Pensioners have had to use their grant money to install toilets. Some were forced to move into houses that had no doors. In one house, when you flush the toilet, sewage spills into the home.
It’s been a year since the community was moved from a nearby township to a controversial RDP housing project in the Free State and their houses still don’t have electricity or running water.
Residents say they are struggling to deal with the shocking conditions of their homes.
The Baken Park project was constructed by Unital Holding, a Chinese company, which is allegedly partly owned by Ace Magashule’s daughter.
Residents say that years after moving to the area north of Bethlehem, they are still living in incomplete houses that still lack basic amenities.
The Free State human settlements department came under fire last year when it was revealed that it awarded contracts worth R150 million to the Chinese company in which Magashule’s daughter, Thoko Malembe, allegedly owns a 30% stake.
An elderly resident, Khehla Maseko, who spoke to City Press on Thursday said “it’s been a year since we moved into this area and we still don’t have electricity or running water”.
According to Maseko when they moved into the house it was incomplete. He said there were no ceilings, no bathroom facilities such as toilets and no electricity and electricity boxes while the bathtub was not installed properly.
“The move was forced on us by our councillor [Mavuso Tshabalala] because he said people were breaking into the vacant houses and stealing from them. When I moved in with my family the house also had no doors and they had been stolen,” he said.
“I’m retired and have no source of income yet. I have had to use my grant money to install a toilet as we have become tired of the indecency of having to relieve ourselves in the bushes in front of our homes.”
Maseko’s neighbour, Mantshieng Ndweni, echoed his sentiments.
We live in appalling conditions. As you can see some of the electricity connections are exposed. There is no ceiling and no toilet in the house,” she said.
“I am partially blind and struggling to get assistance to access a government grant yet we are still expected to install all the outstanding things in the house. My one son gets temporary jobs and that is how we have managed to get money for this toilet,” she said.
Speaking to City Press, spokesperson for the department of human settlements in the Free State Senne Bogatsu said that some of the houses had been completed with all amenities included.
"According to policy, we can't move beneficiaries into incomplete houses. The houses were completed progressively - some were fully complete while others were still under construction - from 2016 to 2017 and beneficiaries who could move on completion of their units occupied them accordingly,"she said.
"In some instances, houses would be completed, however, beneficiaries would not move in for some or other reason and in some of those instances the completed houses were vandalised."
Bogatsu said that during the acts of vandalism on the houses, parts of or entire toilets were stolen as well as parts of the ceiling.
"Where things are missing, the houses were vandalised and sanitary ware and others were stolen. On this, the department is taking it upon itself to make repairs. This is an imminent project which has started in some houses," she said.
She added that the supply of electricity to the houses was the responsibility of the municipality.
The spokesperson explained that this was an ongoing project which meant that some houses were still under construction. Bogatsu told City Press that the next phase of construction would still be carried out by the controversial Unital Holding, the company accused of building sub-standard houses.
The majority of residents moved from an informal settlement not far from the area where the controversial RDP houses have now been built.
Another resident, Mamatjie Maleke, said that in, addition to the lack of basic amenities, community members also faced high levels of crime.
“There are no street lights since there is no electricity and people take advantage of this and engage in criminal activity,” she said.
City Press went to the Tshabalalas’ home but the councillor was not there.
When he was contacted telephonically he declined to comment on the matter.
“There are many political issues here and I don’t want to respond because the Baken Park RDP issue is a sensitive matter and I might receive backlash from senior officials within my party [ANC],” he said.
Democratic Alliance Free State premier candidate Patricia Kopane said she had visited the area and was deeply disturbed by what she saw.
“More than R150 million was spent on this project and there is noting to show for it. I went to a house where an elderly lady resides. When she flushes her toilet, waste from neighbouring houses spills out in her home. Residents are living under the most indecent conditions,” she said.
“As the rest of the country celebrates Human Rights Day residents in the Free State have nothing to celebrate. They lack even the most basic of amenities such as running water and are sometimes forced to drink from the same rivers in which their livestock drink.”
Since the accusations first surfaced over the irregular manner in which the company was awarded the tender, neither Magashule, his daughter nor the company, Unital Holdings, were available for comment.
*Article was amended with comments from the Free State Department of Human Settlements