Hard life for occupants of two hijacked buildings: Occupants say they have nowhere else to go

Former District Six Cafè building at 2 Keizersgracht Street has been hijacked by illegal occupants. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Former District Six Cafè building at 2 Keizersgracht Street has been hijacked by illegal occupants. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published May 28, 2024


Cape Town - The national Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) has been issued with fines over two hijacked problem buildings in Cape Town that it failed to take action over.

The City said it issued the fines concerning the buildings at 2 Hanover (Keizergracht) Street, District Six – formerly known to house the District Six Cafè, and 1 Jan Smuts Drive, Maitland.

Enormous red signage, which reads: “This building has been declared a problem building and is owned by national government,” were placed on to the two buildings.

The City said this was done to alert the public to the action taken following complaints received relating to drug and criminal activity.

The City’s Problem Building Unit carried out investigations and contravention notices were issued to the department, with an order to correct violations of the problem building by-law 2019.

The City said the department failed to act on the by-law violation notice first issued, which has now resulted in a formal problem building declaration for both these sites, with the fines issued.

Should the buildings not be restored, the City said it may approach the courts for their sale, or demolition.

The cases were logged and opened in 2013 and 2016, and the department informed of these complaints in the same year, the City said.

“The penalty takes the form of a tariff that has been instituted for non-compliance in accordance with the Tariff Policy.

“DPWI has been afforded enough time to remedy the transgressions but failed to.”

When the Cape Argus visited the District Six building on Monday, the large banner had been removed.

Several families were living inside the dilapidated building, which has anti-apartheid icons Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Cissie Gool, and Imam Haron muralised on its side wall.

Renita Orderson, 27, lives with her 5-year-old son in a room.

Her mother and sister, who had just given birth to twins, shared two separate rooms inside the building.

“We are suffering here. “There are a lot of things going on here at night time. Robberies, cops coming here beating us, abusing us. They don’t knock on the door properly, they just push the door open. We tell them that the people who rob here in front, they don’t stay here. They only use this corner.

“Some of them came from their homes and some of us have been living here for all our lives,” Orderson said.

The building is without electricity, while occupants on its three floors, each with five occupied rooms, have access to one water source.

“Sometimes we make a fire which is also dangerous but we do secure the fire,” Orderson said.

“We have a lot of problems. People jump through our windows.

“I’ve got nowhere to go.

“I don’t have a family member or anywhere. I was thinking, what am I going to do, myself and my 5-year-old, and my mom and my sister who just birthed twins now?

“So it’s kind of very stressful for all of us. There’s more people with babies, small toddlers. The building is full,” she said.

“Every time a social worker would come and threaten us, ‘they’ll take your child’. That is very stressful.”

At the Maitland site, around six people live inside the large roofless building on a vast field.

Abandoned building at 1 Jan Smuts Drive, Maitland. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Yesterday, the signage was still visible.

Scrap collector, Dune Jerome Joubert, 43, and Crystal Daniels, 35, along with their dog Chunky, have been living in a section of the building for more than eight years.

They said law enforcement was present on Friday to enquire about how many people lived on the site and to put up the banner.

“A few years ago, to tell you the truth, some other people were staying here who were doing wrong things.

“Guys come here from other places but I never used to allow it and up to now, I don’t allow just anyone to come in here. Apparently there are some people getting robbed here on the bridge,” Joubert said.

“Here we lost children, two of our kids were taken away and put in foster care. That time the one was eight months and the other was three years.”

The couple said they would not want to move to a shelter as it’s not a permanent and private place.

“We’ve been sleeping here for a very long time because my daughter was born here.

“She’s six years old and she’s not the first child who was born here.” Daniels said.

Officials from the department were present at the Maitland site on Monday.

The department was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of going to print.