Only three of Janine Steerman’s four children will be with her for Christmas.

Her “baby” was taken from her by social workers three years ago because they deemed her home – a backyard shack in Kalkfontein, Kuils River – not fit for a child.

Steerman, 28, is one of several mothers who have had their children removed because of their living conditions. Their best hope to get out of their predicament is decent housing, which they qualify for, but are unlikely to receive as many of them have been on a waiting list for over 20 years.

Kalkfontein is home to about 1 000 backyarders, according to the City of Cape Town.

Steerman, who has been on the waiting list for eight years, said: “I don’t think I’ll ever get a house. I’ve given up, but what does that help because I have no other option than to wait, wait and wait. What hurts me the most is that my child wasn’t taken away because I had a drug addiction or that I drink – I don’t do either.”

She said it irked the community that the city is visible, but brought them only “more promises each time”.

“I lost my baby three years ago because of these circumstances,” she said, pointing to her derelict bungalow. Nearly every plank of the one-room shack has holes in it.

“When it’s winter, it’s super cold; when it’s summer, it’s so hot that it’s better I stay outside.”

She said she would get her child back only if she had a decent house. Her only employment was casual; her peak wages were R400 a week at a fishery. She said while she couldn’t maintain the shack because she was unemployed, a proper house would be easier to maintain.

Married couple Willem and Patricia Swartz also had two of their children removed.

A musty smell lingered in their one-room shack, which they share with five of their children, the youngest three months old. Earning just R900 a week, Willem can’t afford a house and he fears if he doesn’t get one soon, more of his children could be taken.

The city’s mayoral committee member for human setttlements, Benedicta van Minnen, said: “Should a housing opportunity come up at a later stage for a backyard dweller who qualifies for a subsidy housing opportunity, that person would have the choice to take such an opportunity or not.”

This year, the city announced a plan which included R333 million for backyard and informal settlement upgrades over the next three years.

The draft budget for the next year proposed the city spend R134m on upgrades across the metropole as part of a budget of R1.7 billion for the current financial year.

Weekend Argus