Living in limbo in Tin Can Town

Blikkiesdorp: Cape Town's neglected shanty town.

Two residents of Blikkiesdorp in Delft, Cape Town, stand outside one of the tin houses typical of the settlement. Picture: Kim Harrisberg/EWN

The Delft Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area (TRA) was initially built in 2007 by The City of Cape Town as emergency housing for those in need. Rows of corrugated iron shacks are spread out in the dusty outskirts of the Delft township, close enough to the airport that planes are heard overhead. The shacks have earned this settlement the nickname 'Blikkiesdorp' or Tin Can Town. Over seven years later, this area that is seen as temporary by residents has become anything but, despite what was initially told to them.

Councillor Benedicta van Minnen, the City's Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, said there were around 1, 750 dwellings in Blikkiesdorp, yet the council was unable to say just how many people inhabit these dwellings.

Aladin Sayed, Gift of the Givers' Regional Manager, gave the estimate of 15,000 residents based on feeding schemes they've conducted for the Blikkiesdorp community. This aligns with comments from Blikkiesdorp residents that the number of people living there range from between 15,000 to 20,000.

Refugees, the unemployed, and people forced out of their homes due to rising rent in fast becoming a trend; while expensive and gentrified areas are found waiting in limbo in this "temporary" zone. Although, some residents hold onto the belief that more permanent houses await them.

"I am getting my house," said Kashifa Jacobs, who lived in Woodstock before being evicted when she could no longer afford rent.

She stands outside her shack while children play in a thin layer of water that fills an inflated pool near her front door.

"They are going to build it there somewhere. It is a story that we are going to move out now, and I am so glad."

Yet it seems these promises of more permanent housing in a new location may be just stories and nothing more.

"The Delft Symphony Way TRA will remain a temporary relocation area for the immediate future. It could, however, benefit in a future improvement and upgrading project," said van Minnen.

These more permanent upgrades are visible in the grassless parks, jungle gyms, tented churches and mosques which are seen sprouting up between the tin shacks.

Residents complain about safety; with stories of rape, murder and violence shared openly.

Although Blikkiesdorp does not have its own crime statistics, there were 115 murders, 215 sexual crimes and a total of 8,287 criminal incidents in Delft in 2014, according to Crime Stats SA.

"The toilets are ugly, they are dirty, filthy. I even picked up an infection," shares Sharon Coleridge, Jacobs' neighbour and another previous Woodstock resident.

Many of the toilets do not have working flushes, toilet seats or doors that properly lock. Faeces are visible on the dirt floor and rusty toilet bowls.

Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, the City's Mayoral Committee Member for Health, is aware of these complaints.

"Environmental health staff conduct weekly visits to the area to identify and report problems experienced to service departments for rectification. They also present health and hygiene education projects to the community, including proper use of facilities, hygiene practices and vandalism," he said.

An anonymous council plumber is seen replacing a broken pipe near a toilet.

"We have to replace the broken pipes with plastic ones. Otherwise the tik users steal them."

According to the council, fixing broken pipes is not all they are doing.

"The City is doing everything within its mandate to improve the safety and security of residents in the Delft Symphony Way TRA. The City's law enforcement agencies are active in this community. Residents, however, also have a role to play, and we urge them to expose gangsterism, drug dealing, and the abuse of women and children in the area so that the South African Police Service can investigate the complaints," said van Minnen.

Asking only to be called 'Rasta', the dreadlocked fruit-seller and Blikkiesdorp resident felt that these official comments do not suffice.

"Yes, Blikkiesdorp… Every future for every person is broken here. There is no way forward here. When you live here, one of the ways you are going is down."