7 May 2019

South Africa: We Campaigned for the ANC As Instructed, but We Never Got the Promised Houses, Say East London Families

Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik/GroundUp
People living in temporary housing in Braelyn, East London, say they have tried everything they can think of to get the municipality to keep a 2013 promise to move them.

Families who were moved to temporary shelters in Braelyn, East London, after a fire in 2013 are still there. They say they were told to campaign for the ANC in the 2016 elections, and they did, but they never got the houses they were promised.

Residents protested last month, demanding to be moved. Instead, they say, on 25 April municipal human settlements head Nozandile Mhlola told them 40 more shelters would be added to the area to house families affected by fire in another area.

The Braelyn residents want to be moved out before new families are moved in.

They say the shelters are old and cracking and when this was reported to the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality last year only 20 out of 60 shelters were fixed - and even those are cracking again.

Community leader Mzingisi Zweni said the families had been moved after about 100 shacks were destroyed in Duncan Village Florence informal settlement in June 2013. At that time, he said, the municipality had promised to move the families to new housing within months. Instead, they had been living in the temporary shelters for close to six years.

"We are going to prevent them adding more shelters until they move us to the houses they promised us six years ago," he said.

Zweni said the families had tried everything they could think of to get the municipality's attention but all they heard was empty promises.

The area has only ten toilets, five for males and five for females. Two of the toilets are not working.

"The first year we didn't have electricity. We had to write letters to the Mayor's office and protest before they started taking us seriously," said Zweni. He said they had first written to Mayor Zukiswa Ncitha and the housing department in September 2013. A meeting between Human Settlement officials, including Mhlola, was held on an open field next to the temporary shelters in September 2013.

Mhlola had said the municipality was still looking for land. "They promised to come back after three months to tell us where the houses were going to be built. We waited but they never came back," Zweni said.

In March 2014 another letter was sent to Ncitha's office asking for another meeting with the mayor, municipal officials and ward councillors. There was no meeting and residents protested, burning tyres in the streets.

"That was in 2014 just before the national elections," said Zweni. He said officials had told protesters to wait until after the elections. "We waited but nothing was done to help us."

So the residents wrote again, this time to former mayor Alfred Mtsi, then speaker of the municipality. The response they received from his office was that their area was not on the housing budget.

In 2016 they protested again and this time, Zweni says, officials told them they must campaign for the ANC in the municipal elections, to make sure the ANC won the ward back from the DA.

"We stopped the protest and campaigned for the ANC. We would sleep at 3am, having meetings and begging people to vote for the ANC," he said. The ANC won the ward.

But after the elections, Zweni says, nothing was said about the new houses.

The residents went to the BCMM planning offices and met Albie Meiring, who sent the list of all fire victims to municipal human settlements department to be put on housing list. But Zweni says the families do not know if their names were ever added.

"We have tried everything with no luck. We were used to campaign for the ANC to win this ward, and we delivered, they won the ward but that was for nothing," he said.

Last July residents protested again, closing the freeway leading to East London with burning tyres. This time, says Zweni, the municipality promised to build them houses in New Life and Heaven Hill, but did not say when.

Lwandile Bistol says his was one of the shelters which was not fixed. He had to buy cigarettes for the municipal workers who were fixing the other shelters to persuade them to fix his.

Some of the shelters are built on wetland. There is a sewerage plant nearby which smells in the summer. The area is surrounded by bushes. Toilets are several metres from houses and community members say they do not use the toilets at night because it is not safe.

Mhlola said she understood the frustration of the people in the shelters and the municipality would build houses on the land in New Life and Heaven Hills, but there was no budget at the moment.

Questions sent a week ago to municipal spokesperson Bathandwa Diamond were not answered.

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