For the past two years, residents of the Symphony Way shantytown in the suburbs of Cape Town have been forcefully evicted and moved into corrugated iron shacks where they are deprived of basic liberties. Why? Because the authorities didn't want World Cup fans to be faced with them when they come to visit the Green Point stadium.
The housing unit, known as "Blikkiesdorp", is a "temporary relocation area" (TRA). Rules are strict - no building, no cooking outside, no leaving your shack after 10pm. Except for the fact that the residents are human, the unit is hardly any different from that of sci-fi film District 9.
While the government says that the shantytown residents of Symphony Way were moved because they required "emergency housing", one of our Observers who's been to the Blikkiesdorp tells us tells us that the conditions they now live under are much more urgent than the ones they were in before.
“It’s like an ‘apartheid dumping ground’. The residents call it a concentration camp”
Gareth Kingdon is a photographer from Cardiff, UK, who focuses on eviction issues, particularly in South Africa. He spent two weeks living in Blikkiesdorp. All photos were taken by Gareth, unless otherwise stated.
There are around 15,000 people living in Blikkiesdorp. The only way they're identified is by their number. There's no individualism. The residents are not allowed to adapt the grid system; if they build anything, it's destroyed by the authorities.
The authorities refuse to give the area a postcode, so people cannot get a proper job because they have no official address. The unemployment rate is in the high eighties. The few that have jobs are self-employed - hairdressers or vegetable sellers. They have to hitchhike back to where they used to live in order to work.
There is no school and no clinic. There are on average five to seven people living in each ‘structure'; each measures 3x9 metres. There are four toilets to every 16 families [three per 112 structures in some blocks].
The poor conditions are causing a number of health issues. When you breathe in, the fine sand feels like sandpaper in your throat; many of the children suffer from asthma. Tuberculosis and HIV/ AIDS are rife. Heat stroke is also common. When it's hot you can't touch the structures as they'll burn your skin. But despite all this, there's only one health worker and you have to walk two miles to the nearest pharmacist.
There's little food and people are banned from cooking outside. They have to use a camping stove and a gas canister in the end of the shack that they don't sleep in. Many rely on food handouts from charities. There's a daily distribution of bread and on Wednesdays there's a food handout. When I was there around 1,200 people were queuing.
It's like what they used to call an ‘apartheid dumping ground'. The residents call it a concentration camp. There are no facilities and nothing's upgraded, nothing fixed. There's a ten o'clock curfew and if you're found out of your structure after that, you're questioned and beaten up by the police. It echoes the apartheid era.
The residents are enduring these conditions just 20 kilometres from Africa's most expensive stadium [444 million euros]. Children ask ‘where are we going after the World Cup?' But they could be here for another 10, 20, 30 years. There are 400,000 people waiting for housing in the Western Cape [province], and they've all been put on hold because all the money is going on the World Cup.
If you compare Blikkiesdorp with slums like the ones the residents lived in before, it might look better at first. But when you go there and see the oppression, you think you'd rather be somewhere with life, where you can go out after 10pm, cook outside, build, have a registered address...
The structures are incredibly flimsy; this man showed me how you can cut the material with a pair of children's scissors.
Image posted on Abahlali baseMjondolo, 6 May, 2009.
Police patrol in riot vehicles.
Image posted on Anti Eviction Campaign - Western Cape 18 Jan. 2009.
Some of the residents have managed to make their structure quite homey.