Masi plan not in sight

Melanie Steyn, Simon’s Town

Thirteen years ago, the City of Cape Town paid expensive private consultants to produce a “Masi Development Framework” outlining the best way forward for the township that was established in 1996 by President Nelson Mandela, for 8 000 people.

This plan has never been released to the public. For thirteen years the community leaders have been asking to see it and to have discussions. Now 40 000 people are living there and sections have become hopelessly unsuitable for human habitation.

In the “Wetlands” 70 families share one toilet and one tap. Fires have repeatedly claimed lives and caused homelessness.

About R30 million was spent after one such disaster, but when it comes to providing new infrastructure, the purse strings of the City have been pulled tight. True, they have set aside R13 million for a new fire station, but it will be on land that could far rather have been used for desperately needed housing. It seems as though the City has resigned itself to the fact that Masiphumelele will remain overcrowded and fires will be a part of their future. Instead, there is a much brighter alternative future.

Masi could become a respectable suburb with its own sub-council, and a tourist attraction, which would increase the value of the surrounding properties as well. If it remains neglected and so over-populated, the future looks grim.

The crux of the matter is the issue of Erf 5131. SANParks sold this 5.3ha property to the City for the purpose of erecting housing for Masi. In spite of the fact that the situation in Masi was a human emergency by anyone’s standards, nothing happened. It looked as if a new chapter was opening when Xanthea Limberg, the Mayco member whose portfolio includes informal settlements, attended a meeting in Masi on February 27 this year.

The meeting never took place, however, because the community asked that ward councillor Felicity Purchase leave the hall, as they had heard too many promises from her already. Afterwards, the City complained that the community had not come to listen, but had demands to make. That is very telling – so the City delegation did not come to listen, but only to dictate?

However, on March 13 a meeting did take place, and Ms Limberg gave two promising undertakings: first, the environmental impact assessment would be fast-tracked and would be done in six months instead of the projected three years, and secondly, that a “matrix” development plan would be revealed.

Since then, leaders have been waiting and asking in vain for the promised feedback. From the City there has been nothing but the old silence.

Then, on Monday April 17, eight police cars and a Casspir arrived while people were at work and smashed shacks, including the furniture inside them.

People returned from work to devastation and despair.

They have been waiting for thirteen years, not for a bicycle lane or speed humps, but for basic decent living conditions, which would cost less than the disaster management to provide. In 2014, (the people of) Masi produced plans of their own, which also disappeared in the City offices as they were passed from one to the other.

The neighbours of Masi are not blind to these injustices. A petition was started by Lizzy Allen on the Noordhoek Facebook page to express dismay at the neglect, but she and the petition were removed after it had started collecting many signatures. After thirteen years, desperation is at bursting point. The residents are starting to occupy Erf 5131, and who can blame them? The rain will hopefully be coming soon, but it will cause more misery in the “Wetlands”, since no steps have been taken to relocate people and upgrade their housing. Many ideas have been suggested, but nothing gets off the ground.
The township is now a keg of resentment,
and the City needs to change its tactics, or 13 is going to become a tragically unlucky number.

* Melani Steyn is an English lecturer at Cornerstone Institute and a member of the steering committee of Work for Love in Lekkerwater Road.

* This letter has been shortened.