Boarding house blitz

2011-02-16 00:00

THE Msunduzi Municipality has stepped in to curb the mushrooming of illegal boarding houses in the city.

Town planning violation notices were served on several such houses in the past week. This followed complaints by residents and an inspection by municipal officials and councillor Les Naidoo whose ward in the Bombay Heights area of Northdale has several such illegal establishments.

Two years ago a Witness exposé found that children — mainly from the Eastern Cape — who had come to attend schools in the city, were living in crowded conditions with little supervision. A task team was formed involving the municipality and the departments of Education and Social Development to find a way to regulate the illegal boarding houses but little headway was made.

The start of the 2011 school year saw the opening of more boarding houses in the Bombay Heights area. Residents complained to Naidoo, who contacted both the municipality and the community policing forum. An inspection was carried out and at a report-back meeting to the ANC branch in his area, Naidoo described what they found.

He said the owners of one of the houses applied to council for permission to operate but were turned down. Nevertheless they continued to operate.

At this house they found 16 boys and girls sharing three bedrooms with no supervision and inadequate facilities. Directly opposite the house was a shebeen.

In another house they found rooms with bunk beds but no desks and chairs. Children were sitting on the floor having their supper. They said children also sat on the floor when doing their homework.

Owners of two boarding houses presented their cases. One accused residents of being racist for not wanting black children in the area. This was denied by the residents, who focused on the poor conditions in which children were being housed.

The other boarding house owner said they are providing a necessary service and would welcome a regulatory system. “What we need,” he said, “is a watchdog body to ensure that the boarding houses are compliant with the necessary regulations.”

According to Naidoo, the city’s town planning scheme is very clear that a boarding house can only house 14 children and not more.

“We found one establishment with about 26 to 28 bunkbeds. This means they housed 56 children,” he said.

“The place was still being renovated while children were living there and there was no dining hall and no place for the children to study. Many of the establishments also have inadequate ablution facilities for the children.

“We found children being fed a very inadequate diet despite the fact that some of these homes were charging parents up to R950 a month.”

Naidoo said the move to regulate boarding houses is not intended to stop the owners from making a living operating these establishments, but the message council wants to send out is that it must be done in the right way.

He added that there is also a need to look at the bigger picture. The situation had arisen where people living in the area, sometimes right next to a school, could not send their children there because there is no place.

“We learnt that some boarding house operators go out to places like the Eastern Cape, recruiting pupils and telling parents that their children will get a better education in the city. This is creating other problems, there was a recent report of 4 000 teachers in the Eastern Cape facing retrenchment.”

A member of the audience alleged that a local ANC member was one of the people operating an illegal boarding house. Naidoo said if the accused had not applied for permission from the municipality, they would also be served with a town planning violation notice.

Les Naidoo, councillor

We found one establishment with about 26 to 28 bunkbeds. This means they housed 56 children.

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