Camps Bay Airbnb taken over by Cape Town group seeking safe space

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Vatheka Halile in the house in Camps Bay.
Vatheka Halile in the house in Camps Bay.
PHOTO: Wewe Ngidi
  • A group of people looking for a safe space to live have occupied an empty Camps Bay Airbnb rental.
  • They hope the property's manager and investor will support their move.
  • The group say they are focussing on generational inequality, homelessness and a disregard for people who originally lived on the slopes before being ousted.
  • They are also calling for an overall rent freeze for as long as the Disaster Management Act is in place for Covid-19.

A group of people looking for a safe space to live have occupied a luxury Camps Bay house in Cape Town and hope the owners will support their move to create a space to be used for communal care, healing, and the arts.

The house is currently being let as a holiday home on Airbnb.

"Our action is part of a global movement of occupiers who do not have homes, particularly those who are close to home that are landless, cannot afford their rent or face violence in their place of residence," said Kelly-Eve Koopman in a statement on Monday.

The statement was posted on the Facebook page "We See You" and is headed "Queer Artivists Occupy Camp's Bay Mansion".

"We are in solidarity with occupations globally, but especially locally as police brutality illegally removes occupiers from their homes," Koopman explained.

"We are occupying in protest of the lack of safe space for queer people, women and children in a country with disgusting rates of gender-based violence.

"We invite everyone into transgressive and peaceful acts of solidarity with those who cannot pay rent, cannot afford to eat, those who live at the threat of violence."

Xena Scullard, one of the occupants, told News24 they entered the property by pooling resources from friends, family and supporters and booked a two-night stay through Airbnb. They were now on their fourth day and second unpaid day and while they still had water and electricity, they expected that this may be disconnected.

They said they wanted to talk to the owner about their intentions for the occupation.

In reply to questions on the matter, Airbnb said its global community is built on trust.

"While we deeply respect the freedom of expression and rights of those who protest, the platform requires policies that honour the trust that hosts put in us and in guests in their private spaces. As a result, we are providing support to the host," the company's communications agency said on its behalf.

Scullard said many of the rental properties in that area were investment properties bought with generational wealth and were empty for long periods until booked by tourists.

According to its website, the Camps Bay Airbnb portfolio offers a range of modern villas and flats with spectacular views of the Atlantic Seaboard that can go for up to R24 162 a night with luxury amenities available in many.

Scullard explained their goals. "This occupation is a tool to call into question system violence."

READ | Airbnb is finally unbanned in South Africa - and super-clean local listings will now be highlighted

She said Covid-19 had brought into sharp relief inequalities in society and high levels of historic and systemic violence.

Seven people occupied the house – which has six rooms with space for 10 people to sleep – in the morning and by the evening, activists from the Khayelitsha Community Action Network had arrived to see how they can support the group.

She cited one person who was beaten and kicked out of their home while transitioning, and had nowhere to go, as a person who could benefit from such a space due to there not being enough shelters for LGBTQI+ people.

In her case, she had been living on mattresses on the floor in other people's homes and felt she had no hope of ever owning her own property.

"They call a R4 000 salary middle class. How far can you go with R4 000?" she asked.

READ | Tafelberg school property ruling: Western Cape govt, Sisulu respond to landmark judgment

"If we can't rely on the state, and we can't rely on legislation, then what the fuck do we need to do?" she asked.

They were trying to start a conversation about the issues with the property owner through the managing agent.

Koopman added that that particular part of the Cape coastline was rooted in slavery and inequality which has not been recognised or memorialised.

She said some early roads and properties were built by unpaid slaves and the famous Clifton bungalows – now prime property owned by the rich – were afforded to white soldiers demobilised after war to recuperate in, and were now owned by the rich.

However, she said other soldiers were given a bicycle as solace for their service.

An extract from group's statement:

 - We have the ability to heal our world, our continent and our country if we stop expecting corrupt and ineffective governments both locally and nationally that have proven that they will not do the work to serve the needs of the people;

 - Instead, this is work that the many activists and movements have taken on across the country.

 - While we need to hold governance accountable, we also need to recognise that we are being exploited by an elite class of individuals who control a disgusting disproportion of wealth and resources.

 - We are a wild care collective of queer Africans taking residence in a mansion that wasn't meant for us.

 - It is currently vacant and part of an investment portfolio of a wealthy company who makes profit from renting the house occasionally.

 - We will put it to better use by creating a home and safe space of refuge, with our chosen family.

 - South Africa has one of the highest rates of inequality in the entire world. Prior to Covid-19, we had an unemployment rate of 31 percent. Because of Covid-19 another 3 million jobs were lost.

 - Unfortunately, we are often manipulated, lied to or blatantly laughed at when we try to make things better. We see you.

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