Allegations of violence at Helen Bowden Nurses Home

Residents of the occupation report that their lives are safer, but domestic violence does occur

Photo of Helen Bowden Nurses Home

Reclaim the City has been accused of not doing enough to deal with violence in the occupation of Helen Bowden. GroundUp’s investigation shows that, in fact, Reclaim the City has taken allegations of violence seriously. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

By GroundUp Staff

29 August 2018

Series on Reclaim the City’s occupations

  1. Two occupations are shifting the housing debate - 29 Aug 2018
  2. How the occupations happened - 27 Mar 2017
  3. Helen Bowden’s dodgy security contract - 13 Apr 2018
  4. Room with a view: living in Helen Bowden - 26 Jul 2018
  5. Life in Woodstock Hospital - 31 Jul 2018
  6. Allegations of violence at Helen Bowden - 29 Aug 2018
  7. Dirty tricks: the battle to control the occupations - 29 Aug 2018
  8. Editorial: Our view on the occupations - 29 Aug 2018

GroundUp received allegations of violence at Helen Bowden Nursing Home provided by three people in the form of affidavits. They blamed Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City for not doing enough to protect them. We investigated the allegations.

Raped by ex-boyfriend

Fatima (name changed), 35, was a resident in room 464 of Helen Bowden. She moved there in February after she was evicted from her previous home in Gugulethu. Fatima is unemployed. She states in her affidavit that she was “subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse” by her ex-boyfriend.

Fatima said she texted a plea for help to an Ndifuna Ukwazi staff member on 29 July and explained her situation. But she says she was never helped or referred to someone who could help. She says the only response was: “Are you ok there”.

Her affidavit states that Sheila Madikane, one of the leaders of the Helen Bowden occupation, was “influencing” her ex-boyfriend to be violent towards her. The affidavit also states that her ex-boyfriend was holding her hostage and “sleeping with me forcefully”.

Madikane, who is a domestic worker in Sea Point, denies this. She is one of 24 people elected as Reclaim the City’s leaders in August 2018. She has been influential in the organisation since it started. Madikane says the leaders of Helen Bowden tried to intervene. They told Fatima’s partner there was a court interdict against him, and he could no longer stay at Helen Bowden. But, she says, “They went to court and came back holding hands like nothing happened.”

Fatima says she reported the abuse to the police. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested, but, she says, this caused her to endure more abuse from one of the Reclaim the City leaders. She describes being punched three times by a resident. “I fell against the wall and became unconscious,” she wrote.

GroundUp has learnt that the assailant, who is not a Reclaim the City leader, has since been arrested and imprisoned, but we do not know what he has been charged with.

Reclaim the City responded that it became aware of Fatima’s situation when she raised it at a co-ordinating committee meeting in July. “At this point we did not do enough. We expected the police to remove him from the building, like they would do anywhere else.”

Reclaim the City says it only became aware that Fatima had been raped when a woman who lives in Sea Point named Lucy Graham organised for Fatima’s affidavit to be published online on 9 August and sent it to the newspapers. Fatima’s claims, along with her full name, appeared on a Facebook page called NGOwatch.

“We realised that we could have done much better,” wrote Reclaim the City, but “we don’t think publishing an abused women’s story online and in the news is the best way to help her.”

Fatima says she had not given permission for her story to be published on NGOwatch. She says she had only contacted Graham because she had heard she was connected to the NGOWatch page to tell her side of the story. Graham disputes this, saying that Fatima asked her to send the statement to media outlets and get it into the public domain.

Graham helps a group called Umhlaba Wethu which is also campaigning for affordable housing in Sea Point. There is acrimony between Graham and Reclaim the City, which we explain in more detail here.

Fatima claims she has been used as a pawn in the “fight for power over that occupation”.

She says Reclaim the City had offered her a room at the Woodstock Hospital but she didn’t feel safe there because the Helen Bowden residents can access the hospital. She says she had hoped to be provided with an alternative place but Reclaim the City says they do not have anything else to offer. At the time of writing, she had moved back in with her ex-boyfriend at Helen Bowden .

Reclaim the City says it will support any police investigation into the violence against Fatima. “None of our leaders feel equipped to investigate incidents of gender based violence and we need help from professionals how to do this appropriately,” the organisation told GroundUp. “We don’t want to get it wrong and make Fatima’s trauma worse.”

Alcohol-fuelled fight

Sivuyile Magele, 25, stayed at Helen Bowden for almost six months. He says that he was beaten almost to death by a mob of about 15 people on 29 April 2018 because they thought he had stabbed another resident.

Magele says, “We had a disagreement and started pushing each other and I pushed him and he fell on a broken window and people thought I stabbed him but I did not. I didn’t even have a knife on me,” says Magele. “I almost died that night for just one mistake. I made a mistake of pushing someone who happened to fall on a broken glass. I asked them have they never made a mistake?” He says both of them had been drinking alcohol.

In the affidavit Magele says he had tried to escape but was unsuccessful as he had already been stabbed twice. “When I woke up I was in a Pick ’n Pay trolley inside the front yard of Helen Bowden property and there was a mob of about 15 to 20 Reclaim the City members led by Sheila Madikane around me. Sheila was saying ‘Kill this dog’. She was saying the mob must kill me,” his affidavit states.

Magele has left Helen Bowden out of fear for his life. “On weekends when people drink there are always fights. It’s lucky if it’s quiet,” he says.

Reclaim the City suspended Madikane from its leadership based on Magele’s allegations, and then held an inquiry into this incident. The organisation provided GroundUp with both the minutes of the inquiry and a report with recommendations. The inquiry was run by the Woodstock chapter of Reclaim the City because the accused were members of the Sea Point chapter.

In addition to Madikane, 14 witnesses were interviewed. While Magele did not attend on the day of the inquiry — despite being invited, according to Reclaim the City — a recording of a meeting he held with the organisation’s co-ordinating committee was used to get his side of the story.

“At that meeting, he told some of us that he was very drunk and that this affected his memory. We recently learned that his medical report states that his injuries do not match his story,” Reclaim the City says. GroundUp has the medical report and matters get foggy here. Magele’s statement says he jumped from the first floor to escape his attackers, falling on his “chest, ribs and head”. The medical report says Magele’s injuries are not consistent with his claim to have fallen from the third floor.

The panel’s report states, “In his testimony Magele says Madikane beat him with a bottle. No other person was able to confirm this. He also says paraffin was poured onto him. No one else can corroborate this. There is general consensus that the liquid poured onto him by Witness A was water.”

Reclaim the City concludes, “It is clear from the panel’s report that Magele initiated the violence when he got drunk and assaulted a young man. It was also clear that a group of young men retaliated and attacked Magele and that this response was disproportionate. Based on the evidence presented to them in the report the co-ordinating committee found that there were no grounds to discipline Madikane but they did report the attack to the police.”

The report of the panel also criticises Reclaim the City’s leaders at Helen Bowden, stating that they “could have played a bigger role in trying to control the situation”. It says the only two residents who tried to stop the violence were not leaders of the organisation.

SAPS spokesperson Captain Elizabeth Munro says the docket on Magele’s case is currently being considered by the public prosecutor.

Accusations and counter-accusations

Malibongwe Tuku, in three separate affidavits provided to GroundUp, says he was violently and illegally evicted from Helen Bowden by Reclaim the City. Tuku, 41, says he moved from living on the street to the occupation in May 2017.

Tuku’s affidavits are confusing because he makes numerous allegations, sometimes about events that did not happen directly to him. His allegations are mixed up with his opinions on matters related to the occupation. So far as we can tell he makes two allegations of violence directed against him, although he provides little detail.

He claims he was “attacked and illegally evicted” on 27 June by a group of people led by Madikane. He claims his belongings were thrown out the window of his apartment and stolen. Tuku apparently opened a case of theft, but police spokesperson Munro said his case was withdrawn by the Public Prosecutor.

Madikane denies any eviction took place on 27 June. She gives a different version of events, saying that she and Tuku had a meeting with the Sea Point police station commander. “I asked him in front of the police who had evicted him. He said he moved because he heard people singing and thought they were coming for him,” she says.

Tuku also claims that Madikane ordered security guards to beat him on 10 September 2017 when he tried to re-enter the occupation. But Madikane denies she was even there, and says that as far as she knows he had an altercation with the security guards because he tried to bring someone into the building. In any case, Madikane points out that the security guards take instruction from the security company hired by the provincial government to protect Helen Bowden.

In one of Tuku’s affidavits he describes being part of a group that entered Helen Bowden on 23 November. This group consisted of dozens of street people, students and evictees. In his affidavit he presents this entry as peaceful. But in a telephone discussion with GroundUp his story changes: “We went in forcefully because they did not want us to go in.”

The events of 23 November caused serious problems for Reclaim the City. The organisation says people used “intimidation, threats of violence and force over the weeks before to gain entry. While interdicts were being processed late into the night, about 30 people forcefully entered Ahmed Kathrada House [the name Reclaim the City has given to Helen Bowden], bypassing security who had the keys to lock the gates to protect the House. The group intimidated people, kicked in doors and claimed rooms. At least one comrade was beaten up. The majority were … students from CPUT.”

Reclaim the City alleges that one of the CPUT students was responsible for setting buildings on fire at the university. It has published a statement on Facebook about the events of 23 November. Most of those who entered the occupation that night have since left Helen Bowden.

Reclaim the City says Tuku was not evicted. “He had aligned himself with these people and their thugs and when he heard that their rooms had been reallocated, he felt scared and ran away and never returned,” Reclaim the City says.

Tuku is also part of Umhlaba Wethu, along with Graham and ANC Member of the Provincial Legislature Cameron Dugmore. It is hard to separate Tuku’s claims from the tension between these organisations which is described in more detail here.

As to whether evictions have been taking place at Helen Bowden, Reclaim the City says, “Occupiers living in the house have the right to safety and security above all else. An important aspect of the occupations is that each house has formulated a set of house rules to govern the conduct of all occupiers. When occupiers break rules and threaten the safety of others, especially the safety of women, then we cannot be expected to continue to live with them and we must ask them to leave. The police should remove criminals and not allow anybody with a protection order to stay in the house.”

Responding to claims that the organisation has been evicting people, Reclaim the City says that some people have been using rooms as storage but not actually living in them. “We must ensure that nobody is simply keeping a room as a second option when so many people are in dire need of accommodation.”

SAPS’s Munro says that police regularly visit Helen Bowden and attend to all complaints.

She says the Acting Station Commander has met with residents and given them feedback on their cases.

Madikane is exasperated with the allegations against her. “Everything that happens they put my name to because I stopped them from trying to turn the occupation into a business,” she says. “I have three children so I am a mother myself. What kind of mother sends grown men to go and beat up other people? Everyone here is old and mature, and they don’t need to be sent by me to do anything.”

CORRECTION: A change was made to Fatima’s story after publication, and then reverted back after it was determined that the original version was correct.

See also: Memorial service held for Helen Bowden resident killed in fight with security guard