We have been sent here to wait until we die - Wolwerivier residents

Cape Town - Walled in behind a palisade fence and overgrown bushes on the bumpy Mamre Road, the Wolwerivier relocation camp is where shack dwellers say they've been sent to wait until they die.

The camp is home to about 500 households and situated about 30km from the city centre. It is so isolated modern GPS systems are not able to find its location.

The City of Cape Town is offering emergency accommodation in Wolwerivier to seven families facing eviction from Bromwell Street, Woodstock. The families refuse to move, demanding alternative accommodation in the inner city. 

The Bromwell residents are facing eviction to make way for developers. The Woodstock Hub, known for buying up land and dilapidated units in the city, bought a strip of land with homes on it for one of its latest developments.

It is planning to build units to rent out for around R9 000 a month in the trendy suburb - an amount out of the current residents' reach. The 27 applicants have taken the matter to the Western Cape High Court, where judgment has been reserved.

They say moving to Wolwerivier means they would battle to get transport, to get to clinics and hospitals, and to get their children into new schools. 

No street lights

But these will be the least of their problems, say those who have been living in the area since its establishment less than two years ago.

The area is plunged into darkness when night falls as there are no street lights in the settlement.

The people occupying the green and cream sheet metal homes near Melkbosstrand say thieves and robbers use this as an opportunity to steal from families who already have next to nothing.

The homes have a toilet and two rooms, which most tenants have divided into a kitchen, lounge/sleeping area and a bedroom.

They say they were promised showers before they moved from a number of informal settlements in the vicinity, but this never materialised.

They bathe in plastic tubs and buckets that have been sawed in half.

'This place is cold, forgotten'

They say they have been warned by council not to extend the structures, no matter how many people live there.

The roads are gravel and there are no street names, only a number painted on the metal sheet next to the front door.

If he had known what was waiting for him when he signed up to move here after being served with an eviction notice, he would rather have "sold [his] soul" for a backyard to live in, Andre van Willingh, 49, said.

He insisted he was happier in the 29 years he lived at Takkegat, a settlement on the Milnerton dump site, than he was now.

Van Willingh would give up his flushing toilet for the chance to move back to his "hokkie", he said, staring out of his front door.

"I miss that place, the community we used to have. It was vibrant – it felt like home. This place is cold, forgotten and filled with people who hate it here. We have no choice; there is nowhere else to go.

A little boy plays with a tyre in the gravel road in Wolwerivier. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

'I don't want to die here'

"Every street is filled with alcoholics and drug addicts – we don't know how to cope in this hellhole."

Being poor is not the worst thing that can happen to you, he insisted. Being stuck in a place where you know you will never get out of is 100 times worse, Van Willingh said, shaking his head.

"It's the isolation...I can't deal with it. I feel like nobody knows I exist. We were promised a new home with everything we need, but got dumped and forgotten here instead, out of the sight of the people who don't want us to taint their perfect little picture of the suburbs. I don't want to die here."

None of his relatives have ever visited his home, as they simply cannot find it.

"I'm turning 50 soon and hope they will try a little harder to visit me for my birthday. But when you try to locate Wolwerivier on a map, you will never find it.

"I don’t even have an address. I have a house number – that's it. If you blink while driving on this road, you will miss us. We are nobodies living in the middle of nowhere."

'I feel stuck'

Every Wednesday, Van Willingh and his partner Ann take a two-hour walk to Parklands. There they knock on the doors of "the white people" asking for odd jobs in exchange for food and small change and make their way back before their two children get home.

"It's humiliating, but I do it anyway. I would rather be embarrassed for a few minutes than tell my children there is no food for supper," he said, pointing at photos of his little son and daughter.

He misses Takkegat because while he lived in a corrugated iron shack, they were relatively close to shops, amenities and possible job opportunities.

"I have never been lazy to work. I have done it all. But right now, I just can't afford to. We are hidden here in the bush, away from everything and everyone. To get to Parklands I have to take two taxis – the trip costs R20 one way. Do I look like I have money?"

Sherilene Sweetly, 43, spends most of her day sitting outside her house, watching the people in the street.

"I hate being inside there. I feel stuck. It's not much better sitting here, because I see the fence around this place and am reminded that I am not going to get out of here anytime soon. I have no hope," she said, taking a deep drag on her cigarette.

"This is not a home. I know why they don't install street lights here – they don't want people to see us. We must be forgotten. We are living like ghosts, in any case."

Sherilene Sweetly spends most of her time outside. She hates living in the settlement, she insisted. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Livelihoods lost

Local residents, the Social Justice Coalition and Ndifuna Ukwazi compiled a social audit of the settlement in 2015.

According to their findings, some households were overcrowded, subsistence farming was difficult due to the poor soil, tenants did not have access to showers, there were no public facilities and emergency and essential services struggled to find the location.

Some families also lost their livelihoods after being moved to the settlement, the audit reads, as they no longer had access to work opportunities and were too far from the local dump to collect scrap for resale.

Currently, 1 122 people live at Wolwerivier, where residents only move on if they get a state house, or find enough money to rent elsewhere.

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