‘Homeless’ residents occupy Witherow land


Disgruntled Heidedal residents say they have had enough of local leaders not taking them seriously with regards to their plight of needing land. A group of about ten residents were this morning preparing the private land around the Witherow Dam Development for occupation by removing weeds and allocating illegal sites for those interested in forming a new informal settlement on the land. Speaking to Voice, 30-year-old Daniel Wessenaar, one of the more vocal residents also building on the private land, said that he lives at a house nearby with about 14 other adults and about 16 children on the same property. “We have for years been running from one office to another, placing our names on every database they bring us for homeless people and many years later, here I am –  still without land,” Wessenaar said.

Another resident in Heidedal, who was also among those preparing the land they intend to occupy, was 53-year-old, Maria Herrendorfer, who said that they have been talking to councillors for years, many of whom are nonchalant to the cries of the destitute and landless because they live comfortable lives and are shielded from  poverty. “Councillor John de Bruyn was here yesterday during a meeting they had with us and told us that if there was a hundred of us, we would be able to have the land and begin occupying it as informal settlers,” Herrendorfer said. When asked how they would live without water and electricity in the settlement, Herrendorfer said this was a struggle she has become accustomed to and as long as she had land, she would be able to cope without electricity. She further said that finding water would be an easier task as she had plumbing experience and she would source water from a main water pipe, not too far from where she had begun cutting land. The Democratic Alliance’s ward councillor, De Bruyn, who was also at the scene in an effort to talk the residents out of erecting their shacks there, denied that he had said to residents if they were 100, they could begin building. He instead said he told them they would not be able to build anything there as it was private land. “According to laws and legislature, if residents want to take an illegal place, they must be more than 100. But when I looked at them yesterday, they were less than 100 and I told them that because of their number, they cannot go ahead with this,” de Bruyn said. He further said that the law he mentioned does not apply to private land but only open  municipal spaces. “There is no open municipal land here in Heidedal where we can move them here, so if they want us to help them as the councillors, they must ask us to liaise with the municipality, which will tell us where the alternative open spaces are, where they can go live,” he said.

De Bruyn also confirmed that it was true that the ward councillors have on occasion taken the names of those who need homes. Both Wessenaar and Herrendorfer expressed their disappointment in the fact that De Bruyn is a  ward councillor, yet he is still to conduct a door-to-door campaign, assessing the need for housing in the community. Responding to these sentiments, De Bruyn said he that he cannot be blamed for not doing those campaigns because he is not an official from Human Settlements, nor is he in any Housing Committee.

As Voice left the area, it was evident that tension was high and matters could escalate, as both police, traffic law enforcement officials as well as Witherow Dam’s private security were on the scene. De Bruyn stated that until one shack is erected, neither police nor the municipality can act against those earmarking the sites for their new homes.