1500 left out in the icy cold

07 July 2011 - 03:13 By CHARL DU PLESSIS
Security guards keep an eye on evicted tenants removing their belongings yesterday from Senator Park, the Cape Town inner-city building notorious for prostitution and drugs Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Security guards keep an eye on evicted tenants removing their belongings yesterday from Senator Park, the Cape Town inner-city building notorious for prostitution and drugs Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

With temperatures dropping below zero last night, about 1500 residents of a building in the Johannesburg inner city were left to fend for themselves on the sidewalk - even though many of them had paid their rent.

The building, in Salisbury Street, was apparently declared unsafe by the city's building inspectors three months ago. Metro police began evicting the residents at around 10am yesterday.

By late last night, an empty lot across the road resembled a small refugee camp.

A blind mother, sitting among her scant possessions with a blanket wrapped around her, was breast-feeding a two-month-old baby. Nearby, a man lay on his mattress, staring at a streetlight. A jumble of blankets, speakers, mattresses, furniture and bags full of clothing were scattered among the litter and rubble.

Even though they are on the street with nowhere to go, they can count themselves relatively lucky. Ntombi Mabuse, 22, an immigrant from Malawi, was not so lucky: she has lost everything.

"My luggage is gone. My TV is gone. My microwave is gone. Everything is gone," said Mabuse.

After being told by metro police officers that they would "shut down this building for good", Mabuse said she left everything she owned in the lobby, where the manager told her guards would keep an eye on her and her husband's property.

Mabuse, who has paid her rent in full for the month, said she got a call from another resident saying "metro police say thugs were coming and [that they were] breaking in [and] stealing the stuff".

Among Mabuse's stolen possessions were her and her husband's passports.

"I don't even know what we're going to do," she said. "If you've got money, you're not going to live in a place like this. But because we're poor, we are have to."

She said the building manager told residents the problem would be "sorted out" by this morning. "He said he had to catch a flight, but he hasn't been seen since."

Social Economic Rights Institute lawyers will today bring an urgent high court application to allow residents to remain in the building until alternative accommodation can be found for them.

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