A Pretoria North lesbian and her child have been spending the cold Gauteng winter nights in a tent while they wait for a council house.
In the quiet suburb of Wolmer in Pretoria North, tiny council houses line either side of the streets. Most are well-kept, with fenced in yards occupied by an interesting variety of happy, healthy dogs. Children play in the street, adults chat with neighbours and the picture is one of a close-knit community.
Here and there stands an empty plot, or a house in the process of being demolished by the elements. On reaching number 512A Broodryk St, however, the picture changes slightly.
While Gauteng has been shivering this winter, the residents at this address struggled to keep warm with only a caravan tent for shelter. Juannita van Wyk (35) and her son Joshua (9) have moved a borrowed caravan into the yard of a burnt-down house. Van Wyk is on the council’s waiting list for three years for one of the houses, but the waiting period is more than three years for a house. “I’m number 72 on the list for a two-bedroomed house and number 53 on the list for a three-bedroomed house,” she says, “and my position on the list hasn’t changed in three years.”
The house had burnt down in May 2006, when the occupant fell asleep with a burning candle in the same room as a container of paraffin. Since then it has stood empty, and the council does not seem interested in repairing it. With nowhere to stay, and no short-term hope of getting a house, Van Wyk has moved onto the property as a squatter, where she has been for the past three months.
She hopes to get funding or sponsorship to at least mend the roof of the house, and that by so doing she might get the option to stay there. There are currently no services, but they manage with help from their neighbours where they bath and cook at night. Although the services are not functioning, utility bills arrive regularly that show amounts in excess of R17k outstanding.
The shell of the building acts as storage space for Van Wyk’s few possessions, in the parts where she has been able to find pieces of canvas to cover them. The bathroom seems to have escaped the worst of the fire damage and still has a working toilet in it, although it has to be flushed with a bucket or hose. The bath itself was destroyed but a tiny square of roof above it is intact, so this acts as storage for some precious boxes.
“Council should be grateful”
Ina van Heerden, the local Ward committee member and chairperson of the residents’ committee, says it’s a shame the council won’t allocate the house to Van Wyk, who appears to be the only person interested in the property.
“There is obviously a shortage of money and materials to fix the house,” she says. “The council should be glad she [Van Wyk] had the guts to move in, as it stood empty for a year because nobody else wanted it. She is at least looking after the property and if she manages to fix it up, they should let her stay there.”
But Van Wyk says she has phoned Dina Kruger, the local manager for council housing, four times about the house and been turned down on each occasion. “She says I can get a house in Soshanguve or Garankuwa if I want,” says Van Wyk, “but how will Joshua get to school from there?” No-one at the council’s housing department could be reached for comment.
There is also an option to apply for an RDP house, which she would be able to buy, but apparently once an applicant joins the RDP waiting list they are automatically dropped from the council housing waiting list.
Van Wyk and her partner make hair combs which they sell through a third party to earn a living. Some of the other women in the neighbourhood have joined them in making the combs, which brings in a profit of R3,00 per comb. “Some of the people living here have no work,” says Van Wyk, “so at least I am trying to put back into the community that have helped me so much.”
Dreaming of a room of his own
Joshua, a wiry, blonde nine year old, dreams of a room of his own. He has claimed one of the rooms in the burnt-out building as his own, and staked his claim by parking his bicycle in that room. “It’s the only room with a window that didn’t break in the fire,” he states as proudly as if it was his own doing.
The cost of materials to rebuild the roof is around R4000. Van Wyk says she will do the work herself, if only she can get some material from somewhere. “Some wood, some nails and some IBR sheeting will do it,” she says. JC Wendyhouses sponsors the Voortrekker Eeufees primary school Joshua attends, and she is planning to approach them for some help.
Asked for comment on the issue, Danie Erasmus, guardian councillor for Ward 49, says, “If Mrs Van Wyk is squatting, if council tries to remove her she can claim against the squatter rule and they will be forced to find her alternative accommodation.”
However, Erasmus doesn’t advise that she repairs the house. “If she does that then council can just take the house back, find her alternative accommodation as they would have to anyway, and her efforts will have been for nothing.”
Long cold months ahead
This doesn’t help Van Wyk though, with the winter just starting there are a few long, cold months ahead of her and Joshua. Erasmus has committed to helping her, though.
“If she has written proof of her applications, and can produce some kind of evidence that she requested permission to move onto the plot – even if it wasn’t forthcoming – then there is a paper trail that we can make work for her,” he said. Van Wyk confirms that she has the documentation and will make contact with Erasmus for assistance.
Meanwhile, it seems her only hope is to stick it out for as long as she can, and perhaps enclose one of the rooms in the house to provide shelter for the winter, while the wheels of bureaucracy turn at their usual snail’s pace.
For more information, or to assist Juannita van Wyk with building materials or anything else, please contact her at 0726206583.