Women’s forum left out in the cold

The community members protested outside the ward councillors office.

Members of the Hanover Park Women’s Forum say they have nowhere to go after they were evicted from the Hanover Park community centre and civic centre last week.

Forum chairperson Muriel George, said the groups based at the centre were given a day’s notice to vacate the premises and claims they were evicted by a City of Cape Town official on Friday June 30, who told them to be out on the same day.

JP Smith, the City’s Mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, however, said they had been informed about the decision to regularise the use of community facilities in the area on Tuesday June 27, and that they had been informed that they had 30 days to vacate the premises.

But Ms George said the City later told them, on Thursday July 6, that the group could occupy the premises again – but only until the end of the month.

“We still don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

Ms George said that for the past nine years, 15 organisations registered under the forum had occupied both premises and were rendering vital services such as employment, life skills training, youth diversion, crime prevention, women support groups, the neighbourhood watch and other community development services.

Mr Smith said the City of Cape Town’s Recreation and Parks Department’s new area manager had initiated a process to regularise the use of community facilities in the area.

“This includes a number of recreation centres in Hanover Park as well as in Manenberg and Athlone.

“The reason for the process is that many organisations have been occupying space without a formal agreement being in place.

“Ignoring the lack of agreements would be in contravention of the Municipal Asset Transfer Regulations put in place by National Government.”

The City will thereafter offer registered NGOs and accredited organisations the opportunity to submit business plans and proposals should they wish to be based at a Council-owned facility, aligned to the City’s recreational policy framework and Integrated Development Plan objectives.

“Each proposal will be measured by the City’s sustainability criteria for partnerships and recreational programmes. Agreements will be entered into with successful organisations to which the City’s conditions for usage will be defined,” he explained.

Mr Smith said it was important to emphasise that the request to vacate the space did not stop these users from booking the space for recreational programmes.

“In many cases, the space occupied by these organisations is in need of urgent attention in terms of repairs and maintenance. Some of this repair work cannot take place while the spaces are occupied. Issues include, ceilings which are collapsed and or waterlogged, lack of water proofing in walls, broken toilets,” he said.

Ms George, however, said that they hadn’t been given enough time to find new premises.

“We strongly believe that this illegal eviction is linked to an earlier incident whereby the councillor found out about recruitment that was done by Hanover Park Women’s Forum for the City’s safety and security department. He told us that nothing is done without his approval.

“Section 151 of the Municipal Systems Act states that municipalities must not only allow, but actually encourage, community involvement in local government but our councillor is a gatekeeper.

“He has made it impossible for the community to participate in issues that directly affect them.”

She also said she was appalled by the behaviour of ward councillor Antonio Van De Rheede who according to her is “doing nothing” to help them.

She added that the councillor had started his own women’s forum in the area knowing that there was already one.

“I don’t understand why he has to fight us on everything. He doesn’t attend meetings or events that we host. He does these things to compete with us and it is resulting in the women fighting with each other here.”

She said that the seniors who had used the premises for the past 30 years were stranded when they were told to vacate the premises as well.

Given the recent violence in Hanover Park they were out outside the community centre, a safe space, vulnerable, cold and locked out of their weekly gatherings.

“Is this what the constitution and democracy is all about, where our elderly are victimised and left outside in the cold, in possible cross fire of rival gangs?”

Asked to respond to Ms George’s claims, Mr Van der Rheede said: “It is unfortunate that the Hanover Park Women’s Forum has chosen to take a process that’s affecting many different organisations to create the impression that they are being targeted.

“I reject the allegations made against me and call on the forum to follow proper channels to raise concerns about my conduct.”

He said that as ward councillor, he had no power or influence over the process.

“The regularisation of community facilities will be to the benefit of the thousands of residents in my ward and will also level the playing fields for the many organisations that have contacted me, seeking answers about why certain organisations have access to the facilities at the exclusion of others.

“We need to fully unlock the potential of these City facilities that have been established for the community and should be open for mass-based participation.”