South Africa: Violent Housing Protests Erupt Because of Government's Broken Promises

Demolished RDP houses were supposed to be rebuilt immediately. Seven months later there's no progress

Beneficiaries of RDP homes that were poorly built in 1998 in KwaDesi were told to demolish their structures in January so that they could be rebuilt.

The homeowners have been living in shacks since then, but rebuilding has still not started, sparking protests.

Covid-19 and a legal issue with one of the building contractors are blamed for the seven-month delay.

Dozens of residents from KwaDwesi Extension, Port Elizabeth, blocked roads with rocks and burning tyres on Tuesday and Wednesday. They are demanding that 50 RDP houses be immediately rebuilt. The houses were so poorly built that they were demolished in January in order to be rebuilt. But more than half-a-year later the residents are still living in shacks.

Police dispersed the protesters at the intersection of the R75 Uitenhage Road and Mission Road on Tuesday using rubber bullets. But the residents then closed Lixolilelizwe Road. They demanded motorists pay R10 in order to pass. The protests continued on Wednesday, until the ward councillor addressed them.

The Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements Bethelsdorp Rectification of Houses project started in 2018, to rebuild or fix RDP houses that were poorly constructed in 1998. The Housing Development Agency (HDA) is the implementing agent.

Fundiswa Mfanta, one of the homeowners involved, explained the situation: "In January our ward councillor told us to demolish our poorly built RDPs for the rectification programme. Our houses had huge cracks in the walls, and no cement foundations. They were just halls with a flushing toilet but no ceiling on them.

"She [ward councillor] said within two weeks the construction company would start. But every month she kept on referring us to the next month."

"The place where my house should be rebuilt has turned into a grazing field for goats. My electric meter box is lying on the ground. I covered it with planks and plastic sheets. For the toilet, I have to ask neighbours. At night ... we use empty paint buckets. We would keep that bucket in this one room shack until the following day. We had to connect our own pipes to our water metres in order to get water," she said.

Community leader Anele Sopazi said: "For months people are crammed in small shacks with their big families. They are put under pressure by their neighbours who demand rent for their furniture and use of their toilet services. They were supposed to receive R1,500 while waiting for their houses to be finished.

"But police came, shot and arrested people for fighting for their rights. All that we want to know is when these houses will be built?"

Khulile Maclean said: "I live in a one-room shack with my family of six. On cold days I don't take a bath because my children have to sit outside and give me privacy.

Ward 36 Councillor Nomonde Mhlobiso (ANC) said: "Residents blame me for no good reasons. I am just the ward councillor. I have no right to order people to demolish their houses. Only the appointed contractors have a right to do so.

"We are on phase two of this rectification project. Per phase we rebuild 100 houses and two contractors were appointed to do that job. This area is divided into five units and per unit we rebuild 20 houses. But Covid-19 halted the project."

"I was only informed on Monday by the Housing Development Agency (HDA) that the other company responsible for houses in phase 1 and 2 was found guilty of using its operating name illegally. Therefore it could not continue with the project and a new company should be appointed.

"I have sent the ward committees and project steering committee members to go and address the 50 affected beneficiaries. Covid-19 does not allow me to hold public meetings. I would be fined R5,000 if I do that," she said.

"In 2018 when we started with phase one, the beneficiaries chose to be given R1,500 a month instead of a temporary shelter. They were given this money until their homes were finished ... Hence they built their own small shacks on their sites. They also made their own arrangements with their neighbours and relatives to accommodate themselves with a hope of sharing the money.

"If they had accepted the temporary shelters, they would be provided with water and toilets," Mhlobiso said.

Masiza Mazizi, spokesperson for Human Settlements MEC Nonkqubela Pieters, said two companies, Veren Builder and BM Matshisa, had been contracted to build 50 houses each. A court case, which had nothing to do with the department, involving Veren Builder, had delayed the process..

"HDA is busy with replacement and is expecting the appointment letter to be ready before 20 August 2020. The current challenge is that, apparently, the owner of Veren Builder kept convening community meetings without other role players and without the involvement of the department, promising to start construction as early as 1 August, hence community protests."

Veren Builder's spokesperson Karl Williams said: "We are not at liberty to discuss the court case. But the contract has been awarded to another company."

Police spokesperson Andre Beetge said: "One woman was arrested on Tuesday for public violence. She was part of a group that was burning tyres the road."

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