The Salt River Station. A place notorious for knife-point muggings. On the other side of the old rusted fence separating the station property from the public, is a sea of filth collected by years of dumped rubbish. The old, dilapidated railway house is home to a two-month old baby girl, as well as 15 other children and 45 adults, where prostitution, drugs and gang activity are rife.
As I approached the entrance of the building, the occupants emerged one by one, curiosity getting the better of them. The building is divided into different sections which all serve as their cluttered bedrooms. The center is an open space filled with dirt and sleeping dogs which seem to be diseased. It also serves as a place to cook on a fire.
When asked why they are living in such inhumane conditions where maggots and flies exist right on their doorstep, their answer is simple. “There is nowhere else to go. Nobody wants to give us work because they think we will steal.” Some openly admitted to prostitution and having done drugs, saying it was the only way to survive. “I have to sell myself on the streets to support me and my boyfriend,” said one of the ladies, dwelling at the station.
On the opposite side of that particular railway house is another little structure consisting of a family including two children aged nine and 10 who do not attend school. They innocently play in the dirt where there also lay rotting ox heads. Behind them just a few meters away is the railway line without a fence separating the two sides.
Railway company Transnet is the current property owners. They say they are aware of the people living at the station, and attempts have previously been made to evict them. “Transnet is aware that unidentified persons trespass and even occupy the premises on occasion without authority,” said Transnet spokesperson, Mboniso Sigonyela.
“Transnet has on occasion in the past requested assistance in removing unauthorized trespassers. The cleaning of the property has been an ongoing problem because the property has public access.” Sigonyela said there was a court case to have the dwellers evicted, but it had to be postponed.
“Transnet is obliged to initiate legal eviction proceedings when its property is illegally occupied. It is confirmed that Transnet has tried to take appropriate eviction actions in the past,” he said. “The recent legal action was postponed because neither the City nor Transnet could provide alternative suitable land to which to relocate the occupiers. It should be noted that the occupiers return to the site due to proximity to the City centre.”
There are processes currently underway to have the property ownership transferred from Transnet to the City of Cape Town. “The process of transfer of ownership is expected to be completed shortly in which event the new owner will provide alternative accommodation as a component of the renewal project,” Sigonyela related.
“The City of Cape Town has made an offer to Transnet to purchase the land conditional on the City becoming responsible for the management of the property and the relocation of the occupants.”
Despite the hardships the dwellers endure on a minute-by-minute basis, they will never give up on a dream for a better future. “If God is in your life you can never give up,” said one of the older ladies, fondly known as Aunty Janine. “Why should we give up? There is no hope for any of us here, but if we all stand together we will find better.”