07 August, 2011
A group of vagrants are enjoying one of South Africa's best views after invading a R12-million mansion in Camps Bay in Cape Town.
And they're not alone. At least a dozen other empty multimillion-rand homes have been taken over by squatters in the area.
The six-bedroom mansion, in Victoria Road, has been stripped of windows and fittings, and the walls have been blackened by the squatters' fires.
The homeless moved in while the owners of the property and the city battled over plans to demolish the house.
"Resident" Smiley Bonfus, 40, a homeless man from Burundi, this week said he had recently summoned the police to chase off a fellow squatter - who had built fires so large that the fire brigade had to be called in.
"You cannot just have any guy staying in this nice place," Bonfus said.
Byron Herbert, owner of Herbert Properties in Camps Bay, said the price of similar properties in the neighbourhood ranged from R10- to R35-million.
Gavin Oliver, head of Cape Town's Problem Buildings Unit, said other luxury homes taken over by squatters included two in up-market Bishopscourt, one overlooking Fourth Beach in Clifton, and a total of four in Gordon's Bay and Somerset West.
Oliver said the unit had "cleaned up" almost 40 buildings declared health hazards or drug dens since November, and had evicted illegal squatters from 93 flats in the Senator Park block last month.
He said the Victoria Road house "is a health risk and is rodent infested", and the city would issue its owners with a notice demanding that they "clean up this mess" or face having the property attached.
Herbert said that, had the house been in good condition, Bonfus would have been expected to pay up to R5000 a day for the flat he uses in the house.
Instead, baths, geysers and the plumbing have been stolen, the floors covered with sand and rubbish, and the walls adorned with religious-themed graffiti.
Herbert said: "That property has been an ongoing battle between the ratepayers' association, the owners, SAPS and the city council."
The house was bought five years ago for R8.3-million by a group of partners including Johannesburg businessman Khalil Sayed.
The businessman has blamed the problems on the authorities "for needlessly holding up our (development) plans".
He wants to demolish the house and build luxury apartments in its place.
He said the house was invaded after security systems "fell into neglect" - and admitted the neighbours had complained.
"The property is an eyesore, so I sympathise with ratepayers there - but really, this is the city's doing," he said.
"We are prepared to assist the city in getting these people out. We have contracted South Africa's top architect for our development and we want to get going with it."
However, Oliver said the owners were trying to make their problems the city's: "It's entirely the owner's responsibility."
Bonfus, who works occasionally as a car guard, lives in the mansion's flat with his wife, Julie de Leeuw, 36, and her 18-year-old son.
He said: "No one was here so I am helping myself. If I want the toilet I go in the bushes by the beach. I like the view."
Bonfus said, however, he would move out if he was instructed to do so. "I know this is not my place."
By contrast, the city has had to go to court to evict squatters who have taken over an eight-bedroom home in Maclear Road, Bishopscourt.
Oliver said the house had become "a drug den, with suspected stolen vehicles on site", and that residents had 60 days to vacate the premises.
A generator could be heard running at the house this week as squatters peered at Oliver's team. They refused to open the gate.
Less than 1km down the road, vagrants have moved into an unfinished suburban home which was abandoned when developers ran out of money.
House rules like "pour water after using toilet (sic)" are scribbled on the walls, while one bedroom contains a TV and DVD player, a hi-fi and an illegal electricity connection.
Oliver said: "Vagrants first visit a few times to make sure a house is not occupied. Then everything of value is stolen and then people move in. Owners must be responsible for maintaining their own properties."