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'Tin Can' houses for African poor

May 10, 2010

The government has declared Blikkiesdorp, close to Cape Town, a temporary relocation area, in an attempt to deal with housing backlog just ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2010. People living at the temporary site without basic amenities are comparing it to concentration camps.

Blikkiesdorp: Blikkiesdorp - meaning "tin-can town" in Afrikaans - has become a source of controversy in Cape Town, South Africa's most visited city and the host of several important matches in the much-anticipated 2010 Soccer World Cup.

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Created in 2008, Blikkiesdorp is sandwiched between sand dunes and the main road through the township of Delft, about 20km outside Cape Town, where over 1,500 box-like units made of metal sheeting line a bleak area of gravel and sand, with not a tree or a bush in sight.

Older units lack insulation and gaps can be seen between the galvanized metal sheets; problems with plumbing result in overflows when it rains - the odour of sewage is distinct.

Some residents have called Blikkiesdorp a "concentration camp", and have attracted media attention with claims that it was created as part of a "clean up strategy" to tidy away Cape Town's poor and homeless before the World Cup starts in June.

Most of the people were relocated from inner-city suburbs like Woodstock and Salt River - a move reminiscent of apartheid's forced removals - but this Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), as it is officially known, is in fact one of the government's attempts to deal with the housing backlog.

According to the city, Blikkiesdorp represents a significant improvement in the living conditions of most residents, and some of them agree. "I'm glad to stay here," Andrew Maqoyile, 32, told IRIN.

He and six friends had been living for nearly eight years in a large outdoor recreation area, now the site of the newly built Green Point Stadium, but were relocated when construction work began. "There it was so cold, but I had to live like that because I have no family or anyone. When they said they would move us to these temporary shelters, I was all right [with that]."

South Africa's housing crisis has so far proved hard to crack, and the promise by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of housing for all is perhaps the nation's biggest dream deferred.

Cape Town alone has a backlog of some 400,000 houses, and 18,000 new families from South Africa and other African countries arrive in the municipality every year; where to accommodate everyone has become a persistent headache.

The answer, so far, has been TRAs, which are part of the National Housing Programme for Housing Assistance in emergency circumstances, and have been developed all over South Africa to handle the overflow of people waiting for houses.

Blikkiesdorp was established in direct response to the illegal occupation of houses in a new township, known as the N2 Gateway, by a group of homeless people, who were evicted and "temporarily relocated" to the area.

Since then, Blikkiesdorp has been extended to provide housing for other people in various emergency situations, including the occupants of unsafe or condemned buildings, homeless people, and the victims of xenophobic attacks.

A constant State of emergency

The TRA is now home to 1,250 families, and is a system that thousands of people are likely to go through before getting a permanent house; it says much about the housing emergency in South Africa, 16 years after the ANC took power in South Africa's first democratic election.

"The shops are far [away], people are starving, and many don't work. When they moved us they said there was a place for the children in schools, electricity was in[stalled], everything is fine. But when we came there was no electricity, and no place for the children in the school," said Rosline Maritz, who now has to pay for minibus-taxi fare so her two children can attend school in Athlone, where they used to live.

Blikkiesdorp also houses some of the vulnerable and indigent victims of xenophobia: Michael Uredi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and his family came here from the Blue Waters Safety Camp in late March 2010.

"The problem is that this is a temporary relocation area, so how much infrastructure do you invest in for the short-to-medium term"

They had fled intertribal conflict in the DRC's Eastern Kivu region, but in their eight years in South Africa have suffered theft, violence and rape. They hope to be resettled to a third country, and that Blikkiesdorp will be their last stop before they leave. Despite the slightly improved physical conditions here, the family is still fearful. "There hasn't been a night that we've slept well. It's better to eat cabbage with peace than meat without peace. We are not safe here. My life is in someone else's hands - I'm not free, my children are not free," Uredi told IRIN.

Many in the settlement cited violence as a big problem, and blamed the level of crime on the high unemployment rate and a lack of activities or recreation places for young people.

A satellite police station was built to help control the situation, but it was vandalized before it opened and remains unused. Most of the few empty housing units have also been vandalized, and people say they cannot walk outside after 10 p.m. without fear of harm or police harassment.

"The problem is that this is a temporary relocation area, so how much infrastructure do you invest in for the short-to-medium term, but at the same time meet the need for people to have a place to worship, and other ... [activities]?" said city media manager Kylie Hatton.

Johan Jordaan, who lives in Blikkiesdorp, commented: "They say it is temporary, but why do you spend so much money to get the land, put the sewage system in, put the electricity in, when you could use that money to build houses? That's what I can't understand." For now, no one knows.

Source : IRIN
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