WATCH | Abandoned Cape Town hospital still occupied by 'invaders'

29 November 2019 - 14:50 By Reuters

About 1,400 people have been living in the abandoned Woodstock hospital in Cape Town since 2017. The city has conducted a feasibility study on the property to possibly earmark it for future social housing.

Bevil Lucas never imagined that his doctor's old Cape Town office would one day be his bedroom.

Now the 57-year-old activist is one of about 1,400 people occupying a disused hospital and an abandoned nurses' home in protest against the rising rents they say have forced many from their homes in the top tourist destination city.

The occupiers — made up of evicted families, homeless people and refugees seeking shelter — started protesting after the 2017 confirmation of sale to a private developer of a 1.6ha piece of idle land in the affluent Sea Point suburb.

The occupiers believe this land should have been earmarked for much-needed social housing instead.

Local housing rights group Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) and workers' movement Reclaim the City (RTC), which initiated the occupation in 2017, are due to challenge the city's and Western Cape province's decision to sell the land in the Cape Town high court this week.

“We are in a city where the city lays claim to be a world class city, yet in this world class city, those who make the city and contribute to the making of the city are always displaced then to the periphery of the city of Cape Town. And that for us is something that we are opposed to, that is something we believe can be undone and should be undone,” said housing activist Lucas, who started working with RTC in 2017.

Malusi Booi, the city's mayoral committee member for human settlements, told Reuters the city had conducted a feasibility study on the Woodstock Hospital to earmark it for future social housing.

“I sympathise with everybody who is vulnerable, who has no accommodation or a place to live. But I cannot allow anarchy to exist. It will be incorrect for us to allow anarchy. Can you imagine if people were now to invade your house primarily because they are saying they don't have a place to stay. It's wrong. People must follow due process,” Booi said.

There are 300,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Cape Town, he said, adding that he could not “prioritise invaders”.