Salt Ri­ver squat­ters sit tig­ht

Knysna-Plett Herald - - Voorblad - S­te­fan Goo­sen

T­his re­port is a­bout squat­ters and whi­le it is com­mon­pla­ce in South A­fri­ca, the sto­ry has ta­ken on a twist be­cau­se the­se pe­op­le are squat­ting in a very af­flu­ent suburb in Knys­na – and neig­hbou­ring ra­te­pay­ers are com­plai­ning bit­ter­ly.

W­hat has be­co­me kno­wn as the Salt Ri­ver Ro­ad (Old Ca­pe Ro­ad) squat­ter camp is a re­sult of pe­op­le li­ving il­le­gal­ly on land. Sin­ce the fi­res that de­stroy­ed their ho­mes, they ha­ve e­rected w­hat tho­se li­ving in the a­rea ha­ve cal­led “un­sig­ht­ly, ghas­t­ly” ma­ke-shift ac­com­mo­da­ti­on.

T­his now ren­ders the occu­pan­cy of the land il­le­gal sin­ce they do not own it and their ho­mes ha­ve burnt.

The is­sue star­ted a few weeks ago with a que­ry from a con­cer­ned re­si­dent and so-cal­led c­lo­se fa­mi­ly friend of the one fa­mi­lies li­ving the­re, high­lig­hting the fact they we­re li­ving the­re with no sa­ni­ta­ti­on or ba­sic ser­vi­ces.

A dwel­ler ex­plains

Ac­cor­ding to Lyn­da Gus­sen­ho­ven, she mo­ved to the a­rea from P­let­ten­berg Bay a­bout two y­e­ars ago due to spou­sal a­bu­se.

“I had no­w­he­re el­se to go. I tried wel­fa­re ser­vi­ces but they had no­w­he­re for me to stay.” So she en­ded up li­ving in a de­re­lict hou­se al­ong Salt Ri­ver w­he­re her tents and ca­ra­van are stan­ding now.

“It was very di­la­pi­da­ted with no win­dows or doors,” is how she des­cri­bes the pla­ce be­fo­re it burnt do­wn.

She says the a­rea had a re­pu­ta­ti­on at that ti­me due to se­ver­al “boys” li­ving the­re and u­sing d­rugs. “They we­re re­spon­si­ble for the hou­se being strip­ped of all its worth,” says Gus­sen­ho­ven, who claims she and her a­dop­ted daug­h­ter Le­bo­gang then tried to fix up the pla­ce “one wall at a ti­me”.

She claims that du­ring t­his ti­me she con­tacted the o­w­ners of the pro­per­ty ex­plai­ning she had no­w­he­re to go, and was gi­ven ver­bal per­mis­si­on to stay the­re.

And then the fi­res ca­me

The Ju­ne fi­res de­stroy­ed w­hat Gus­sen­ho­ven says she had built the­re, with no­w­he­re for her and her fa­mi­ly of three to go to.

Gus­sen­ho­ven and her daug­h­ter, grand­daug­h­ter and fi­an­cé now li­ve a­mong the ruins of the hou­se, in tents and a ca­ra­van, and ac­cor­ding to pe­op­le li­ving in the a­rea, t­his sett­le­ment of pe­op­le seems to grow by the day.

A des­pe­ra­te Gus­sen­ho­ven ex­plains the re­a­sons for staying put: “I ha­ve tried e­ver­y­thing – from con­tacting Ro­ta­ry, to set­ting up a bu­si­ness pro­po­sal for the o­w­ners of the pro­per­ty which would al­low me to stay he­re and ge­ne­ra­te in­co­me for them and my fa­mi­ly, to going to the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty,” she says.

The Knys­na mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty did of­fer to mo­ve her to Ou­de­val­lei, “but it’s not sa­fe the­re for my gi­rls and the­re is no e­lec­tri­ci­ty or wa­ter either,” she says.

No per­mis­si­on from lan­do­w­ner

Alt­hough Gus­sen­ho­ven in­ti­ma­ted, w­hen spea­king to Knys­na-P­lett He­rald (KPH), that the lan­do­w­ners we­re o­pen to her bu­si­ness pro­po­sal, the di­rec­tor for o­w­ner Vi­sigro Pro­per­ty De­ve­lop­ment, John S­ter­gi­a­nos, says no­bo­dy has e­ver been gi­ven per­mis­si­on to li­ve on the pro­per­ty, nor ha­ve they gi­ven a­nyo­ne per­mis­si­on to o­pe­ra­te a bu­si­ness from the pre­mi­ses, “which would be il­le­gal as per­mis­si­on must first be obtai­ned from lo­cal aut­ho­ri­ty,” he adds.

“Yes, she did say she had a bu­si­ness pro­po­sal, ho­we­ver, we are not in a po­si­ti­on to en­ter­tain t­his, which I com­mu­ni­ca­ted to her. I ha­ve no i­dea w­hat t­his bu­si­ness pro­po­sal is as I did not dis­cuss it with her.

“Mi­cha­el Wur­bach, our re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve, has con­fir­med that he has ne­ver spo­ken to Gus­sen­ho­ven,” he says.

Ho­mes now unsa­fe to li­ve in

W­hen as­ked a­bout e­victi­on pro­cee­dings, S­ter­gi­a­nos first ma­de it cle­ar that the hou­ses that the­se pe­op­le li­ve in ha­ve be­co­me unsa­fe af­ter the fi­res. “We ha­ve had them in­spected by a struc­tu­ral en­gi­neer who sub­mit­ted his re­port to the buil­ding de­part­ment of the Knys­na mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty. The de­part­ment has sub­se­quent­ly is­su­ed a de­mo­li­ti­on or­der.

“We are a­wai­ting the ap­pro­val of He­ri­ta­ge We­stern Ca­pe, upon which the­se unsa­fe buil­dings will be de­mo­lis­hed,” ex­plains Wur­bach.

E­victi­on on the cards

Wur­bach says e­victi­on is a se­pa­ra­te pro­cess and, if ne­ces­sa­ry, an e­victi­on or­der will be obtai­ned. “Ho­we­ver, our first pri­o­ri­ty is to de­mo­lish unsa­fe struc­tu­res be­fo­re so­meo­ne suf­fers an in­ju­ry or so­mething wor­se. W­hen as­ked w­hat the plans for the­se “squat­ters” are, S­ter­gi­a­nos says, “Un­for­tu­na­te­ly the­se ho­me­less pe­op­le need to be ta­ken in by shel­ters for the ho­me­less. It is a com­mu­ni­ty and go­vern­men­tal is­sue and not a pri­va­te lan­do­w­ner is­sue.”

He says that de­ve­lop­ment on the pro­per­ty will start within one to two y­e­ars from de­mo­li­ti­on. The pre­si­dent of a wel­fa­re or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on ap­pro­a­ched to find out if they can help Gus­sen­ho­ven, says they can­not do so as the squat­ters do not ha­ve the ne­ces­sa­ry per­mis­si­on to stay on the pro­per­ty and ha­ve any shel­ter e­rected.

“For t­his re­a­son we ha­ve de­cli­ned Lyn­da’s re­quest. S­hould she be a­ble to find a­not­her lo­ca­ti­on and se­cu­re the re­qui­red per­mis­si­on, we will re­con­si­der her ap­pli­ca­ti­on, pro­vi­ded that t­his hap­pens in the fo­re­see­a­ble fu­tu­re,” he says.

Neig­hbours ha­ve their say

C­hick Ram­say, one of the foun­ders of the Si­mo­la Hil­l­climb, who li­ves al­ong Salt Ri­ver Ro­ad, says the squat­ters ap­pear to be mul­ti­plying and des­cri­bes the si­tu­a­ti­on as an “ab­so­lu­te dis­gra­ce”.

Pam Gol­ding Knys­na o­w­ner Ling Dob­son says she is “ex­tre­me­ly di­sap­poin­ted” that the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty is not cle­a­ring the­se si­tes. “Both the rig­ht and left si­des are look­ing pro­gres­si­ve­ly wor­se as ti­me g­oes by. The­se squat­ters we­re te­nants and the­re­fo­re do not ha­ve the rig­ht to stay in tents, ca­ra­vans and w­ha­te­ver squat­ters do,” she says.

She adds that the­re are so­me well-es­ta­blis­hed e­sta­tes as well as the Si­mo­la Golf & Coun­try E­sta­te al­ong the ro­ad who all con­tri­bu­te he­a­vi­ly to­wards ra­tes and taxes of t­his town. “S­hould they now wit­hhold paying ra­tes and taxes? W­hat kind of im­pact will t­his ha­ve on tou­ris­ts and po­ten­ti­al ho­me buy­ers?

“I ha­ve re­pe­a­ted­ly as­ked the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty to at­tend to t­his and no­thing to da­te has been do­ne. Su­re­ly it is the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty’s re­spon­si­bi­li­ty to con­tact the cur­rent o­w­ner to ma­ke su­re the­se va­grants are re­mo­ved?”

Mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty’s ‘hands tied’

Whi­le Gus­sen­ho­ven al­le­ges that law en­for­ce­ment of­fi­ci­als ar­ri­ved on 22 Sep­tem­ber to gi­ve her a no­ti­ce of e­victi­on and that Ward 10 coun­sel­lor Pe­ter My­ers’ na­me was on the or­der, t­his has been dis­pu­ted.

Ac­cor­ding to the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty, they ha­ve no ju­ris­dicti­on o­ver pri­va­te land, thus the o­nus is on the pro­per­ty o­w­ner to re­mo­ve pe­op­le, and whi­le My­ers has re­cei­ved com­plaints, the­re is no­thing the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty can le­gal­ly do.

Mu­ni­ci­pal ma­na­ger Kam C­het­ty con­firms that a law en­for­ce­ment te­am had con­ducted a si­te vi­sit and in­specti­on, and the pe­op­le li­ving the­re we­re of­fe­red an al­ter­na­ti­ve pla­ce to li­ve, but they re­fu­sed to mo­ve. A let­ter to KPH, writ­ten on be­half of one of the squat­ters, sta­tes qui­te cle­ar­ly that they do not con­si­der it sa­fe to li­ve in a towns­hip.

To da­te, Gus­sen­ho­ven and her fa­mi­ly are still squat­ting on the ed­ge of Salt Ri­ver. Sa­ni­ta­ti­on re­mains an is­sue for them and for the neig­hbours their pre­sen­ce re­mains an “un­sig­ht­ly dis­gra­ce”, but until the o­w­ners of the pro­per­ty e­vict the­se fa­mi­lies, t­his si­tu­a­ti­on will see­mingly re­main un­chan­ged.

P­ho­tos: S­te­fan Goo­sen

The ruins of the hou­se Lyn­da Gus­sen­ho­ven and her fa­mi­ly li­ved in, be­fo­re the Ju­ne fi­res com­ple­te­ly de­stroy­ed it. She ad­mits she has been squat­ting he­re for the past two y­e­ars.

Lyn­da Gus­sen­ho­ven, her grand­daug­h­ter Re­bec­ca Rats­he­fo­la and Gus­sen­ho­ven’s fi­an­cé Lou­is Jan­sen with their pets. They ha­ve no ot­her pla­ce to go, says Gus­sen­ho­ven.

T­his is the ca­ra­van Lyn­da Gus­sen­ho­ven’s daug­h­ter and grand­daug­h­ter use as a shared room.

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