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Friday Jun 08, 2012

Pretoria: Squatters to live among rich

Group of informal dwellers living in a shanty town in Moreleta Park, informally known as Plastic View, has won the right not to only stay - but to build houses in one of the city's most affluent areas.

Squatters in Moreleta Park have been given the nod to build homes in one of the most affluent areas of the city, seen in the background.

When the housing project gets off the ground, those who qualify will live on the doorstep of, among others, Woodhill Golf Estate and college, Mooikloof Estate and Woodlands Boulevard.

This community of 856 households is now living on the land earmarked for housing and set adjacent to the NG Church Moreleta Park, close to the Pretoria East Hospital and Park View Shopping Centre.

The squatters' fate had been hanging in the balance since 2006, when police burnt down their dwellings and they turned to court for help. The court, over the years and following numerous orders, instructed the council to make a plan for these people.

The home owners put pressure on the council to move them.

But in a turn of events this week, following negotiations between the Meadow Glen, Meadow Ridge, Moreleta Park Extension 44, Mooikloof, and Woodhill home owners' associations and the council, it was agreed the council would establish a township in the demarcated area (Plastic View) with serviced residential erven by no later than November next year. But it was made clear in the agreement, made an order of court by Acting Judge Piet van der Byl, that only those dwellers who qualify for social housing assistance, will be allocated land. In terms of the agreement "qualified person" meant any occupier of the demarcated area as at June 4 this year, who is a South African citizen or has a valid residence permit, allowing them to permanently reside in the country. This will include lawful refugees who qualified for the allocation of housing in terms of the council's housing development policy.

The council undertook to, within two months, approach the court to evict the remainder of Plastic View's residents who do not qualify for housing and who were thus illegally in the demarcated area. The council had to see to it that their structures were demolished.

Should the council fail to establish the township by November next year, home owners could approach the court to force the council to evict the remaining residents - whether they qualify for housing or not.

Lawyers for Human Rights has over the years assisted these residents to get a solution to their housing problems. When the police in March 2006 burnt down their shacks, adults, children and old people were left without shelter.

Their plight even made a turn in the Appeal Court, which ordered the council had to ensure they had basic shelter. It was agreed that they move to a camp with access control, water and basic sanitation, where they have been since 2008.

Residential estates in the area had put pressure on the council to find a permanent solution and to evict the squatters. But common ground was found this week, when by agreement it was decided that formal low cost housing for those who qualified, was the solution.

This move was hailed by Jacob van Garderen of LHR, as a huge victory for the poor. "It is a welcome break from the status quo where the city insisted on moving them to far off areas, causing them to lose their jobs as a result," he said.

LHR lawyer Louise du Plessis said it is the first time that the government's integrated suburb policy is being implemented in Pretoria.

She said it will, however, be a long process and it is not yet clear who will be evicted or what the housing development will entail.

Du Plessis said they will keep a close eye on the eviction process to be followed by the council.

Collin and Denise Dredge who run the non-profit organisation Tswelopele assisting the poor, have been with this group since 2006, when they first went to court to try and find shelter for them. They also run Plastic View, or Woodlane Village - as it is officially called.

In response to this week's agreement, the couple said they and the residents are positive about the developments. "We are not sure about the specifics yet, but we hope it would be better than RDP housing. We have informed the leaders that not everyone is being promised a house," said Collin.

"Poverty and homelessness won't go away. A development like this enhances safety for the residents in the area," Denise said.

Pretoria News

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