Fire station uproar

Solole Farm is the site in question.

The proposed fire station for Masiphumelele on Solole Farm remains a thorny issue in the area desperate for decent living conditions.

Although fire has ravaged the community yearly since its establishment, some Masiphumelele residents have objected to the proposed fire station on the grounds that it is to be built on land which was earmarked for formal housing.

Dumsani Nhlapo, one of the community leaders from Masiphumelele, said they were upset because they had not been consulted about the fire station.

“We only heard about it while we were doing a site visit with the Human Rights Commission,” he said.

He said they were shocked at the onsite construction, which he believed must have been the result of a tender process without the knowledge of the Masiphumelele community leaders. “When we asked about it, the onsite manager told us there had been consultations with Masiphumelele community leaders – this was not true,” Mr Nhlapo said.

“We don’t have a problem with the fire station being built; but that area where the fire station is going to be built, that land was purchased for GAP housing for the Masiphumelele community,” he said.

GAP housing units are for people who earn between R3 501 and R15 000 too much to qualify for a subsidy, but too little to qualify for a bond.

“Even if they build the fire station it won’t prevent fire in the wetland. As you know, Masiphumelele is over crowded. In most of the wetlands area you can’t even get to the middle of shacks; the only solution is to reduce shacks and allow re-blocking to happen,” he said.

“We are saying as leaders of Masiphumelele, we want the City to build houses as was promised to us by the Human Settlement Department in 2013 by MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela. They should consult us properly,” he said.

Activist Rosemary Milbank said that a small emergency fire station would be acceptable. She said that the objection was to the use of one third of the land bought by the City in 2004 for GAP housing for Masiphumelele.

“I discovered that the project had already been started when the land had not yet been subdivided or rezoned and before the public participation had closed. I made a fuss and all earthworks stopped, contractors moved off site,” she said. “We have objected as per the public participation process,” she said.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith said that the 30-day advertising period for the land use application in favour of the fire station had been completed. “Currently, the service provider appointed to manage this process is responding to comments received in this regard,” he said.

“Once this process has run its course, the site development plan would need to be approved before formal planning approval can continue. We are therefore unable to provide exact time frames at this stage.”

Mr Smith said three formal objections had been received. “Two of these were about housing versus the fire station on the site in question. The third revolved around the objector’s concern that the Fish Hoek fire station would close as a result of the planned development,” he said.

Lutz van Dijk, a long term supporter of Masiphumelele, said: “This land was not bought for a fire station, but for GAP housing. I took part in the negotiations between the City and the owner at the time and am ready to confirm this under oath at any court of law.”

He said that the City of Cape Town should build a fire station and police station and new taxi rank for Masiphumelele – but only after it has made good on the promised GAP housing on Solole Farm.

And also, only after the City has updated, extended and completed its more than 10-year-long promised Phase 4 housing project for at least another 1 000 serviced sites on erf 5131, which was bought for Masiphumelele in 2004 for housing, and nothing else, said Dr Van Dijk.

He feels the Masiphumelele community have been betrayed too many times in the past 20 years. “As commendable as it is that for three months a group of committed Masiphumelele neighbours have been picketing every Friday morning in support of land and real development in Masiphumelele, nothing will be sustainable in the long run, if there is not a united Masiphumelele leadership created, stronger than ever so far. Both sides – neighbour activists and ward councillor – keep claiming to speak for the majority of residents and produce certain ‘leaders’ as the ‘real Masiphumelele representatives.”

He said he hopes with all his heart that there will come a time when there will be personal and financial investments poured into creating a Masiphumelele council of its own right with executive powers, and properly elected representatives who will be paid and who can work from a proper office.

“Not only ordinary Masiphumelele residents will benefit from such a council, but equally City and Province in finally having a partner to communicate with reliably,” he said.

Dr Van Dijk said the cost to upgrade all of the informal wetlands with an estimated 14 000 households was R25 million in 2014 – the same amount the City has no problem at present in spending for a fire station on Solole Farm. Community leader Tshepo Moletsane said of the fire station: “As a community of Masiphumelele we believe that the whole process was rushed without any broader consultation with the people of Masiphumelele as the most affected community in Sub-council 19.”

Mr Moletsane said the manner that it was done in has undermined the public participation process as required by the City of Cape Town in any development. “That piece of land was meant for low cost houses. The community is not totally objecting the building of the fire station, as claimed by the ward councillor, it can be built anywhere within the jurisdiction and serve its purpose,” Mr Moletsane said.

He said the community has consulted other stake holders to take forward a formal objection on the matter and that this was submitted to the authorities for consideration. “As the community we are waiting for the response and the implementation of our objection before our people become fire victims again like in 2015. We are available for engagement at any time for the best interest of our people,” Mr Moletsane said.