Tension as City’s washing lines deteriorate

Washing lines at Van der Leurhof, Lavender Hill.

Cordial relations between residents at Lavender Hill’s council-owned flats are on the line, says community worker Clive Jacobs, if the City of Cape Town does not do its bit to upgrade the washing lines needed to dry laundry.

When the Southern Mail visited the courts last week, spending time at Aspeling and Van de Leurhof courts in particular, it was clear that viable washing lines were a scarce commodity.

Some of the lines at the two courts were tattered, hanging slack, and in other places, lines were removed entirely from their iron support poles which are, in some instances, considerably weathered and rusted.

But apart from concerns around poor general maintenance of the lines, Mr Jacobs said the lack of proper facilities also meant that residents were often at each other’s throats to secure the use of a proper line to hang their washing.

Residents reserve lines by placing marked pegs, or pieces of marked paper on specific sections, usually overnight, to secure their hanging space. In some instances, however, these pegs may be stolen or even maliciously removed.

Mr Jacobs recalled one incident in 2017, when a physical fight broke out between two women over the use of a washing line. He said one woman ignored the fact that the line had already been booked and when the other woman noticed, in retaliation, she removed the washing that had been hung and threw it on the ground.

“It’s sad to see how much a stupid, dumb line can create so much animosity,” said Mr Jacobs.

Lavender Hill resident, Whiedaad Stemmet, 24, agrees. She says she has witnessed several fights between her neighbours about the use of limited space on washing lines.

“People skel (scold) a lot for lines here. You have to wake up early or else you don’t get a line, they ask you why you wake up so late… Some even book six lines at a time,” she told Southern Mail, while hanging her laundry on a makeshift line her family and neighbours have erected at their door to avoid conflict, and because many of the communal lines are too slack to hang heavier garments.

Ms Stemmet said some residents who work during the week sometimes verbally attack those who are at home and are not employed, questioning why they must wait for the weekend to do their laundry.

Fatimah Isaacs, 60, moved to Lavender Hill as a teenager when the courts were first built. Frustrated, she said residents have been living without proper lines for too long.

Ms Isaacs hangs her washing on a line erected in front of her door to avoid conflict and inconvenience. She said parents living in the courts also have a role to play because children sometimes play on the lines by hanging on them, causing further deterioration.

“The parents also don’t reprimand the children when they hang on the lines,” she said.

Marita Petersen, Ward 68 councillor, which includes Lavender Hill, agreed that the problem with washing lines in Lavender Hill has been an “ongoing problem” and admitted that it caused friction between residents.

In response to a detailed list of questions around maintenance and City policy around the lines she responded: “I had a site visit with (the) housing (department) last year and officials were to replace most lines and this is continuously reported to officials,” she said.

“Lines are intermittently replaced and fixed and yes, the quality of maintenance is reported. However, it is important that tenants respect each other and rotate times of using the lines,” she said.

She confirmed that children hanging on the lines and tenants hanging up heavy items such as carpets also weaken the lines.

“Again, as I said, it is something that the tenants need to work out among themselves,” she said, referring Southern Mail to two other City officials for information on the record of maintenance for the lines.

But Mr Jacobs believes the City is not serious about delivering services to the people living in its courts. “Lavender Hill people will take what they can get. There is already so much social poverty and I don’t think things are going to get better… People must understand that they have rights. It’s never a win-win situation with the City,” he said.

An Aspeling Court mother, who did not want her name published, said in her 45 years of living in the courts, matters concerning the washing lines had never been as bad as now.

“I don’t remember my mother fighting about washing lines,” she said. “May be petty for you, but it’s big for us.”