Care centre residents face eviction

In a twist of irony, deputy mayor Logie Naidoo threw a birthday bash for underprivileged children a few days ago, while the municipal real estate officials were preparing to evict an Austerville charity from council buildings.

Concerned volunteers of the Sizani Care Centre, which feeds more than 600 underprivileged school children and 400 impoverished adults each week, have vowed not to move from their humble council owned buildings in Tifflin Road in Wentworth.

The Interfellowship Church funded care centre was given its marching orders by eThekwini Municipality's real estate department last week, sparking concern over the future of the NGO's widespread operations.

Executive Director of the South African NGO Coalition, (Sangoco) Zanele Twala labelled the attempted eviction as "disgusting" saying this move highlighted the difficult conditions under with charities are forced to operate.

Sizani spokesperson Pastor Jean Oliver said the organisation moved into the derelict council buildings in October 2006 and had subsequently spent more than R20 000 on renovating and cleaning the buildings.

Although the move was initially completed without the sanction of council, negotiations were entered into and Sizani was preparing to sign a five-year lease when municipal officials last week instead issued a letter of eviction.

Oliver said any move would seriously hinder Sizani's operations which include the soup kitchen that feeds 1 000 people, a creche for community children, a HIV and Aids counselling clinic and various outreach programmes.

A group of Sizani volunteers are soon to begin HIV counselling in homes after completing department of health courses.

"When we moved in, the buildings had stood empty for more than a year and were being vandalised to the extent that windows were being pulled from their frames.

"There is such a huge need in this community in terms of food and pre-school education for children who would otherwise have stayed at home. Sizani is here to help others and council will have to give us alternate accommodation as we have made the decision that we won't move," Oliver said.

Twala said the eviction and several fund raising issues faced by charities each day were an example of government's failure to support organisations that were plugging holes in government's social programmes.

"Charities are facing a range of difficulties, and things like access to buildings and funding are critical for their survival. Council should understand the contribution the charity is making to society and could at least offer its support by providing the building," Twala said.

Head of eThekwini Municipality's real estate department, Keith Matthias, could not be reached for comment.

When approached for comment, Naidoo said although he had not been updated on Sizani's specific case details, council was generally sympathetic to charities and NGOs.

"Officials will look at the decision and see if the Sizani lease application has merit. The city does face a challenge in terms of space and buildings available," Naidoo said.

Article by: Heinz de Boer - www.iol.co.za