Our informal settlements

2018-11-29 06:02

Dear Editor

On November 8 the Umdoni DA councillors, accompanied by the DA provincial leader Zwakele Mncwango, visited two of Umzinto’s eight informal settlements — namely Thokoza and Sanathan. Our purpose was to give residents an opportunity to explain their priority needs and concerns, and for us to assess the improvements since our previous visits in 2016 and 2017.

Conditions at both sites can only be described as a humanitarian crisis in our midst. The Sanathan settlement has existed since 1994. It is the product of a political initiative to import voters ahead of the first democratic local elections in 1996. The initiative achieved its ends, but since then the only tangible improvements are the formalised electrical distribution and chemical toilets. It is the only settlement that has a formal electrical supply. The rest survive on the exposed and very dangerous wires (nyokas) that criss-cross the roads and roof-tops.

The Thokoza settlement was established by the Umdoni Municipality in 2009, along with the Lindelani and Konkas settlements. These units were built on leased land to provide shelter for families from the town, who were displaced by severe floods the year before. The families came from out of town in surrounding rural areas and were told they would be housed in these structures for two years before being moved into formal housing. Ten years later and they are still living in the units, now in need of repairs. These settlements stand as a testament to the lack of will and poor performance of a negligent administration. This negligence is equally visible in suburbs, with the disgraceful state of our roads and stormwater infrastructure.

The official solution to Umzinto’s slums crisis is the Farm iSonti Housing Project for 2 130 freehold residential units, on the northern outskirts of the town. Thus far 500 units have been built, and there is no firm evidence to show that more units will be built soon. Many beneficiaries of the 500 units have returned to the slums and rent out their units as a source of income.

The project has been mired in controversy and interruptions. Allegations of corruption with regards to the beneficiary list, and the sale of houses by a councillor, being the most recent. It is the business of government to provide dignified living conditions for its citizens. We recognised this need and submitted IDP proposals on 14/11/2017 and 08/01/2018 to provide all informal settlements with relief in the form of a package of minimum basic services and functional consultative structures. The proposal included listing each settlement as an IDP project, measures to prevent growth, and the medium-to-long term objective to construct medium density urban residential units.

Our solution seeks to provide rental and sectional title units at places where residents have access to economic opportunity. Equally important is that the cost per dwelling unit becomes more economically viable, using this model. Government- and privately-owned land that is on offer, can provide the required urban spaces to achieve this solution. Our proposal for IDP and budgeting inclusion was deftly ignored by the ruling party, much like the proposals to provide an Urban Road upgrade program (to address 20 years of neglect). The effective rejection of our proposals stems from ANC policy to reject all motions, proposals, suggestions and requests that come from DA councillors, regardless of the merits involved. A more constructive approach would be to take ownership of merit-worthy proposals regardless of who makes them.

We appeal to local NGOs, churches, organisations and individuals to consider the inclusion of informal settlements in Umzinto and at Farm Abrams in Kelso, in your project planning. We know that some are already doing it, and we applaud their efforts. There are many destitute families who need help, and young children who need creche facilities. These citizens are our neighbours, and we can provide some joy and relief by being charitable.

COUNCILLOR EDWIN BAPTIE:
DA Caucus Leader, Umdoni

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