The scenic views of Table Mountain often take our breath away, this is true for tourists and locals alike, but behind the scenic drive of Chapman’s Peak lays a part of Cape Town, many people are unaware of , this place is known as The Overcome Heights informal Settlement. It is a sea of mouldy browns, glimmering grey zinc plating and rusty metals, nestled on white sand dunes. Hundreds of families call Overcome Heights home, the smell of faeces and urine soaked sand has become a norm, sharing a public toilet with three different families is routine and shack fires have become just another hazard.
The Overcome Heights Settlement informal home scheme was erected in November 2005. Residents occupied the council owned land which served as a road reserve between the Vrygrond and Sea-Winds area, residents stemmed from the surrounding areas of Sea winds, Vrygrond, and Hillview. Overcome heights housed only twenty families in the very beginning but by 2006 it had risen to 1300 residents. Some residents have been living on these sand dunes for almost 8 years and still no provision for housing has been made by the government. Before government provided electricity there had to be a spate of shack fires, caused by candles and paraffin stoves. This devastated homes and families. Before proper running water and ablution facilities were made available, there first had to be an increase in the cases of children falling ill with severe diarrhoea and dehydration. Residents are struggling to keep their families fed and away from illness and death.
Crime and poverty are a duo which cripples the residents of the Overcome Heights Informal settlement of Retreat Sea winds. Residents are fearful of violent crime; robberies are a daily occurrence here. The Overcome Heights informal settlement resembles a maze, every littered corner, houses a makeshift drug den. As I walk with Whitney, a resident of overcome heights, she talks to me about the difficulties of staying in a shanty town. “It’s difficult when you’re a young woman and you’re surrounded by all these drunken men, it scares me when I have to go to the toilet and these men whistle at me and make sexual remarks. I honestly feel like this place should be burned down but where would all the families go…” Whitney is referring to a band of young men who “own” this turf. They peddle drugs such as methamphetamine, or more commonly known as tik, and mandrax. I stopped to speak to one of the young men, he would not disclose his name but he was willing to offer some information. He described himself as the little fish in a big sea, and by this he meant the drug trade. “The police are catching the wrong people, I’m only trying to feed my family, and they’re focusing on the little fish. The real bosses will never live here. Their raids here in Overcome are a waste of time”
I found this to be an interesting statement, if the “real bosses”, as he describes them, would never live here, where would they live? Perhaps they live in the lap of luxury, with unsuspecting neighbours, and families? The people, who reside in the Overcome Heights Informal housing settlement, share the same sentiment and have a lot to say about policing in the area. Just like the anonymous young man had said, they seemed to be going after the wrong people, some older residents said that there is a hierarchy system in the drug trade and if those individuals in positions of power were caught, drug supply would diminish. Residents also said they feel unsafe, even with patrols, because patrols are at a minimum in the area. This raises many questions about the provision of protective resources in informal settlements. One of the older residents, Merl Japhter, said she’s called the police numerous times to disband rowdy young men outside her home. “I don’t know what to do anymore, they break down everything I attempt to put up, life is already very difficult and the government does absolutely nothing about it, we were promised housing so long ago but still nothing. They also promised us building materials for our homes but we haven’t received that either.” The residents of Overcome Heights are despondent about ever receiving homes and worse yet, they have very little faith in the ability of the current government to provide them with the services and infrastructure they so desperately need.
The Overcome housing informal settlement in Cape Town is not the only one of its kind. Everywhere the same problems occur, and the government has made very little effort to provide residents with dignified living standards. The situation in the Overcome Heights Informal Settlement is slowly starting to resemble the informal settlements of Khayelitsha, where policing is below par, and residents anger and frustrations are expressed in the form of violent protests, burning tires, and the necklacing of criminals. In one incident a city official’s house was set alight because of failed service delivery. The only things residents request are, water, basic sanitation facilities, electricity and proper housing. Last time I checked all those were basic needs and it is the government’s duty to ensure the needs of citizens are being met. Two decades into democracy and the South African government still has a severe backlog in most of these areas, be it justice, land reform, or the provision of housing. This begs the question what are they doing and why is it taking so long?
South Africa received a standing ovation for its world class constitution and its shift into democracy. The South African bill of rights is one of the finest in the world. But as I walk through the sandy dunes of the Overcome Heights settlement, it is obvious that oppression is not yet over, although racial oppression has waned, class oppression is ever alive, only this time the ruling class are made up of a few different shades of grey…