Thembokwezi youth occupy vacant flats

Azania Square spokesperson, Xolani Jack, talks to Vukani about their intention of occupying the flats.

A group of young people from Thembokwezi have occupied vacant flats which are owned by Old Mutual and were previously used as offices by the social movement Equal Education before it moved to Isivivana centre in 2016.

The young people, who told Vukani they moved in on June 16, have renamed the flats as Azania Square and have vowed not to move. They said they decided to occupy the building because, as backyarders, their pleas for houses were repeatedly ignored. They argued that most of the occupants of the flats were unemployed young people who had been living in backyards for years and were frustrated.

Azania Square spokesperson, Xolani Jack, said there were 19 young people who had occupied the flats and two bungalows.

He said the harsh reality was that there was no housing development for people of Tembokwezi. He said when the flats were built nearly two decades ago, the intention had been for the residents to rent them with the option of eventually buying them.

However, he said, the rent was too high and people could not afford them so Old Mutual opted to rent them out to EE.

He said according to his understanding Old Mutual had wanted to buy City-owned land in the area on which they planned to build a mall. But, he said, the City proposed that Old Mutual should instead build 500 low houses for the residents in exchange for the land.

These flats, he said, were a sample but then people could not afford the rent and rejected these flats.

He said when these flats were built it was made clear that backyarders would get first preference as the land was meant for a housing development. Mr Jack said they also discovered that there were two brothers -Zwai Mwahla and Kholekile Mwahla-who claimed that they were leaders of Thembokwezi Residents’ Association (TRA) and had been against the move to occupy the flats. “These flats were suppose to be given to us. When we occupied these we did it peacefully and never broke anything. We want houses just like other communities.”

He added that they were frustrated that while development was happening in other communities, nothing was happening in theirs.

“When we occupied the flats police came to arrest us but found us sitting with no one breaking anything. We are not violent,” he said. Mr Jack said when they moved into the flats toilets were not working including electricity.

He said they then decided to put money together to fix them and other things.

However, Kholekile Mwahla said he was not even aware that there were people living in the flats and refuted the claims that there were two chairpersons of TRA.

Old Mutual Investment Group’s media manager, Jenna Wilson, said Thembokwezi is a property in Cape Town wholly owned by Old Mutual Life Assurance Company South Africa Limited (OMLACSA) and managed by Old Mutual Alternative Investments’ Development Impact Fund.

She said Old Mutual was committed to building houses on the site and had an obligation to develop the site for this purpose, however, over time the community had expressed that they would prefer alternative uses for the site.

For a number of years, she said, Old Mutual had been engaging with the City of Cape Town and the local community to bring the Thembokwezi development to fruition and would like all parties involved to reach an agreement.

Ms Wilson said after a long period of consultation with the local community groups and representatives of the City of Cape Town, they now had an approved development layout which accommodates the community’s requests for a commercial centre and the City’s requirement for a housing development. She said a total of 289 housing units would be built and accommodation had been made for other amenities such as a church/crèche, a school and public open space.

“The site was illegally occupied on Saturday June 16 when a group of individuals overwhelmed the private security guard on duty and took illegal occupation of certain existing units that were originally constructed as demos as part of the project that was to commence on the property. Old Mutual is engaging with the Sheriff for further assistance,” she said.