Promises cost municipality

2014-06-22 18:36

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Johannesburg - An election promise has come back to haunt a municipality in ­Mpumalanga after it tried to sell residents houses that campaigning politicians swore would be given to them for free, City Press reports.

The Thaba Chweu council in Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg) tried to sell about 170 two-bedroom houses that the Chinese government built for it in Graskop.

But their plans hit a snag because Premier David Mabuza and former human settlements MEC Andries Gamede promised residents at a community meeting on 26 April that the houses would be given to them at no cost.

The promises, said two ANC councillors who spoke on condition of anonymity, were made to avoid losing voters to the DA.

The opposition party made a strong showing in Graskop during a 2012 by-election, taking it from the ANC for the first time since 1994.

“The council wanted to sell them, no doubt about it, until election considerations took priority. It was our tactic to lure the voters and now we have to keep the promise,” said one councillor.

Mabuza’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, said: “Initially, the proposal was to sell some of the houses. However, after some discussions between the provincial government, the municipality and the community, a final decision was taken that they are going to be free.”

Human settlements spokesperson Freddy Ngobe confirmed that Gamede “intervened” so residents would not have to pay for the homes.

Ngobe and Mabuza’s promise came as news to the cash-strapped council. One of the councillors interviewed by City Press said the money – about R160 000 per house, for a total of R27.2m – would have helped Thaba Chweu pay service providers like Eskom.

“We had hired a valuer who put a price on the units and we were counting on that money,” he said.

But after the politicians’ promises, the council had no choice. It has now agreed to decide on beneficiaries and not to charge residents for the houses.

“We are waiting for them to come back to us after the premier and the MEC stopped them from selling the houses. We suggested that they should give 10 houses to the disabled and the rest to deserving community members,” said one resident.

Thaba Chweu spokesperson Puleng Mapheto referred questions to President Jacob Zuma’s office because the “Chinese Housing Project is an issue between the South African and Chinese governments”.

The presidency, in turn, referred questions to the department of international relations and cooperation, which sent City Press back to the municipality.

When pressed for comment, Mapheto said the matter was “political and sensitive”, and declined to comment further.

Read more on:    mbombela  |  housing
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