Light Reading | Building destruction

Boeta Salie Mosaval’s landlord sold his home in Lower Woodstock and the new owners began renovating while the family was still living there. Gentrification, like the Group Areas Act, forced them out.

Boeta Salie Mosaval belongs to a group of people that Cape Town seems to keep moving around, be it through apartheid’s Group Areas Act or eviction to make way for gentrification. 

Mosaval is from District Six. After the forced removals under apartheid, he lived in various places including Valhalla Park, Eastridge in Mitchells Plain and Walmer Estate, until the house he and his family were living in burned down. 

After that, he rented a single room in a house in Gympie Street in rapidly gentrifying Lower Woodstock. To support his family, he sells fruit at a stall in Adderley Street on weekdays. On the weekends, he sells candy floss in the Company’s Gardens during the day and on the Sea Point Promenade in the evenings, which is where I first met him and where we would run into each other from time to time.

Months after first meeting him, I noticed Mosaval on the promenade and we had our usual friendly conversation, but he seemed a bit distracted. He told me the house he was living in had been sold and that the new owner had started renovating it while they were still living in it. 

I explained to Mosaval that I was working on a long-term documentary photography project on the evictions in Woodstock and that I wanted to document the conditions in which he and his family were being forced to live. 

When I visited his home, the large residential development in Gympie Street a block away was still in progress. About 200m away on Albert Road, the Wex 1 development was close to completion. The neighbourhood was rapidly changing.

By that time, the only water point at his home was outside and vandals had stolen all the wiring, forcing the family to use candles as lighting. 

We walked through to the back yard, where I saw a window boarded up with a vinyl cutout depicting the construction of high-rise buildings. I was struck by the way the scene illustrated the “other” side of development, and the destruction of the homes and livelihoods that often goes along with it. 

In the photograph, Mosaval is looking in the direction of the image showing the kind of development that in pro-gentrification rhetoric is good for everyone. But the placement of that image in the window frame of a decaying house so close to two new developments in Lower Woodstock illustrates the real consequences of that kind of development for him and many others.

A few months after this photograph was taken, Mosaval’s room caught alight. He and his family now live at Cissie Gool House, the former Woodstock Hospital that has been occupied by not-for-profit organisation Reclaim the City.

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