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By Rubby Wuabu
Valhalla Park (Outside Cape Town)--"Hello, I am Gerti. I am unemployed and work full-time in the community," said Gertrude Square, 61, the chair of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign.
Square got involved in community activism after being evicted three times for falling behind on her rent, she told a group of Simmons journalists. The first time she was evicted she borrowed money from friends and family and was able to move back in.
The second time she came home to find her belongings outside. She still had her key so she moved back into the house. She said she woke up very early before the landlord and moved back out onto the street to keep from getting arrested. Then she ran around and borrowed the money to pay her debt.
But by the third time, she said "enough is enough. I am going to stand on my feet, raise my voice and speak up for myself. I matched over and showed the housing office my pay slips. I asked them how am I supposed to pay all my bills with the money I make? Fortunately, I was able to negotiate with them and was able to stay," said Square.
"Word spread quickly about what I did and soon people began asking me what I did and how they could do the same. That's how I became an activist," said Square.
"Today, the only difference between apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa for us is we have strong organizations with women taking part because they suffer the most but we are still struggling in the township," said Square, voicing her frustration with the slow pace of government subsidized housing development.
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign is an umbrella organization that focuses on evictions, accessibility to water and electricity in the community. They have worked to bring cases against the city regarding housing and the use of public land, said Square.
One case was over using a huge piece of land to build a multipurpose center. "We told them that's not what we need. We need homes. We won that case, and as a result the city is building 775 houses on that land today. It will not be enough, but this is the first housing project that has happened in this area, so we are optimistic," said Square.
"We are not sleeping now that a housing project is happening. We are encouraging other communities to push for housing projects. We have a lot of open land. We are also in negotiations with the city about paying or not paying rent for the people who will get these houses," said Square
The campaign also works closely with evicted families to get them back into their homes. "The way we look at it the police have been paid to do a job, and so we don't interfere with it. But as soon as the police carry the last spoon out, we start carrying stuff back into the house. Now the city has to pay someone again to go and evict but usually they don't," said Square.
"Because of this we have been shot with rubber bullets and beaten but we have never run away leaving the family out in the cold," she said.