Tenants in a city block in Wynberg are packed into dark, filthy rooms with a trickle of water, poor sanitation and dubious electricity fittings.
And they are paying rent to be there.
Some of them say it is better than living on the streets.
Councillor Liz Brunette invited the Bulletin to an inspection – held by police and law enforcement officers, City officials and the Wynberg Improvement District (WID) – of the properties bounded by Main, Ebor and York roads on Friday November 9.
Municipal arrears for the properties had run into millions of rand, said Ms Brunette.
Seamstress Susan Molungoy, who shares business space with a hairdresser in a shop on Main Road, across from Hollywood Bets, says her sister and child are staying there for a few days.
They live in one of two rooms at the back of the shop. One has been fitted with a bunk bed, the other has a double mattress on the floor.
Water trickles into a broken basin surrounded by filthy walls and floors.
Ms Molungoy says her sister pays R1 900 rent and was kicked out of a block of flats further along the road.
“We have no choice; it’s better than them sleeping on the streets,” says Ms Molungoy.
Next door, another shop is divided into an electronic repair business, a hairdresser and a mattress seller.
At the rear of the building, a bundle of electrical wires hangs from a wall. A dark, treacherous stairway leads upstairs to cramped airless rooms.
A young woman with a three-month-old baby peeps from a doorway and says her husband is at work.
Next door, Victor Jeke says he shares the room with others. He came to South Africa from Malawi in search of “green pastures” and to support his family.
Police check his papers. He is here legally. He shows a receipt for R1 900 rental paid each month to someone who only signs “Edmond”.
Wynberg police spokeswoman Captain Ntombi Lindipasi says the inspection was done because the buildings are to be confiscated by the City of Cape Town, as they are not fit for human occupation.
She says the owners have abandoned the buildings and yet the people – many of them foreign nationals in the country illegally – are still paying rent to unknown persons.
“The police have also investigated cases of theft of copper cables, water and other illegal dealings,” says Captain Lindipasi.
Around the corner, in Ebor Road, a lane leads to a large, dark, wet, grimy space beneath a partly demolished building which was once Uli Heydt Butchery.
WID’s Athol Swanson says the lane is City owned and used for refuse removal and access to buildings on Main Road.
Mr Swanson says some of the properties have been registered as problem buildings for many years and landlords take advantage of the tenants because many are in the country illegally.
To the left of the lane is what resembles a cell, complete with barred door, where two women live.
With shafts of light and dripping water from holes in the roof, tiled walls are covered with graffiti and grime. Three men are searched by police who have found a knife under a double mattress.
“We pay R200 a month rent to Lovemore who says he is the garden boy,” says one.
In an adjoining room with a mattress on the floor, a woman says she does not stay there; she is visiting.
On the corner of Ebor Road is a vehicle-repair shop. In one corner is a partitioned space with speakers, tables and yellow chairs. On the wall is a liquor licence, which is a fake, according to law enforcement officer Ntombizanele Dyaityi .
The building is under management of Jonathan Katz, the executor of the deceased owner’s estate.
Mr Katz told the Bulletin he was aware of the application for a liquor licence but did not know about the fake licence and did not approve it.
He said he had applied about six months ago to develop the building into a block of flats for which he had received approval from most of the neighbours.
But Rob Boyd, co-owner of R James Hardware, three blocks from Ebor Road, believes
Mr Katz’s proposed development will bring even more people into an already strained infrastructure.
“Wynberg is buckling under the weight of all the recent high-density developments in and around the Main Road area, and Mr Katz’s development will just add to that problem,” he said.
Around the corner, also in Ebor Road, is the façade of the Christ Saved Ministry Organisation Church. Inside, the cavernous dark, wet, building is divided into flats; most are locked. The slippery floor is divided by a grated channel in which grey water flows.
In a corner a broken door leads to a shared kitchen cubicle. Two rickety staircases, one with a scooter beneath it, lead to flats above.
Executive director of the City’s safety and security directorate, Richard Bosman, confirmed that 8 and 10 Ebor Road are on the list of problem buildings.
“The buildings are derelict and have been vandalised. The Problem Buildings Unit will charge the owners R5 000 a month once the property is declared a problem building. If the owners fail to comply with the notices issued, they will be taken to the municipal court for prosecution,” he said.