We’ll occupy Helen Bowden building for “as long as possible” say activists

No direct action taken yet by provincial government

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Photo of a building
The old Helen Bowden Nurses Home near the V&A Waterfront has been occupied since last week by affordable housing activists. Photo: Ashleigh Furlong

On Thursday night, dozens of Reclaim the City (RTC) supporters entered the Helen Bowden Nurses Home building, escalating the occupation protest. Social housing activists have been living on site since last week.

They intend to open the building to the public during the day and keep it occupied by 15 people every night.

“The plan is to test the possibility of a long term occupation,” said Zimkita Booi, an RTC supporter.

Occupiers of Helen Bowden site and Woodstock Hospital want the Tafelberg site in Sea Point to be turned into affordable housing. They also want clarity from Province on promises to develop affordable housing on the Helen Bowden and Woodstock Hospital properties.

The Province has dismissed the protest as “self-serving” and accused RTC of “being less than honest” about the amount of affordable housing it will develop in Cape Town.

Booi said they want supporters to bring supplies to the abandoned building and to begin to make it “liveable”. Currently, the building is without water and electricity, after the power was cut on Wednesday.

Jacques Booysen, one of seven occupiers since Saturday, said he is in danger of being removed from his home on government land in Pine Road, Woodstock.

“Government decided to sell the land, so we must move from there. Some of us have stayed there for 30 years,” said Booysen.

The building is boarded up and a torch is needed to navigate the vacant halls. Countless rooms stand empty, with rubbish scattered on the floor. The rooms are fitted with cupboards and some have sinks and toilets.

Emile Engel, a RTC supporter, speaking to worried security guards who had failed to prevent the occupation, said arresting people was the job of the police. “Why are they [Provincial government] expecting you [security guards] to do the job law enforcement?” he asked them.

“We are not here to take the building for ourselves, we are here to open the building for people like you,” another occupier told the guards.

“Instead of taking more land for poor people, they [the Province] want to sell it for rich people,” said activist Zackie Achmat, a supporter of RTC, in reference to the proposed sale of the Helen Bowden property.

The Province has not yet said what it plans to do about the occupation, but a statement issued by the office of the Premier earlier this week said: “Rather than proceed to court, they [Reclaim the City] now court anarchy as the solution to achieve their purpose”.

“Their call for media attention and their alleged “expectation” of SAPS involvement reveal a more cynical motivation to capture a news cycle by whatever means possible, even if that is unlawful and will result in persons potentially being charged, and scarce state resources being utilised,” read the statement.

When asked how long the occupation would last, Booysen told GroundUp: “As long as possible”.

TOPICS:  Housing

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