Five privileged Hout Bay families to spend weekend in fire victims' temporary homes

2017-07-15 07:45
Imizamo Yethu. (Photo: Robin Thuynsma)

Imizamo Yethu. (Photo: Robin Thuynsma)

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Cape Town - There will be no comforts and luxury for five Hout Bay Valley households as they swap their privilege and move a short distance away to the cold, tiny 3x3m shacks. The shacks are home to victims of the Imizamo Yethu inferno and the families will spend two nights living in these families' shoes.

There will be no running water, personal toilets or even electricity when the participants – among them a corporate strategist and a businessman – lock up their suburban homes and head to the local soccer field, which has been home to more than 1000 fire victims for the last four months.

The 67 Hours initiative, organised by #OneHoutBay, hopes to bridge the gap and open dialogue between the poor living on the one end of the seaside neighbourhood and the rich living in what locals call “The Valley”.

The project preempts Mandela Day and will run from Friday to Sunday.

Fed-up Imizamo Yethu residents last week took to the streets for three days against the City of Cape Town’s failure to rebuild their homes within three months, following the devastating fires in March which ravaged 3 500 structures, affecting 15 000 people.

During the protests, organisers say social media was “awash with speculation, rumour and downright racism” by people who failed to understand the plight of those affected.

Managing director of the Heart and Soul Foundation SA, and member of the #OneHoutBay initiative, Welcome Witbooi, suggested that the privileged Hout Bay residents experience the difficulties of living in the temporary relocation area first hand to help them understand why the shackdwellers felt forced to take to the streets.

Five homes have been made available as families make their way to the Eastern Cape, where the funeral of Songezo Ndude will take place on Saturday.

Ndude died after being shot during the protests last Monday. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate is investigating.

On Friday night, a mother and her two children, a father and his two children, and three individual participants temporarily moved into the tiny space they will call home for the next two nights.

They are only allowed to bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, a change of clothes and R100 for food and taxi fare.

“There will be no special treatment – to get a proper understanding, they need to become familiar with life and the real conditions these people face every day,” Witbooi insisted.

“This is no township experience. This is an opportunity to change mindsets and misconceptions.”

Fire victims lamented the cold conditions in which they were forced to live. The homes are also without electricity and ablution facilities.

Some of the tiny units are occupied by up to five people. Residents complained that when it rained, their shacks leaked, resulting in the meagre belongings they managed to save from the flames earlier this year getting water damaged.

Many said they don’t feel safe in their temporary space. One kick to the door and it swings open, one woman demonstrated, and bent nails are used in an attempt to secure it better.

The toilets are clustered together on one end of the sports field. Ten showers are available for the use of more than 1000 people.

Vuyiswa Siyo, 39, was cynical that her new “white neighbours” would last more than a few hours in those conditions.

“But yes, they must come. They must stop telling the police to shoot us when we protest. Come and sleep in our damp beds and look over your shoulder when you walk to the toilet. It’s not nice. They will see.”

She lives alone in her shack after her sister moved to Khayelitsha as their temporary home was too cold for her two children.

Her space is relatively empty – she lost everything in the blaze and most of the items she has were donated to her.

“I understand what they are trying to do. They will be able to know and experience why we feel the way we do. But at the end of the weekend, they go back home and live their happy lives again. I will still be here – still cold and still worrying about what I will eat for supper.”

Founder of #OneHoutBay Deon Robbertze hopes the sleepover will “reach far” into realising his dream of uniting the Hout Bay community.

He said that historical apartheid spatial planning has resulted in the neighbourhood inheriting a set of circumstances that entrenches division.

Witbooi said every night, a bonfire will be lit and people from Hout Bay at large will gather to discuss their lived realities.

“It’s about understanding each other and where we come from and finding common ground to help us move forward. This place is all of our home. It’s time to get to know your neighbour.”

Read more on:    hout bay  |  imizamo yethu

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