Time running out for Welverdiend tenants

Welverdiend complex in Rondebosch.

One of the remaining Welverdiend tenants says he will only move if ordered by the Sheriff of the Court.

This comes amid a lengthy battle to relocate tenants of the Rondebosch complex. In October 2019 Communicare announced plans to demolish the block, arguing that the 70-year-old building had significant structural problems that could no longer be repaired (“Tenants forced to rehome”, Tatler, October 17, 2019). They plan to build 175 new affordable housing units at the site.

And while there was initially resistance from tenants, most have agreed to relocate to Communicare’s other social housing units at Straton in Wynberg, Musgrave Park in Diep River and Dreyersal in Bergvliet.

By February last year only 39 tenants remained at the three-storey block of 115 flats – and they vowed to do everything in their power to block the planned demolition. (“Welverdiend holdouts vow to block demolition bid”, Tatler, February 4, 2021).

But today, only 27 tenants remain and their fate hangs in the balance, as Communicare prepares to issue official notice on all tenants to vacate the property willingly to avoid being evicted.

Tenant James Engelbrecht

James Engelbrecht, 71, has been living at the flats for eight years and while many of his friends had decided to take Communicare’s offer to relocate, he said he was willing to wait it out till he received a court order.

Mr Engelbrecht said it was more a matter of principle and that he felt Communicare had been devious in how they had “coerced” the elderly to sign the relocation agreement without adequately addressing issues raised by residents relating to the “need” for the demolition and why the tenants of the complex, some of whom had lived there for 15 years and more, were not offered a place in their new planned development.

“I have had many representatives come to me over the last few years to sign the relocation documents but I have refused. Communicare has not been able to address any of my grievances to date,” he said, adding that they had also queried who the building actually belonged to.

Communicare chief operating officer, Makhosi Kubheka, said Mr Engelbrecht had been offered the opportunity to relocate to one of their other properties within 10km of Welverdiend but had declined to move.

“In October 2019, all tenants received notice from Communicare of our intention to demolish and redevelop Welverdiend. We also informed tenants at the time that they could relocate to our other properties nearby, all within 10km of Welverdiend. Since then, we have been supporting tenants to relocate. The process was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the National State of Disaster.”

Mr Engelbrecht also approached the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to voice his concerns but he refused their calls to attend arbitration.

Mr Kubheka said the SAHRC had visited the property in 2019 to investigate Mr Engelbrecht’s concerns but had not yet concluded their inquiry before thew National State of Disaster was declared in March 2020.

“Soon after the country entered Alert Level 5 SAHRC approached us to mediate the issue between Communicare and the remaining tenants. We agreed and await a date for mediation,” he said.

Mr Kubheka said they would engage in the SAHRC’s mediation process in the hope that they would be able to convince the remaining tenants why they could not continue living at the property.

Of the 27 individuals living in Welverdiend only three are up to date with their rent. Most of them owe between R10 000 and R179 000 in arrears.