South Africa: Despatch Housing Project Halted By "Political Tensions"

A group of residents have occupied a housing project site in a protest against their ward councillor

A local housing project meant for destitute shack dwellers in Despatch in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has been brought to a standstill amid political tension in the area.

The Khayamnandi Extension Housing project was meant to house shack dwellers living on wetlands and backyard dwellers. The project which began in 2014, was expected to have 1,013 homes, but only 234 were built and occupied by the rightful beneficiaries. The area, where the remainder of the homes were meant to be built, has now been occupied by a faction opposed to their ward councillor's appointment. They have built shacks around incomplete toilet structures on the services site.

The occupation followed clashes between two factions in the community before and after the 2016 local government elections.

One group is said to be supporting the current Ward 41 Councillor Simphiwe Tyukana (ANC) and the other is said to be supporting the former councillor, Mbongeni Bungane, who contested the elections as an independent candidate. Both are accused of using the project as a tool to gain more votes in the ward.

Tyukana told GroundUp he did not feel safe going into the area because of "political tensions" in the community. "These people are approaching me. They say I must come back and do my job. But I will only go there when everybody calms down and allows development to take place," he said.

Bungane refused to comment. "I am no longer a councillor. I will only comment if I am legally compelled to do so," he said.

Last Wednesday, those occupying the land were reluctant to speak to GroundUp and refused to be identified. Many of them said they feared being targeted for speaking out. One occupier said: "People get killed here since these political tensions."

An occupier said they began erecting shacks on the property in Kings Town township after other people from Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage occupied the [incomplete toilet structures].

One of the occupiers said that the municipality had tried to evict them several times between 2017 and 2018. They fought the evictions by staging several violent protests on Old Uitenhage Road and with a march to the mayor's office in Port Elizabeth. They have vowed to remain on the land until they get their own houses.

In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein granted the municipality an eviction order against the occupiers but the municipality first has to find alternative accommodation for the group.

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