“We are number MS2,” says Ibrahima Jacobs. The number is written on the bottom of an upturned boat under which he and his wife used to live. Now they use the boat mostly for storage and live under an old bakkie canopy.
Jacobs used to be a fisherman until he sustained a shoulder injury. He found the boat at a landfill in Muizenberg.
Five families live at MS2, located between an informal recycling centre and a pig farm on otherwise vacant land in Vrygrond. They live under three old bakkie canopies, the boat and in a shack made of material collected from a nearby landfill.
Backyarders from Vrygrond and people renting shacks in Overcome Heights informal settlement attempted to occupy the land in April. The City demolished the shacks but left MS2 alone. The City says the land is a nature reserve.
When Jacobs arrived in the area six years ago, he and his wife, Esmeralda Martin, slept under a tree next to the recycling centre. They have two children, now aged five and seven. “The youngest was still a baby [when we came]. We went from sleeping in parks to here because it was closer to the landfill site where I collect things to sell,” says Jacobs.
They moved into the boat and later added a bakkie canopy they found at the landfill. The canopy is covered with blankets and plastic bags to make it warmer. Jacobs says when it rains the water still comes in.
“The City [official] was not ashamed to come and put a number on my boat,” says Martin. “This is no way for anyone to live. We are desperate for places to stay because we can’t afford rent.”
“For them it is fine that we live like this … When we put up proper houses [shack structures], they demolish them,” says Jacobs.
The area has no toilets and no electricity. They use an open fire to cook on, using pots and tins they have found while looking for recyclables.
Reuben Pasqualie also lives at MS2, under a bakkie canopy. Eight years ago he lived with his mother in Hillview. After she died he had no place to stay.
“The City moved me away from my mother’s house because it was a council house … It was bush when I first stayed here [Vrygrond]. Now that the City destroys shacks every time, I have no choice but to live in the car canopy,” he says.
Kevin Jacobs and Angelic Spannenberg used to live under one of the bakkie canopies, but they have now built a one-room shack from waste materials for themselves and their four children.
“All of us here would like to have proper houses, not this. But at the moment this is all we can have,” said Spannenberg.