House turf war

The community at Merino gathered to speak about the pressing issues of the community house on Thursday March 7.

Community leaders and workers are at odds over a house in Westridge that was donated to the community to serve as a sanctuary for abused women and children but has since become a source of conflict.

They met this month to resolve the dispute, but several weeks later they are no closer to a solution.

Since 1990 the Merino Way house has been used by various organisations, including the Community Police Forum and the neighbourhood watch. More recently it has housed a madressa.

According to the City of Cape Town’s valuation roll, Child Welfare owns the house, but the organisation did not immediately respond to questions.

The house is now standing empty.

The madressa was there until Thursday March 7 when Bonita Wood, chairperson of the Westridge CPF sub-forum, said the school would need to stop its activities until the dispute had been resolved

Madressa teacher Naielah May and her daughter, Kouthar Phillips, have moved the school to their home with 15 children from the community.

“There is no communication coming my way, and nothing is happening at the house. It’s a bit difficult to teach from home but I am coping,” said Ms May.

Ms May said Fuad Salie, a neighbour who has the keys to the house, had originally approached her and told her the house was available.

“I came here to serve the community. I don’t appreciate the fact that the madressa must stop, but I respect that,” Ms May said at the meeting.

Luqmaan Swigelaar, from Portland, a Justice of the Peace, said the meeting called on Thursday March 7 had been unnecessary.

“People came to the meeting with the wrong attitude. At the end of the day, all of us must fight crime together,” said Mr Swigelaar.

Mr Swigelaar, a former CPF member and neighbourhood watch chairman, was once a custodian for the house after it was donated to the community by ABSA more than 20 years ago.

He said it had always been available if people needed to use it. It had never been there for any one particular organisation, he said. Mr Swigelaar said he had given the keys to Mr Salie so he could look after it.

Mr Salie said at the meeting that he had always acted with Mr Swigelaar’s permission and that rumours about him moving his family into the house were unfounded.

Ms Wood said at the meeting that the house had been used by gangsters, and Mr Swigelaar said that had also been brought to his attention, but he and the neighbourhood watch had driven them out.

But Ms Wood said the gangsters had left after the CPF and police had raided the property.

Many times the locks had been changed and the house had been left unattended and open, she said.

On Tuesday March 12, she said, the sub-forum had installed new locks.

The Westridge sub-forum wanted to use the house for abused women and children and victim support, said Ms Wood.

“Whoever wants to be involved can join the safety structures. You need to be part of the safety structures in order to use the community house,” said Ms Wood.

Brigadier Cass Goolam said when Absa in donated the house to the community in 1990 they had intended for it to be used as a sanctuary for abused women and children.

“At that time, Mr Swigelaar was in the CPF. He signed off on the house, while on the CPF, and the house from Absa, then, was under his supervision.

“Before long, gangsters were running the house, launching crime activities against the community,” he said.

Brigadier Goolam said it was important for the community to have access to the services that had meant to run from the house.

“The house remains in custody of the CPF structures and belongs to the community of Mitchell’s Plain,” he said.

“We support the initiatives the sub-forum are carrying out, they have a track record,” he said.