Tempers flared at the Sunny Acres caravan park last week as permanent residents were evicted from their homes to make space for a residential development.
The Echo received several frantic calls from residents who claimed their homes were being demolished, saying they had nowhere to go.
A caller, who did not want to identify herself, said she had been living in a garage on and off, for a period of three years and in that time, had never received an eviction notice.
Through her tears she painted a grim picture of how she had witnessed “big vehicles” demolishing homes, leaving the residents with their belongings out in the cold.
She said water and electricity had been cut by the new owner of the park and she was unable to take a warm shower.
The Echo visited the park on Thursday May 31, to speak to park owner, Vincent De Araujo. He said the evictions were done lawfully and that he had given residents 90 days notice to evacuate their homes and the premises.
He said his fourth notice of eviction, dated May 29, was being distributed.
Mr De Araujo said in recent years a criminal element had developed in the park and drug abuse, drug dealing, alcohol abuse, theft of cables and taps were rife and that stolen goods would often make its way into the park. He said there were many children in the park who should be attending school but were not and it was not a safe environment for them.
He said his intentions were not to kick residents to the curb but to relocate them to another 4 000 square metre area in the park which he was busy preparing.
He explained the area where the residents would be relocated to would be separated from the rest of the park by a brick wall which builders were busy building during the Echo’s visit.
In the new area, residents would be given the option of a 3×6 metre bungalow for R3 000 a month or a 3×9 metre bungalow for R5 000 a month which includes water. This would be offered on a one-year contract basis.
The relocation area will include proper ablution facilities and a play area for the children. Mr De Araujo said the current ablution facilities were in a terrible state. He also indicated that there had been a burst pipe recently which flooded a portion of the park.
Another resident, Philip Terry, 59, who has lived in the park with his wife, daughter and father-in-law for the past four years, said he did not agree that the eviction process was lawful. He said Mr De Araujo claimed to have served four eviction notices when in fact he had only received one.
Mr De Araujo recently bought the park from Andre van Heerden who has owned it since 1994.
Mr Terry said the first eviction notice arrived in January, indicating that the new owner was someone other than Mr De Araujo. It indicated that the land would be used for residential development and that residents had four months to find alternative accommodation and had to vacate the premises on or before May 31.
Mr Terry said Mr Van Heerden explained to them that he had sold the park to this person and encouraged them to continue paying their rent.
He said Mr Van Heerden had promised to arrange a meeting with the new owner to introduce him to the residents and to ask for an extension beyond May 31.
However, this never happened and instead of meeting the new owner, they received an eviction notice dated May 18 from a different law firm claiming to act on behalf of Mr De Araujo.
Out of desperation, Mr Terry contacted Lawyers for Human Rights. He said he was told that the eviction was a community eviction and that the new owner failed to follow the correct court procedure for eviction and violated the rights of residents as per the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation [PIE] Act.
He said residents’ belongings were removed from their homes without their permission and a group of residents are considering taking the matter further with Lawyers for Human Rights.
According to Mr De Araujo the man mentioned in the first eviction notice – whose name is known to the Echo – bought the property but the sale fell through. He could not be reached for comment to confirm this.
Mr De Araujo said after he bought the park, he instructed his lawyers to send out a second and third eviction notice following the first one sent out by the person who tried to buy the park.
Mr Terry agreed that criminal elements were present in the park but said Mr De Araujo had not followed the proper legal processes to evict residents. He said many residents were good people and did not partake in criminal activities.
“They have lived in the park for more than 20 years and don’t deserve to be treated like this,” he said.
He said he will not be moving to the new relocation area as he currently lives in a three bedroom, 9×9 metre house with its own kitchen and bathroom and cannot expect his family to move to a smaller house with no bathroom.
He said they are currently looking for new accommodation but it was difficult to find suitable accommodation in his price range in the area.
“When offering someone a relocation option it should be to improve their living standards, not lowering it at a higher rent,” he said.
Another resident, Daniel Kleynhans, 41, whose house will be demolished as it is situated in the new relocation area, said it was a difficult situation but he understood why it was happening. He has been living in the park, on and off, since 2006 and has nowhere to go but will not be relocating to the new area because of a problem he experienced in the park. “It’s difficult to explain why,” he said.
Fish Hoek police spokesman, Warrant Officer Peter Middelton, confirmed that there were criminal activities in the park. He said in recent years, there has been an increase of activities relating to reported incidents of crime and added that many known persons involved in criminal activities such as drugs and stolen property take refuge in the park.
He added that several visits to the area has always been part of the SAPS’s crime prevention plan relative to Fish Hoek.
Louise du Plessis, from Lawyers for Human Rights’ land and housing unit, said she was unable to provide accurate comment without assessing the situation. However, she added when evicting residents from land, the land owner must have a relocation option in place.
Mr Van Heerden confirmed that Mr De Araujo is the new owner of the caravan park.