South Africa: Families Accuse City of Failing to Approve Shack Extensions

6 February 2020

Bonnytoun residents say they are cramped because of red tape

About 20 of 48 families living in Bonnytoun informal settlement say they are struggling to get approval from the City of Cape Town to enlarge their shacks. Families have grown and their homes are too small. Some claim they have been waiting for more than three years for permission.

Community leader Mona Allie, who has been staying in Bonnytoun for 28 years, said a number of families have been to the City's offices in Ottery several times to apply for home extensions, fencing, and roof extensions to divert rain runoff.

First a field worker brings the necessary forms and then the City inspects the premises.

"When the field worker comes here she writes down complaints and they don't do anything about it," said Allie. "Everything stops at the Ottery offices. They are making trouble in the community. Now residents think that I am the one blocking them."

She said one resident had extended his roof to prevent water from getting into his house. "The fieldworker has threatened to send the land invasion unit if he doesn't break it down."

Sophia Peters stays in a small shack (B45) with her daughter and two grandchildren. She was evicted from her home in Wynberg three years ago. She and her family now use a single room as a bathroom, kitchen, lounge and bedroom. Most of her furniture stays outside, covered by black plastic.

"But the plastic protects the top part only. The furniture got ruined by rain on the bottom. I used to carry the furniture out and bring it back again in the evening but it is too much work for me. So I have left it outside there permanently. For three years we have been here. I am sleeping on the floor. I can't let my grandchildren sleep on the floor. I need a room with my own bed."

Peters said she got approval in 2018 but she didn't build because she didn't have money to buy building materials. When she bought building material last year in October she went to the Ottery City offices to confirm if she can still extend. "They said, no, I can't, the approval has expired. I need to re-apply. Since then I didn't get feedback."

The City confirmed it had given permission in 2018 and said it was unaware of why she had not built.

Babalwa Semela, a mother of two children aged six and 17, claimed it has been two years since she applied for an extension. She said she went back to the offices in January last year and was told that officials who were working on her case had left.

A meeting was held in July for ward 63 at the civic hall in Wynberg. "But [the City] did not give us feedback on the issue. They always come with their own agenda. They don't allow us to ask questions. We are not part of decision making," said Semela.

The City said that Semela illegally erected a structure in Bonnytoun in June 2018 and the Informal Settlements Management Department was not aware of a request from Semela for permission to extend her structure.

Another resident, who identified herself as Charlete, said her family has been waiting for extension approval for two years. Eight of them are sharing a single room and her two sisters are staying with neighbours because of a lack of space.

The City ignored our question about this family.

In an email to GroundUp on 20 January, Councillor Malusi Booi, Mayco Member for Human Settlements, wrote: "There is an ongoing problem with people who are displaced, claiming to be residents of Bonnytoun and demanding services. The City has verified records."

"There was an owner who approached the Informal Settlements Management (ISM) Department's officers for an extension. However, upon further assessment, it was discovered that should an extension be granted, it would block off the access road for emergency services' response as well as for the community to escape in emergency situations."

"Furthermore, the claim that extension forms were not sent with officials to Bonnytoun is inaccurate. The ISM Department does action application requests. However, it is not given or approved due to various reasons including the one mentioned above."

Booi also said that the officials were in Bonnytoun on Wednesday 15 January. But Allie said she didn't see the officials.

On 21 January GroundUp sent further questions to the City. We asked how long it should take for the City to decide on an application for an extension. The City did not reply to this question.

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