A PIECE of land at the Fish River Mouth dotted with holiday cottages is completely inhabitable and it is unsafe for anyone to live there.
This according to Eastern Cape Roads and Public Works department spokesman Sisanda George, who said the cottage owners of the popular holiday destination were served with eviction and demolition notices after it was found that having people live there was risky because their homes were built on a wetland.
“We have done a thorough audit of the area and it was found unsafe for habitation.
“Because of the state of the land, the municipality cannot provide even the most basic of services to the inhabitants there, including water and sanitation,” he said yesterday.
Some of the residents of the 47 cottages in the picturesque secluded destination received notices via e-mail from the Eastern Cape Public Works Department to vacate and demolish their premises within two months and they have been scrambling to find answers since then.
They received their notices, dated January 20, last week, and since then the homeowners’ association has been fielding panicked calls from owners who fear losing their homes.
Permanent resident Donne Birch, who lives in the settlement where buck, snake and monkeys are a common sight, said she and her family would have nowhere to go if their cottage was demolished.
“We moved here permanently about two years ago, and before that I have been coming here every Easter and December holiday for 43 years.”
The 43-year-old mother of two said her family has been using the Fish River Mouth for their holidays for 80 years.
“My grandfather used to come here with ox wagon, before the bungalows were built, and now we might have to leave. It’s disappointing and upsetting and I hope we can negotiate with the department.”
Birch, who homeschools her two children Troy, 13 and Erin 11, said she had not received the notice yet as the department did not have her e-mail address but she was sure it was coming in the post.
She hoped the issue would be resolved so that her children could grow up at the settlement.
“Growing up here is the best thing ever, you have a certain freedom that you don’t have in the city. And it is peaceful. I really don’t know where we will go if we have to leave here.”
While some of the cottages are boarded up unless it is holiday time, the residents have made the nature reserve a home, while respecting the grounds and animals around them.
Permanent resident and spokesman for the cottage homeowners’ association Joe Stapleton said they were in advanced negotiations with the Eastern Cape Public Works Department to extend their leases when they were suddenly served with the notices.
He said the department had just completed a survey of the area before the notices were served.
“Since then we have been fielding panicked calls from owners. I don’t understand – why now? We have been taking care of the reserve for years, looking after the animals, clearing the bush.
“So why the change of heart?”
Stapleton, who has been living at the popular holiday and fishing destination for 17 years, said most of the families who owned the cottages were descendents of the original families who had camped at the site almost 200 years ago.
“My wife’s family has been camping here since 200 years ago and I am hopeful that the department won’t make us demolish our homes.”
George said residents, both permanent and holiday makers, have been given enough time to make alternative arrangements.
“They are invading government land and most of them only use the cottages for holidays so they have alternative accommodation and the ones who live there permanently have up to six months to find somewhere else to live.”