City slammed for post-fire raid at occupied site

Firefighters attending to the fire at the old Woodstock hospital.

Two activist groups have accused the City of hitting occupiers of the old Woodstock hospital when they were down by raiding the premises four days after a fire.

City Law Enforcement, Metro Police and Woodstock SAPS officers mounted the raid at about 5am on Monday.

Metro Police spokesman Wayne Le Roux says they obtained a search warrant following ongoing complaints of drug dealing, shootings and extortion at the site.

“Officers arrested two individuals upon the discovery of drugs in their possession. Immigration services also found undocumented persons on the premises.”

Woodstock police station commander Colonel Delvyn Matroos confirmed that two men had been arrested for drug possession and five people had been arrested by immigration authorities.

However, Ndifuna Ukwazi spokeswoman Yusrah Bardien called the City’s decision to raid the premises days after a fire “inconsiderate, inhumane and violent”.

“It lacks care and kindness for people who already experience housing and economic vulnerability on a daily basis, outside of the recent fire.”

The old hospital was occupied in 2017 and renamed Cissie Gool House by members of housing activist group Reclaim The City.

There are now nearly 1000 people living there, according to Ms Bardien, and out of all of them, she said, “a few people were arrested for possession of drugs, no unlicensed firearms were found, and five undocumented immigrants were arrested, despite there being no mention of Immigration officers in the search warrant”.

Marijuana was one of the drugs listed on the search warrant despite the decriminalisation of the use of marijuana in private spaces, she said.

Reclaim The City house leader Fagmeedah Ling said they were still recovering from last week’s fire.

“Many of us were still cleaning up the house after the fire, and this raid happened when many of us were preparing for work and preparing the children for school.”

It felt like the authorities treated them like animals, she said.

Families occupying the old hospital had to evacuate when the fire broke out last Thursday, January 27.

Firefighters from Salt River, Roeland Street and Epping responded to the blaze at about 7pm, according to City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse.

“The fire was extinguished at 8.35pm. No injuries or fatalities were reported,” he said.

The fire caused damage to three rooms on the third floor and two rooms on the second floor. The first and ground floors sustained water damage and there was also damage to the roof.

Mr Carelse said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Karen Hendricks, leader of Reclaim The City’s Woodstock hospital chapter, said seven families had suffered fire damage to their rooms, including three who had lost all their possessions.

“Many of the residents who live here live with the trauma of eviction, and while families were evacuating the building, they thought they were reliving the eviction trauma all over again,” she said.

The seven families had been moved to alternative accommodation within the old hospital, she said.

“We are grateful for the support from the community and neighbours who have donated mattresses, bedding, food, water and first aid equipment,” she said.

She appealed to anyone who wanted to help to call Fagmeedah Ling at 083 749 1070 or Nazeem Rakiep at 068 004 9938.

Ms Bardien said the old hospital was a refuge for poor and working-class families who would otherwise be left homeless or displaced by rampant gentrification and evictions in the Woodstock and Salt River areas.

“We’re grateful to the City of Cape Town’s fire and rescue department for acting swiftly and efficiently in putting the fire out and ensuring that the fire was limited to a portion of the building. We want to also thank the public for their donations,” she said.

Law Enforcement, Metro Police and Woodstock SAPS raided the old Woodstock hospital, on Monday.