Pioneers of Cafda Village development

One of the first houses in Cafda Village.

Cafda was founded in 1944 to help communities ravaged by floods, poverty and inequality. Its first chairperson was Mary Attlee, the sister of Clement Attlee, the UK prime minister from 1945 to 1951. She started a soup kitchen in Retreat to bring relief to people living in shacks across the Cape Flats.

Cafda originally stood for Cape Flats Distress Association until it was changed to Cape Flats Development Association in the 1980s.

David Findling, the first social worker, was appointed on June 1 1948. In his first year, he dealt with 500 cases and did 317 home visits and 1 462 interviews.

A second social worker as well as a clerk were employed in 1952 as cases – about a quarter of them dealing with housing problems – rose to 800 a year.

Cafda’s executive committee, under the leadership of Dr Oscar Wolheim, resolved that the shortage of affordable housing on the Cape Flats should be addressed in earnest.

Apartheid legislation, including the Group Areas Act of 1950 and the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951, aggravated the housing crisis and people were finding it hard to find the most basic of accommodation.

The first step in establishing Cafda Village was the creation, in 1951, of the Cape Flats Utility Company (CUC), a Cafda Section-21 subsidiary to manage the development of Cafda Village. The CUC was also used to manage the development of Valhalla Park and Vrygrond in the 1970s.

The CUC was responsible for maintaining the homes and for evicting problem tenants.

The estimated cost of the Cafda Village housing development was 100 000 pounds, and negotiations with the Cape Town city council started in early 1951 for a 100-acre site, where 400 to 500 families could be settled.

The loan for the land was acquired from the Johannesburg Building Society in 1952, but it was only enough for 59 acres. In 1954, the CUC approached the Housing Commission for a loan to develop 336 dwellings, but the commission turned down the loan on the grounds that the development was “too expensive”.

In January 1955, the CUC submitted a second application for baths, hand basins, and internal doors to the dwellings and this loan was approved in March 1954. But the loan was only sufficient for 200 dwellings, not 336.

The CUC received 500 applications for 200 homes. According to the strict selection criteria, the breadwinner had to earn 15 to 20 pounds and the family had to have been subjected to social issues in the past other than just pure poverty and a lack of accommodation.

The selection process also included a written application and an interview with a social worker. The lease agreements gave the CUC the right to inspect all homes and children under 14 had to attend school.

The first 20 families moved in, in October 1956. The homes had a living room, a shower, a kitchen and two bedrooms. Utilities such as electricity and water were free, and the monthly rent was 15 pounds.

The Solomons family were first to move in and occupied a house in Runge Street. By the end of 1957, the allotted 200 families representing 1 275 adults and children, had moved into their new homes in the development known as Cafda Village.

The CAFDA development was not just the biggest development of its kind at the time, but it was the forerunner of all other sub-economic housing developments on the Cape Flats – places such as Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel, Heideveld, Lavender Hill, Parkwood, Manenberg, Valhalla Park, Vrygrond and Steenberg – that would become apartheid’s dumping ground for the remnants of communities torn apart by the forced removals of the Group Areas Act.

* Information for this article was sourced from CAFDA An Illustrated History 1944 – 2004, by Neil Scott.