Helpless and scared.
That’s how families living in Winklespruit Caravan Park feel as they anxiously wait to be forcibly removed from their homes which will be smashed down by bulldozers.
The 13 families include 24 adults and eight children, the youngest of whom is only eight-months-old, and six pensioners. Some have been living there for 15 years.
They have nowhere to go after being told to move out by the new owner who wants to develop the land, although they have yet to be served eviction notices. The only documentation they said they have seen are municipal notices tacked on the recreation hall’s walls.
On 10 February 2015 they were informed by Absa Bank the land was going to be sold.
“Some families were given a time period to move out, but we were told we were safe,” said the residents’ ‘caretaker’, Dalene Crawford.
In the last year various organisations have come forward to say they have tried to help the residents relocate, but their assistance was refused.
Joey van Staden, Adele van der Berg, Chantell Roux and Charmaine Sanic were involved in helping the residents on behalf of LegalTalk SA (LTSA), but they have now pulled out of the project, as they said the residents were ungrateful.
“There were also people from the South African Family Relief Project who tried to help the residents,” said Joey.
“Together with Ray Greenburg, we tried our utmost to get them a place where they could start over. Nothing was good enough for them.
There were children on the grounds who were supposed to be at school, but they never went.
One of the volunteers tried her utmost to assist the children, but everything she bought they lost or threw away. Some of the volunteers bought the children shoes and stationery out of their own pockets and a children’s party was also held at the grounds, paid for by the volunteers,” said Joey.
Adele was a volunteer with the South African Family Relief Project who was asked to assist the residents.
“From the beginning I noticed conditions were extremely poor and residents lived on donations received from people and organisations. Very few of them were employed and their employment ranged from car guards to cashiers,” she said.
“The condition of the children on the property was such that I approached Operation Bobbi Bear for assistance, but was informed that children cannot be removed from their parents due to the parents being ‘poor’, only when they are being neglected and/or mistreated.
Numerous times, I made donations towards the residents in the form of vegetables and cleaning products out of my own pocket.
In August 2015 LTSA approach me to assist the residents to relocate due to an eviction notice being issued. I assisted LTSA to the best of my ability and got even more involved with the residents in order to assist them.
Money which amounted to R500 per family was collected to be paid towards the electricity and water accounts that were in arrears. The residents were all issued with receipts which they signed for. These monies were paid to the accounts for which proof was kept as well.
In October 2015 I was asked to step down and remove myself from any involvement with LTSA, as some of the residents put in a complaint against me.
The next month I was informed the residents were all up in arms over the property that was found to relocate them to, as it was not close to any town. I went and viewed the property myself, which was situated about five kilometres from Craigieburn. The property was bare, but it had an electricity box for connections installed.
I could, however, not see any water supplies. There were quite a few residents in the area who said the area was quiet and they enjoyed living there.
The residents refused to be relocated to this area, as they said they were being dumped in the bush and left with no roof over their heads,” said Adele.
In their defense the residents feel they have been exploited and tainted by these allocations and they have received threats from the people who were supposed to help them. “We did receive lots of donations, which included food. We have been portrayed as being ungrateful, which is not the case,” said Dalene.
“Everyone who was supposed to help us has pulled out. Some people took money from us to pay for electricity and water, but not all of it was paid in.
We never said we don’t want to relocate to the Craigieburn property, but most of the residents work in Winklespruit and all the park’s children go to school, so how would we cope with no transport?”
Another rumour Dalene refuted was that residents didn’t want to move because they would not be allowed to keep their animals. “Only one resident queried whether she could take her animals with, which was refused.
We are like a small community who help each other, that’s how we survive. We are ordinary people living ordinary lives with respect for ourselves. We are not ‘white scum’ or ‘trailer trash’ like some people have branded us.
We are like a small community who help each other, that’s how we survive.
We hope someone with a piece of land will step forward to help us. We all pay rent and we don’t expect to stay for free. We are living day to day, but we are all stressed, including the children, and none of us can sleep for fear of the bulldozers coming.
We understand the developer bought the land to make money, but they can’t just throw us out.
We are trying our best to survive. We need help urgently to be relocated. Hopefully someone can help us.”
Ward 97 councillor, Andre Beetge, who has been instrumental in trying to find alternative accommodation for the caravan park residents, said: “While legislation seeks to accommodate the rights of all, there are always two sides to every story and one has to guard against emotions clouding better judgement.
Although the new owner has engaged a drawn-out process to ensure all the necessary steps and procedures were followed to secure vacant land – thus enabling development that will undoubtedly be in the better interest of the larger community – the reality remains that the majority of those who are expected to relocate possibly don’t have the means to survive outside the sanctuary of the park.
There is neither a quick fix solution nor can we act outside the parameters of the law. As such our efforts have remained unsuccessful, taking into account that they have to align with certain expectations such as legal occupation, infrastructure and sanitation, transport, proximity to employment and retail, including specifics regarding an array of pets.
“Irrespective of the situation, deadlines or previous disappointments, I remain confident that our efforts will be rewarded and a new sanctuary found where they may continue their lives,” said Cllr Beetge.
(Please note: Comments posted on this issue may be used for publication in the Sun)