Old single-sex hostels are a textbook case for expropriation without compensation
22 July 2021
Crumbling single-sex hostels in Cape Town's oldest townships, built to accommodate "migrant" labourers trucked in from the so-called independent homelands by private property developers at the height of apartheid, today house families living in abominable conditions for which there is no landlord in sight to assume responsibility.
Because the hostels weren't built by the State, they are regarded as private property by the City of Cape Town. As a consequence, residents can't relay on the City for services. But they can't look to the "owners" of the buildings, either, as they walked away after the demise of apartheid and restoration of peoples' rights to free movement and dignity.
On Saturday I met a six-year-old girl covered in sores from the top of her scalp to her ankles. The community attributes her condition to poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water and poor hygiene – the conditions under which they live.
The conditions violate residents' Constitutional rights to adequate access to water and sanitation.
Instead of abandoning these people, Mayor of Cape Town Dan Plato would be well-advised to demonstrate responsible leadership by expropriating the hell-holes and making them fit for human habitation.
Section 25 of the Constitution provides for expropriation, and the Constitutional Court held 19 years ago that paying nil compensation is just and equitable in certain circumstances.
One of the hostels in Gugulethu is known as the "Cape Sun" because, according to residents, it was originally built to house labour brought in to construct the Cape Sun Hotel in the central city.
This is the hostel I visited last weekend after receiving a call for help.
The building's original dormitories and dining rooms have haphazardly evolved into 34 separate "units", with six bathrooms, only one of which has running water and a flushing toilet.
An internal courtyard heaves with raw sewerage backwashed by a faulty stormwater system; when it rains the courtyard fills with human waste. In heavy rain, the sewerage flows into peoples' homes.
Some residents pay rent to previous occupants, who have long since moved on.
The circumstances and conditions make a textbook case for expropriation without compensation.
The "privately-owned" hostels don't differ much from so-called "grey hostels" built by the private sector on public land, mostly in Nyanga, Langa and Gugulethu. They are all in urgent need of refurbishment and conversion into proper family dwellings.
The hostels are a disaster waiting to happen. Residents are at physical and medical risk.
Expropriating the properties without compensation would be just and equitable, given their history, current use and abandonment.
Mayor Plato would do well to pay more attention to the needs of residents of the City – including those outside his party's core constituency – and less attention to his campaign to be nominated as the DA's mayoral candidate in upcoming local government elections.
In the meantime, the stormwater, sewerage and hygiene requirements at "Cape Sun Hostel" must be urgently addressed.
Issued by Brett Herron, Secretary General, GOOD, 22 July 2021