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Over 200 people, who are residents of the Gate 7 informal settlement, near the Maitland Cemetery, have been living without water and toilets for the past 30 years. 

As you enter the area, there are dirt covered roads with small shacks, separated by small passages. A stone’s throw from the informal settlement, there is a large white tent surrounded by makeshift structures, which houses a group of refugees. 

Nontsikelelo Mbengo, a mother of three, has been a resident in the informal settlement since 1992, she says. They lived in plastic tents and cardboard before building the zinc shacks. “I stayed in Khayelitsha before moving here, because I could not afford the rent anymore. We are struggling here. We don’t have even a single tap. I am on treatment and living with HIV. I have to walk for over 30 minutes to get water, and queue at a refugee camp near us, and I have a problem with my legs, so the walk is a struggle. Our daughters suffer a lot when on periods, because they don’t have water to properly clean themselves; they get easily infected. We also don’t have electricity here,” Mbengo told Elitsha. 

School-going children in the area have to walk for 7 km to attend school, in Langa. “We practically live like beggars and animals. I use an imbawula [makeshift coal stove] to cook for my three kids. Many people here are defaulting on their treatment, because of the poor quality of life, especially not having water. Even when we need to go to the clinic, one has to take a taxi to Kensington,” said Mbengo.

She shares her two room
shack with her husband
and nine kids

Funeka Mayongo, who is also a long time resident of Gate 7, said she came to the area from Kensington. She shares her two room shack with her husband and nine kids. “It is very inhumane living here. It is winter now, it’s raining and cold but our kids sleep on the floor. We use buckets to relieve ourselves or go to the bush nearby. It is very bad. There are over 200 people here, with over 120 shacks. We are voters, but don’t have access to any basic services. What is worse is that a refugee camp located near us, where foreign nationals live, they have water and toilets,” said Mayongo.

She told Elitsha that they blame the landowners, the Ndabeni Communal Property Trust, for failing to give the city a go ahead to render basic services in the settlement. 

Gate 7 is the only settlement in the area that does not have water and sanitation.

Anda Njeza, a trustee of Ndabeni, said he is building an eviction case against the people residing at Gate 7. “The trust has immediate plans to evict the illegal occupants. Funding has been requested from the Department of Land Affairs, and once approved, legal representatives will be appointed to draft the necessary court documents for eviction,” said Njeza. 

Broken promises

The challenges facing the community are a long-standing problem. In May this year, it was reported that about 40 residents from the informal settlement closed the busy Voortrekker Road in Cape Town with burning branches, calling for service delivery. 

The land belongs to
Ndabeni Communal Property Trust

According to the residents, ward 56 councillor, Cheslin Steenberg (PA) recently visited the informal settlement before the general elections and promised the people toilets. Speaking to Elitsha, Steenberg denied making any promises to the residents. “No promises were made; I cannot do so as the land in question does not belong to the City of Cape Town but to Ndabeni Trust. I met with them on the day of their protest to receive their memorandum – I called the officials to a meeting with the actual settlement leadership and in that meeting we discussed what can be done in the ‘interim’ whilst the landowner should request for services on the said land. The officials were tasked to investigate this ‘interim’ measure, which they did and the outcome was communicated to Ndabeni Trust and the settlement leadership,” Steenberg told Elitsha

Regular harassment and demolitions  

Residents also criticised ill treatment they have had to endure at the hands of law enforcement officials. Last week, Sisanda Manyange suffered law enforcement brutality when her shack was broken down. “I was a resident at Langa Kosovo informal settlement with my sister before coming here. I arrived here in February this year, staying in a shack made of wooden material. I recently decided to extend my shack, because my mother has come to stay with me. I had bought the extension with R3,000, and it is not the first time they have demolished my place. In March, they took my shack and never gave it back to me. They took my material away, and said I don’t have papers to extend the shack. Even last week they demolished my shack again. They wanted to strip it all down, but they stopped because I told them my mother doesn’t have a place to sleep,” said Manyange. 

“I have to carry buckets
and go and ask for water
from the refugee camp”

“We’re suffering. My mother is 71 years old and she uses the bushes to relieve herself. I have to accompany her, every time, because she is old and struggles to sit down and get up. We survive very hard. In order to have water, I have to carry buckets and go and ask for water from the refugee camp. I have a newborn baby – I struggle a lot. The sanitation problem makes our lives even worse,” she added.

Community committee member, Lindile Nkalweni, said, “I don’t even know how to describe the kind of life we live here. Law enforcement patrols this place like we are criminals, day and night. They demolish your shack if they find you doing any changes in your shack; you cannot even fix a leaking roof or paint your shack, otherwise it will be brutally demolished. They even take people’s material and don’t explain anything, and we cannot ask anything.” 

City of Cape Town spokesperson for law enforcement, Wayne Dyason denied knowledge of the violent evictions. “We have no record of such activity. The department cannot comment nor will it speculate on allegations. Officers would need proof, a vehicle registration number and a name of an officer to investigate and verify authenticity,” he said. 

“The city assists where the
settlement is not on
privately-owned land”

The city’s MMC  for Water and Sanitation, Zahid Badroodien, said they need permission in order for them to install basic services in the area, as it is privately owned land. “The city’s Informal Settlement Basic Services branch (ISBS) requires the written permission of the landowner to provide services, taps and toilets. A request for permission was made via the councillor to the Ndabeni Communal Property Trust. We’re awaiting a response,” he told Elitsha. He said once permission is granted, the city will conduct investigations on the feasibility of the provision of basic services. 

“In informal areas, the city assists residents with water and sanitation services, solid waste and electricity services where it is possible to do so, and where the settlement is not on privately-owned land,” he said. Badroodien added that there are no immediate relocation plans for the Gate 7 informal settlement residents at this stage.

Long-standing land legal battle

The Ndabeni Communal Trust has owned the land since 2004 following a successful claim through the Land Claims Commission in terms of the Restitution Act of 1997. In 2022, GroundUp reported that the trust is controlled by the families of people who were forcefully removed from the land to Langa, between 1927 and 1936. In court papers that date back to 2017, it was argued that they were dispossessed of their land and their descendants have not reaped any benefits from the transfer of the property. The court ruled that, after twenty years, the promise of land restitution for the descendants of those who had their land taken was an empty one. 

“Land for people not profit,” reads the graffiti on a container in the area.

Senior legal officer at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Matthew du Plessis said the City of Cape Town was wrong for denying the occupants of Gate7 basic services. “There is a new water and sanitation services on privately owned land policy, released by the Department of Water and Sanitation. This policy, approved by the cabinet in November 2023, allows municipalities to bypass the need for landowner permission to install water services on privately owned land where it is necessary to provide basic services to unlawful occupiers. This new policy framework was developed to address the challenges highlighted by a 2019 court case and aims to ensure that all residents, including those on privately owned land, have access to basic services,” he told Elitsha

It is clear that the city has the authority to proceed with the installation of water and sanitation services at Gate 7 without requiring written permission from the Ndabeni Communal Property Trust, du PLessis said.

This article will be updated once City of Cape Town responds.