South Africa: Shack dwellers accuse municipality of breaking promise to build houses

Residents of the Jika Joe informal settlement in Pietermaritzburg are demanding that the municipality of Msunduzi build houses for them.

They are insisting that families whose homes were damaged in the recent floods should move into apartments newly built by the government. However, apartments are only available for rental to qualified applicants.

Residents also rejected the municipality‘s offer earlier in February to move them to Phase 2 of a temporary housing project in the area.

The municipality says it is doing what it can to provide decent housing to communities. According to a 2019 human settlements plan, the municipality has a housing backlog of around 44,000.

Residents of Jika Joe’s informal settlement in Pietermaritzburg have staged sporadic protests since January, demanding that the municipality of Msunduzi build homes for them.

Community members are upset that recently completed Jika Joe Community Residential Units (CRUs) in the area will only be available for rent rather than free government housing.

Residents also want to move families whose homes were badly damaged by the December floods to some of the CRU’s 1,164 units, about 400 of which are fully completed.

Zodwa Kweyama, from the local branch of the Abahlali baseMjondolo housing movement, told GroundUp that when Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla and the president visited them earlier in February, they rejected their application for flood victims to move into the new subdivision. “They have to build RDP houses in Jika Joe,” she said.

Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla, in a video, said he was “disturbed” by the protests as the issues raised by residents of Jika Joe “have already been resolved”. He said the housing project launched in the community aims to ensure that people live in better conditions.

He said only those who meet the qualifying criteria will be considered tenants at the CRU. “As part of slum resolution, there are other projects that will accommodate those who cannot pay. They are striking because we are moving people for phase 2 into temporary homes which are much better than the shacks in which they live. The landlords they feel that if we move people they will lose money,” he said.

He also accused members of the Abahlali base in Mjondolo “of simply wanting to sow chaos” in the community.

Resident Christina Khawula has lived with her husband and two children in Jika Joe for 25 years. They and their two children survive on her husband’s disability allowance.

Khawula and many other residents of Jika Joe rejected the municipality’s offer earlier in February to move to Phase 2 temporary housing. “The municipality promised that there would be a [housing] plan in 2022, but there is still no plan. They still install the temporary sheet metal houses here. We need RDP houses,” Khawula said.

Dombane Mchunu told GroundUp that she was moved to phase 1 temporary housing in 2008 after. She said residents were told they would only stay there for two years, but 14 years later she now shares her sprawling structure with 30 children and grandchildren. She said her structure was collapsing.

The two toilets, shared by Mchunu and a dozen other families staying in the temporary accommodation, were in very poor condition when we visited. There were also large piles of uncollected rubbish bags and other filth strewn everywhere, especially near the communal taps. There was standing green water around the garbage, after two months of heavy rain. Residents say garbage is almost never picked up in the informal settlement.

Municipality spokesman Ntobeka Mkhizwe said those currently staying in temporary units are on the RDP house list and protesters “should not disrupt the ongoing process”.

According to a 2019 human settlements plan, the municipality has a housing backlog of approximately 44,263.

Last week, the Democratic Alliance of Msunduzi Municipality submitted a request for promotion of access to information (PAIA) to the National Department of Human Settlements following the “confusion and lack of transparency on the recipients of those [Jika Joe CRU] units”.

The municipality did not respond to questions about PAIA’s request at the time of publication.