Hats off to leaders

Horst Kleimschmidt, St James

Congratulations and hats off to the Masiphumelele leaders and the community of neighbours who compelled local politicians to implement some of the human rights people of Masiphumelele are entitled to.

Yes, there is real cause for celebration. The active citizenry in our valley has brought the public protector and the Human Rights Commission to finally force a big clean-up job in Masiphumelele. Years of trying have paid off at last.

There is more to celebrate: a second directive by the provincial authority is demanding that the City deal with the sanitation mess in Masiphumelele.

Our politicians knew how to get rid of the first directive. Once again they try to block the new directive. They have “appealed”.

The City’s claim that they spent R1million to deal with problems clearly failed to make a difference. Let’s hope the appeal will fail, as it should.

And civil society can be proud that the City had to withdraw a contractor from the site of the proposed fire station after it unearthed corruption.

Yes, the public participation process was still open, yet a contractor was already on site. So much for public consultation.

A new notice for sub-division of Solole has had to be issued in terms of which comments and objections can be lodged.

Now let us build on our success. City official JP Smith is reported to have said that if Masiphumelele does not want the fire station, the money might be applied elsewhere. How dumb. He should listen to local voices.

The City has only one big expense item for Masiphumelele in its 2017 – 2022 budget: a fire station. Nothing about the causes of fires, no housing plans, no sanitation plans beyond the routine but hopelessly failed local services.

The City has its priorities wrong. The need is to decongest Masiphumelele by providing and developing land, appropriate housing options and, above all, a sanitation system that takes us beyond the failed and flawed system Masiphumelele residents are living with.

Let us celebrate, because pressure from local residents on arrogant politicians has worked.

But be warned: like always, a big clean-up is meant to impress the great and mighty when they visit: De Lille, Zille, the HRC and the public protector. Is it back to the old sloth after their visits?

* JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, and social services; and Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, jointly respond: Mr Kleinschmidt’s characterisation of the situation in Masiphumelele as a battle between an unmotivated City of Cape Town and the activist community is unfortunate and incorrect. The City has developed and continues to maintain a strong focus, in partnership with the provincial government, human rights Commission, and public protector’s office, on improving conditions in this area.

There are, however, many impediments to providing services in the wetlands section which have slowed down progress considerably. A previous administration allowed the area to be settled despite the legal impediments to installing electricity and sanitation distribution infrastructure, and it now falls to us to remedy their poor planning.

Circumventing the legislative impediments the City faces, dealing with the effects of overcrowding, and improving the conditions of the area therefore requires either a disproportionately high allocation resources from a budget which is being stretched ever more thinly, or careful negotiations to provide less traditional infrastructure, such as portable flush toilets.

Although components of the leadership of this community have been slow to accept that making progress is a joint effort that requires time, patience, and compromise, the City is heartened that we have finally been able to get their buy-in on a number of small wins, and hopes to build on this success.

Demanding and short-sighted letters such as this one do nothing to facilitate cooperation in the community and buy-in for sometimes “makeshift” projects that are necessary in a unique context such as this. For instance, funding from national government, allocated specifically for the construction of fire stations in vulnerable areas, may now have to be spent elsewhere due to the radical “
“houses or nothing” rhetoric being pushed by Mr Kleinschmidt. This would be a great pity for a community which has been confirmed by a CSIR study as high risk, as would the loss of associated amenities such as community meeting venues and a walk-in trauma room for treatment of urgent injuries.

Given the above, we would caution Mr Kleinschmidt to be a bit more circumspect in future communications, rather than using the media to take cheap shots that only serve to inflame tensions and slow down service delivery.