eMbalenhle’s Housing wars

The housing situation in eMbalenhle is, to put it lightly, dire. It is common knowledge that RDP houses are casually bought and sold, rented out and occupied by placeholders.

The Bulletin Newspaper
Elizabeth Mhlongo at her RDP house

The Office of the Municipal Manager recently responded to a follow-up communication from the Sizanani Community and Business Forum. The Forum has been engaged in what seems to be a ‘housing war’ in the community of eMbalenhle, where RDP houses are illegally rented out, and homes are destroyed with little to no accountability from the Provincial Department of Human Settlements and Govan Mbeki Municipality.
As far back as August 2017, over 30 dwellings were demolished in eMbalenhle with the understanding that low cost units (RDP houses) would be constructed and handed over to the residents of these demolished homes. Sizanani representatives allege that since this has not yet been done, residents have been left displaced, often seeking refuge with family members and neighbours.
Meanwhile, a number of RDP houses lay bare and unoccupied in eMbalenhle, while a long waiting list of applicants has been at, seemingly, a standstill for years. Our investigations also show that a number of the RDP houses in eMbalenhle are owned by prominent figures of the community, who rent the houses out, which is an illegal act in South Africa. “Some of them own three or four houses, and they rent all of them out,” a resident said.
It is these homes that members of the community believe should be occupied by those who were unfairly displaced during demolitions.
In 2016, a large expanse of land was designated for the construction of hundreds of low cost units, but due to the already pervasive corruption associated with them, the community refused such a development. Instead, the land was forcefully ‘taken’ by the community and used to establish a settlement for those who needed it most. At present, the area is an informal settlement called Azania. Many of the residents of Azania are also currently on the waiting list for RDP homes. The establishment of Azania is indicative of the strife between the community and government institutions, where the community grows increasingly frustrated and combative towards these institutions. “We have decided that we, as the community, will have to take it into our own hands, and fight where we have to fight,” said John Mahlangu, the founder of the Sizanani Community and Business Forum.
Part of the combative stance that the community has taken is to remove elderly residents from shacks in informal settlements and forcefully give them refuge in the unoccupied RDP houses that are owned under illegal circumstances. One such resident, Elizabeth Mhlongo, who is 77 years old, says she was recently approached by a young woman who tried to evict her from the house she was given. “She came here and told me that this is her house and that I must leave,” Mhlongo said. “She threatened to throw all my clothes and belongings out, saying I am not supposed to be here.”
It is alleged that the young woman is a relative of an ANC councillor in the area, who bought the house for her. Mhlongo said that she does not know where she would go if she was successfully kicked out. “Before I lived here, I was in a shack that was falling apart and flooded with sewerage. The community was so helpful in placing me here, and I can’t imagine going back to the unbearable life I was living before that,” she said.
One resident, who declined to be named, said that the house she was living in was not hers but that she was simply safeguarding it. “The owner is allowing me to live here to ensure that nobody else is allocated this house,” she said. She alleges that the house will be rented out as soon as a tenant is found.
The housing situation in eMbalenhle is, to put it lightly, dire. It is common knowledge that RDP houses are casually bought and sold, rented out and occupied by placeholders. Yet there seems to be little concern for the wellbeing of those who have been marginalised on a growing waiting list of applicants. To make matters worse, the perversion is carried out by officials who are entrusted with the protection of the community.
It is these issues that Sizanani CBF wrote to the Provincial Department of Human Settlements and Govan Mbeki Municipality about. The Office of the Municipal Manager has stated that “Govan Mbeki Municipality is a Level One Accredited Municipality” and “in the Housing Delivery Policy, this function is a competency of the PDoHS”. Two months after the first communication, a response has not been received from this department.
– Rorisang Rathebe