Mountain dwellers of wetlands have their say


This week, the False Bay Echo has given voice to the people living on the mountainside and in the wetlands of Sun Valley.

We asked them to tell their stories.

Two weeks ago we reported about a Sun Valley wetlands clean-up group who were calling for the area to be maintained (“Worry over wetlands”, February 18).

At the start of the Peer’s Cave hiking point off Ou Kaapse Weg, only a couple of steps into the walk down to the wetlands below, was an empty, upturned shopping trolley.

Under some trees to the right, below the road was a hut. Fashioned from wood and plastic sheets, a corrugated iron roof. Inside, a chair, and a reclining woman. She was unwilling to give her name or the name of her boyfriend – who she claimed was a woodcutter and had lived there for 10 years – she told me that she doesn’t live there but in Masiphumelele, and just visits.

“No, I have part-time work, I do char-work, sometimes. I have a job this afternoon at 1pm,” she said.

To one side of the hut are two bricks sunk into opposite ends of a hole in the soil, a well-used grid and fire-blackened pots which tell the story of food preparation, along with egg shells and an empty can.

The next sleeping place sported a duvet cover on the ground, a soft brown blanket, and neatly packaged plastic bags around that, a 5 litre water bottle on the ground and half loaf of bread tied to the tree. The inhabitant was nowhere to be seen although we called.

Under thick undergrowth, and only after very careful inspection, did we encounter two young men who have made camp on the slopes. They were Willard Chumba and Siyebulene Nxyeka.

Mr Chumba is 27, and has been living there for the past three months, since Masiphumelele became “difficult”, he says. He says he was scared to live there and had nowhere else to go, and has no family. Mr Nxyeka is 22, and is from the Transkei – he says he is willing to work and has no family.

Mr Chumba said he had a job, he can do painting and tiling, but because Masiphumelele became dangerous he ran away and because of this, now he has no job and no prospects. “I am willing to work, I will do anything, but I can’t live in Masi again,” he said.

Further along the walk, we smelled pipe tobacco, but saw no one.

Another area revealed a family’s photographs and slides amid more rubble.

Much later, down closer to the water, we do encounter the owner of the brown blanket and neatly packed packets mentioned earlier. This was William Fritz.

Mr Fritz said he has lived in the bush for 40 years. He said he had lived there always, that he was there before all the others who have since moved in. He said everyone who lived there was suffering in some way. But he said he knew how to keep himself afloat.

Mr Fritz laughed like a drain when asked if he was scared of living there. He says the nature is wonderful, he sees buck, birds, tarantulas and porcupine and if he is quick enough he can catch a snake, put it in a sack and go down the mountain to sell it. He says it’s all about where you catch it, and you have to move fast.

He says he knows a lot of people who live on and walk the mountain, and that everyone knows him and knows about him. He says the other inhabitants of the bush have come to know one another and give each other space. He says the others are not bad people.

He said his wife’s family used to live on the mountain in the stone houses, the remnants of which are now hidden in the brush, but she is now living with family in Hanover Park. He says she’s reached the age where she cannot live with him now.

Mr Fritz says when he has been removed in the past, all his possessions have been taken, but he has no where else to go, so he simply comes back.

“When the SANParks people come along, they tell me I must live only this side of the rocks, then the other people come, from the City, and they say I can’t be this side either,” he says, shaking his head.

He tells us to look out for an elderly man who lives just around the corner.

We investigate and there is Hannes Kleinschmidt, previously of Philippi. He says he is working, as a wood- cutter, and he is keeping an eye on the fence of the new development. We ask him how long he has been living there. He says instantly he has only been there three weeks – and that he is going home again soon – back to Philippi.

We move on and are now on the edge of the wetlands, and we encounter a well barricaded and long-established area, swept clean, with washing line and pegs, hangers in the trees and two separate rooms eked out under a copse of trees, a sturdily built brick braai and signs of regular habitation.

Nobody was home to tell their story.

Another area maybe 15 paces away from this, looks recently vacated.

My guides point to this area and say when rain eventually comes, this entire section will flood.

Standing back at the school parking lot, to the untrained eye, the overview looking back the way we had just walked, is sheer beauty.

To know what’s really there, you have to be prepared to delve right into it.