Is a fence the solution?

Masiphumelele community leaders

The story “Fence for Masi wetlands” (False Bay Echo, March 17) refers.

We are not against protecting nature. We would be happy if the huge informal settle-ment in Masiphumelele, which is home to more than 14 000 children, women and men, would be made safe and clean with basic services, so that no pollution of surrounding nature would happen anymore.

But the proposed fence (estimated cost R1 million) is the opposite of a solution.

* The present pollution via the four canals dividing sections A to F (where at present human waste is dumped because of a lack of toilets) will continue as before.

* The ongoing disasters (fires and floods) will continue and will create huge costs for disaster relief (latest few months R29 million) with all its negative effects for nature and human lives.

* There is now already no space in our overcrowded comm-unity to house all victims of the latest huge fire of November 29 last year (32 people are still in the community hall waiting for land). Where must those families move who are now already regarded to be on the wrong side of the proposed fence?

* Our strongest objection is the increase in danger for human lives via this fence. If a fire starts on the wrong side of a section, then hundreds of people will have no way to escape but to run in the direction of the fence, with the serious risk of being burnt to death. We cannot imagine that any caring government in the world could put its own people into such a situation.

We appreciate that (mayoral committee member for human settlements Benedicta) van Minnen announced, in the article, that “the community will be consulted before the fence is erected”. Please respond to us and the public to our four major concerns and consider (working with us on) the suggested alternatives around basic services to protect nature and human life equally.

* This letter was signed by Masi community leaders, also representing all sections of the informal settlement “wetlands” and the former fire victims (still waiting in the Masi hall since November last year): Brian Nompunga (chair of informal settlement “wetlands”, section D), Ndithini Kilani (section A), Sithembele Mtshamba (section B), Fundiswa Stofile (section C), Ntobeko Banani (Section E), Bongani Babiso (fire victims in the Masi community hall) and Masi leaders Shirley Madlingosi, Nontembiso Madikane, Tshepo Moletsane, Lucia Mayo, Max Dubeni.

Councillor Benedicta van Minnen, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, responded:

A solution is definitely needed for Masiphumelele as the situation is simply unsustainable but there is certainly not a single, clear-cut way of resolving the challenges, yet.

There are two underlying issues. Firstly, there is currently no land available for the rapidly-growing population in Masiphumelele. We have, however, recently drafted a Development Framework for Masiphumelele, based on public input, which is being scrutinised internally. It is hoped that this framework will eventually assist with questions regarding the future development of this settlement.

Secondly, our operations are influenced by the intricate community dynamics that are at play in this area. For instance, just with reference to the community hall occupants: On January 30, 2016, there were 42 occupants. The City prepared sites to accommodate these persons – in fact, the City prepared 46 stands just to err on the side of caution. When the allocation happened, up to 50 claimed to have been in the hall. All of these persons were, however, accom-modated after much pressure by the various community leaders and other persons.

But again, currently, there are 32 new occupants in the hall – they were not affected by the fires. We have made a plan that they be accommodated on another site but efforts by the City to accommodate them have been stifled by the Houmoed Road community who do not want to live in the same area as these residents. Furthermore, we could not move new occupants to our Extension 4 area, as the beneficiaries of our Masiphumelele Phase 4 housing project, do not want the new hall occupants in their area.

The bottom line is that prior to the fires, all of the residents who had been residing in Masiphumelele, could be accommodated in the settlement. This is no longer the case. This untenable situation has been exacerbated by the internal politics which exists in Masiphumelele.

Therefore, the proposed fence is a measure to prevent people from moving deeper into the wetlands in search of space and to protect residents from the extreme winter-flooding which will occur. The fence is also seen as a way to protect the wetlands, which is an ecologically sensitive area. A public engagement process will be followed. It is foreseen that the construction of the fence will leave sufficient passageway as an exit route, if the passageway is kept clear.

The residents of Masiphumelele remain a priority for the City and we ask the leadership factions and lobby groups involved to start working with the City to ensure that what is in the best interest of the entire community, and not only a few, is held as the guiding light going forward.