On Monday, we visited the Thokoza informal settlement and section five of Eden Park in the Ekhuruleni municipality in Gauteng. A number of people accompanied us on our trip including DA MPL Neil Campbell, DA councillors Eddie Taylor, Lefu Hanong, William Jarvis, Estelle Visser, Maureen Ansett and Bruna Haiple, DA LEAD Co-ordinator Clifford Mohau, DA Com Jaco Terblanche, and Esther Mthembu and Aaron Letele who are activists from the area. What follows below is an account of the shocking conditions we found at the hostels and the informal settlement in Thokoza as well as the housing development in Eden Park.
(We have loaded a more detailed report as well as a number of photos of the things we saw and the people we met on our Parliament for People webpage including the action steps we will now be taking in Parliament in order to address the dire circumstances that currently exist in this area.)
We decided to visit the Thokoza informal settlement due to the violent service delivery protests that had broken out at the end of July where residents of the hostels and the informal settlement marched to protest about the lack of service delivery in the area. It is clear that the Thokoza community is angryand frustrated over the many promises made and broken by the ANC Government.
Ekhuruleni Mayor Ntombi Mekgwe - who many of the protestors have demanded step down from her position - responded to these protests by establishing a task team that could be used by the community to raise their concerns and to interact with the municipality.
We decided to visit both the hostels and the informal settlement in Thokoza to speak to the residents about their concerns and problems and to see for ourselves what conditions they were living in. We also wanted to find out whether this task team had been interacting with the community to try and address some of the concerns they had raised during the protests. Lastly, we also visited section five in Eden Park to speak to members of a community who had occupied RDP houses that had not been allocated to them.
What follows is a short summary of the shocking conditions we saw and the people we met (the webpage provides a far more detailed description, and the DA Media Centre contains a full set of high resolution photographs, which are free for publication).
The Mandala and S.Soji Hostels
- The Outside Area: When we got out of our cars we were struck by the large number of people who were sitting around despite the fact that it was a weekday. The unemployment rate at the hostels is around 95%. There was also a large amount of rubbish lying around the hostels - even a dead dog - and young children were left to play in this dirt despite the obvious threat posed to their health.
- The Buildings: The buildings are also in a terrible condition, there are a large number of broken windows and some of the entrances don't have doors. We also found fifteen or more people living in each unit. The hostel dwellers have partitioned off the rooms with hardboard and families of four or more were staying in rooms that were approximately 9m²in size. The walls are also black and there is an overwhelming smell of paraffin hanging in the air due to there being no electricity or lighting inside the hostels. There is also no running water and the community has to walk to basins to fetch water, where many of the taps had been stolen.
- The Ablution Facilities: There are no sanitation facilities inside the individual units of the hostels and the residents have to use communal ablution facilities. The Mandala ablution facility was by far the worst out of the two hostels. The smell of urine and faeces is overwhelming and the floors are submerged in dirty water. The toilets are not working and are blocked up and covered with dirt and human excrement. The water pipes for the showers and urinals have been ripped out the walls and there was even a dead rat lying in the door way of one of the toilets. We were also told that both the hostel residents and residents living in the neighbouring informal settlement used these facilities due to the lack of sanitation in the area. The S.Soji ablution facility has no partitioning between the toilets so there is a complete lack of privacy when using the toilets.
- The Hostel Residents: We spoke to a number of residents in the hostels who told us that they had been living in the hostels for a number of years and that there had been no improvements made to the hostels or to the basic services available to them. They lived in tiny rooms without running water, electricity or sanitation and do anything to make money including washing people's clothes. Most of them told us that no government officials had come to visit them since the service delivery protests. (The Parliament for the People website will provide a number of these stories in more detail as well as photos of the residents and we will also upload two videos of Sibusiso Mkhunaze and Sibongile Sithole).
The Thokoza Informal Settlement
- The Infrastructure: We found that there were almost no basic services available to the people living in the informal settlement. There were only four stand pipes in the entire area and people told us that they had to get up in the early hours of the morning, while it was still dark, to avoid the long queues waiting to get water. There was also no proper sanitation and we found one homemade pit latrine that was in a shocking condition and totally unhygienic. There were rows and rows of shacks, many falling apart, and we found illegal connections in most of the shacks we entered. Exposed electricity cables also ran across many of the roads.
- The Informal Settlement Residents: we spoke to a number of residents standing around the stand pipes and in their shacks who told us that government officials had not come and spoken to them about the lack of services in the area. Two stories that stood out particularly were women who told us that rats came into their shacks and bit their babies at night and that people came around and collected electricity payments from residents every month and that they paid rent to live in their shacks (The Parliament for the People website will provide these stories in more detail and a video of two women we spoke to who were standing at one of the stand pipes).
Section Five of Eden Park
This housing development is a prime example of how some people desperate for houses have decided to take the law into their own hands by occupying RDP houses that have not been allocated to them.
We spoke to a number of people from this community, who told us that when the houses were being built in this area the ANC Government promised them that the houses would be allocated to people living in the greater Alberton area. However, this had not happened as these houses were allocated largely to people from Katlehong and Vosloorus instead. People as young as 25 years of age (they had clearly not been on the waiting list for long) had been allocated houses and the occupants also alleged some people had been allocated two houses or more. This is why they decided to occupy the houses.
The extent of this community's desperation became even more apparent to us after we walked around the houses and saw what conditions these people were prepared to live in.
Firstly, the residents of these new houses have no access to water. There are no stand pipes installed or water pipes attached to the outside basins or to the toilets that have been built outside the houses. These toilets are also in a terrible condition, most are blocked up and there is human excrement lying around the toilets. We also found that the lower lying houses are flooded with raw sewerage flowing from open sewerage pipes in the area.
(The Parliament for the People website will also contain some of the stories we heard when speaking to the Eden Park community)
Despite the fact that this housing development lacked basic services, these squatters still believed that occupying these houses illegally was better than living in shacks. It showed us how desperate the people in these areas are for the slightest improvement to their lives even if it resulted in them breaking the law.
It is clear from our visit that no concrete steps have been taken by the ANC government in Thokoza to deal with the concerns raised by protestors during the recent service delivery protests. It also appears that the task team set up by Ekhuruleni Mayor Ntombi Mekgwe has not visited the hostels or the informal settlements to listen to the communities concerns and problems and as a result these residents are still angry and frustrated over the lack of basic services in the area.
The fact that no concrete steps have been taken by government officials and that communities have not seen even a slight effort being made by the ANC government to improve the delivery of basic services in the area means that there is a strong possibility that more violent service delivery protests will break out in the future. This possibility is further indicated by the large number of police vans standing around the entrance of Thokoza.
We have visited Thokoza and spoken directly to the people living there and we now believe that immediate action needs to be taken in order to prevent future service delivery protests and violence breaking out, so that the living conditions of Thokoza residents are improved and so that the people living in Eden Park who have applied for housing are given preference when houses in this area are allocated.
The DA will therefore be taking a number of steps at a national, local and provincial level that include the following:
DA Shadow Minister Willem Doman and Shadow Deputy Minister Marti Wenger will be posing parliamentary questions to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Sicelo Shiceka on a range of issues including the audit government will be conducting and the task teams the Minister has sent to service delivery hotspots;
DA Shadow Minister Willem Doman and Shadow Deputy Minister Marti Wenger will also request that the Portfolio Committee of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs conduct oversight visits to service delivery hotspots including Thokoza and request a meeting with Minister Shiceka after visiting these areas;
DA Shadow Minister Willem Doman and Shadow Deputy Minister Marti Wenger will also be raising what we found on our visit in the debate that will be taking place in the National Assembly on Thursday, 20 August on the state of municipal governance and will call for Parliament to come up with specific solutions to the service delivery problems in Thokoza and Eden Park and the country as a whole;
DA MPLs will also be posing questions to a number of Gauteng MECs on particular issues surrounding the Thokoza hostels and informal settlement as well as the housing development and housing allocations in Eden Park;
DA councillors will also request a meeting with Ekhuruleni Mayor Ntombi Mekgwe and the task team that was set up to visit the Thokoza communities. Our councilors will raise a number of issues with the mayor on what we found during our visit;
DA public representatives at a national, provincial and local level will meet on a regular basis to come up with concrete proposals and action steps to improve service delivery in the Thokoza area and will approach the relevant government authority with these proposals. (further details of our action steps can be found on our Parliament for the People website).
We will provide continuous feedback on any developments with regard to these actions steps as well as any improvements made to the Thokoza hostels, informal settlement and Eden Park housing development as a result of our visit.
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