Squatters cry bribery

People have been squatting in Long Street since last year.

The squatters in Long Street, Scottsdene, claim they are being “bribed” with R3 000 to move from the pavements they are illegally occupying.

The families — still reeling from a fire in which a woman died last week — have accused the Oostenberg Social Development Forum of trying to trick them into taking money from a private developer as well as keeping donations of food and clothing meant for them.

The forum, which has denied the allegations, was formed by a group of community activists from Kraaifontein in 2009 to fight for human rights, ease poverty and improve living conditions in the area.

The squatters say it is odd the forum is now offering them money to move when for the past year it has encouraged them to stay put until they are considered for housing.

The squatters have refused to accept any money.

One of the squatters, Loriaan Croy, said that for the past two months, including Friday May 10, forum members had visited Long Street, offering the families R3 000 to move from the pavement so that the building at the Sunset Village flats could continue.

With 16 families living on the pavement, it would cost nearly R50 000 to remove them all, if they all took the money, Ms Croy said.

“We refuse to move because the forum is the reason we are here in the first place. They have been the ones fighting for our rights in court, but now they are against us.”

Forum members had told the squatters they could buy food and alcohol if they took the money, she said.

The squatters are struggling to rebuild shacks wrecked in the fire that killed 41-year-old Ruwayda Berg on Saturday May 3 (“Burnt to death,” Northern News, May 8).

Another squatter, Theresa Snyders, claimed the forum had not passed donations meant for the squatters on to them.

“I have found out that a retail store had donated meat and canned foods to these people of Long Street, but we haven’t seen a single packet being carried in here.”

In March last year, 500 people were evicted from the unfinished Sunset Village flats in Scottsdene (“Illegal occupants evicted,” Northern News, April 4, 2018).

The Oostenberg Social Development Forum represented the residents at numerous meetings with the development company, Calgro M3, to discuss relocating the people.

In February, Calgro M3 provided temporary container housing, with water and toilet facilities, in its stockyard. But on Friday February 8, Mayco member for urban management Grant Twigg and law enforcement visited the site and ordered that the containers be removed.

Forum spokesman Peter Syster denied the bribery allegations. Instead, he said the forum was helping people find a solution to their inhumane living conditions.

He said he had approached the subcontractors at the site, Ikaya Properties, to help the people and they had offered to pay the R3 000.

“We said to the people that Ikaya Properties would be able to assist them with money to buy building material or rent money where they can go back to being backyarders.”

Mr Syster claimed donations had been made directly to the people in Long Street and not through the forum. He denied the forum had kept any of the donations for itself.

Shaun Ashene, at Ikaya Properties, said the forum had pleaded with him to come up with a solution to help the squatters, and he had offered to pay for their building materials and their first month’s rent as backyarders

“Ikaya Properties would like to assist these people because they are living in an unsafe environment and most of all our work is dragging.”

Wayne Williams, group executive director at Calgro M3, denied that there had been any “bribery” between Calgro and the forum.

“I wonder where the forum got the money from. They were all part of the people who were left homeless and poor.”

Mr Williams said Calgro had not had contact with the forum for the past eight months because he was waiting for Mr Twigg to advise on the way forward.

Although the squatters had stalled completion of the Sunset Village flats, Calgro had followed a legal route, he said.

“This is the first time I heard that those people are being told to move. If it was the councillor who had ordered them to move, I would understand, but I am quite surprised.”

Calgro set up barbed wire outside the gates of Sunset Village on Thursday April 11. That was a safety measure ahead of further construction, Mr Williams said.

“The presence of children with heavy vehicles and machinery moving in and out of the site creates major liability issues for us if we do not properly secure the area.”

Mr Twigg said the forum had personally told him it would “assist people with moving”, but he said he didn’t know anything about squatters being offered R3 000.

“The forum has a sudden change of heart; they are the reason those people have moved to the pavement in the first place,” he said. “I will continue encouraging those people to go back to where they come from. That is the only solution.”