes to Durbanville. If residents miss it they have to hitch-hike or catch it the next day.
Mark van der Heever from the provincial health department said Philadelphia was one of the pilot areas that were serviced through so-called community-oriented primary care, where workers go into communities and patients’ homes instead of patients visiting clinics.
“The intention is to strengthen the interconnectedness between home and community-based care, primary care facilities and intermediate care services with the purpose of improving health outcomes,” he said.
Talana Mina, a mother of two, said that despite being unemployed and on the waiting list for years to receive an RDP house, she was told very recently that she doesn’t qualify because her husband’s salary makes her ineligible for a house.
“People need houses here and many like myself have been on the waiting list, but up to now it’s just been empty promises. Many years ago the local church gave us a piece of land for houses to be built, but no homes were ever built. We are like a forgotten community with no services at all. For many years our children didn’t even have a park to play in, until about two years ago. What kind of community doesn’t even have recreational facilities?”
Her mother, Francke Pieterson, said that despite living in her four-roomed home for 44 years, she is yet to receive her title deed.
“Here people either don’t have homes and rent in backyards, and those who have homes have no title deeds. Nothing is happening in Philadelphia. We are like in the middle of nowhere and authorities have forgotten that we even exist,” she said.
Ntomboxolo Makoba-Somdaka, spokesperson for housing MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela, said that while there was a demand for housing in the area, with about 160 on the housing waiting list, two small sites that had been identified for possible development “were found to be below the flood line”.
The department was in the process of transferring title deeds to the rightful owners, and a conveyancing attorney had been appointed by the City of Cape Town to speed up the process.
Viola Solomons, a mother of four, alleged that inadequate emergency health services in the town resulted in her almost giving birth in a car after she hired private transport to Atlantis. She too lives in an informal home, after she gave up waiting for an RDP house.
“I’d rather live in squalor conditions here because it’s safer than living elsewhere where it’s not safe,” she said.
Despite social problems such as drug abuse and alcoholism, and the registration of social grants, residents said there were no social workers dedicated to service the town, and the once-weekly visit by a roving social worker was inadequate.
Cayla Murray, a spokesperson for social development in the Western Cape, said that while there were no programmes in place to uplift young people in Philadelphia, “a youth café is intended to be built in the Metro North region within this financial year”.
“Youth cafés are intended to uplift youth, develop their skills and give them an opportunity diverting them from a life of substance abuse and crime. Additionally, a social worker is currently rendering foster care supervision services in Philadelphia and has begun assisting the youth with compiling CVs and referring them for employment opportunities,” she said.