A delapidated buidling at the old embassy grounds.
Despite 16 years of negotiations and the support of stakeholders such as King Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana, Thovhele Kennedy Tshivhase and Thovhele Gole Mphaphuli, the departments of justice, social development, health and the SAPS, the Limpopo High Court granted an application from the Department of Works last week to evict the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP) from the offices they have occupied on the former embassy grounds in Sibasa since 2002.
All that remains is for the sheriff to serve the order, giving them just 14 days to move out – or to close.
“Although we deliver services that our government is constitutionally mandated to either provide or fund, they cover only 6% of our operating costs, relying on foreign donors to provide the rest,” says Ms Fiona Nicholson, programme director of the TVEP, “Understandably, those donors feel the SA government should at the very least provide us with premises from which to work, and not expect them to pay their rent as well.”
According to Nicholson, who is affectionately known as Mukondeleli for her persistence in fighting abuse, this came as a shock, because the Department of Public Works had earlier agreed to allow them to buy the property, or alternatively to pay a ‘peppercorn rent’ (or a token gesture) on a long lease.
“Suddenly we were told that their in-house lawyer had terminated negotiations, because he has a personal grudge against me!” she utters, shocked. “I can’t believe anyone would be so selfish and unprofessional, but he now claims that we refused to submit proof that we had no funds to pay rent. In truth, we submitted our audited financial statements three times, and they are available on our website anyway.”
In the 16 years that TVEP have occupied the building, they have assisted more than 24,000 victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and empowered approximately another 400,000 regarding their rights and responsibilities.
According to TVEP’s financial records, they have contributed more than R73 million to the economy of Vhembe, of which R47 million was in salaries paid to their 68 employees. The 14 projects they run, which include two 24/7 trauma centres and short-term shelters, may have to close if a solution is not found within the next two weeks.
Nicholson clarified that “we simply do not have money to pay rent – unless we close some of the projects and retrench some staff”.
A visit to the former embassy estate reveals a huge property reduced to a slum, with more than 120 squatters inhabiting at least five dilapidated buildings that have allegedly been neglected by the Department of Public Works for more than 20 years. Another three houses stand out as being in excellent condition, accommodating private homes and businesses. The occupants claim to have purchased their buildings legally, but although this is hotly denied by the Department of Public Works, no action has been taken against them. Ironically, no one else on the property has been evicted as the judgement specifies only the house occupied by the TVEP.
What will this mean to victims of rape and abuse in future, and the 68 families supported by TVEP employees?
The spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, Mr Joshua Kwapa, was not available for comment.
The spokesperson for the Limpopo Premier, Mr Kenneth Mathivha, said that the Premier had received a letter requesting his intervention. “The Premier is currently applying his mind on the letter and will get back to concerned parties in due time.”
Date:12 February 2018 - By: Tshifhiwa Mukwevho
Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho was born in 1984 in Madombidzha village, not far from Louis Trichardt in the Limpopo Province. After submitting articles for roughly a year for Limpopo Mirror's youth supplement, Makoya, he started writing for the main newspaper. He is a prolific writer who published his first book, titled A Traumatic Revenge in 2011. It focusses on life on the street and how to survive amidst poverty. His second book titled The Violent Gestures of Life was published in 2014.