Masi plans questioned

Dr Lutz van Dijk, Clovelly/Masiphumelele

Councillor Felicity Purchase responded to my letter, (“Promises, promises,” Echo December 13, 2018) by explaining to the public that my concerns about a lack of honest information to the Masiphumelele residents and directly affected neighbours regarding a new
road (extension of Houmoed Road) are “not true”.

She gives many examples how well the City officials were consulting with all affected parties and that the City will ensure “an upgrade of the area” and is “in favour of integrated communities”.

As far as the phase 4 housing process is concerned she declares that “the contractors are in the process of casting foundations”.

Sadly, a year on, there is no development on the two sites of the phase 4 housing project, not even any “casting of foundations”. While this, in fact, is easy to check on site for everybody, it was until now much more difficult to understand the consequences of the planned extension of Houmoed Road for thousands of Masiphumelele residents as it was kept, indeed, as a well protected secret.

And there are obvious reasons for it. Thanks to one expert, I only recently got hold of a social impact assessment (SIA) regarding this new road extension which was done by consultants paid by the City and was finalised in November 2017.

Of course, Ms Purchase will say this was only a draft but it was the most detailed research done so far and it would help all – the City officials as well as the Masiphumelele residents and Masiphumelele neighbours – to understand what is on the cards: The new road will cut for almost 1km through the present wetlands informal settlement where thousands of families will have to be removed.

Of course, it will be sold as an “improvement” which it certainly is for better traffic and a number of businesses in the far south. But it will only benefit the poor in the informal settlement if there is indeed new housing coming and not new temporary relocation areas (TRAs) with all their known high risks around fire, flooding and crime.

So far, there is no indication that the City is serious about such housing plans for Masiphumele.

As for the “extensive” community information, this is what the consultants of EOH Services had to say: “There is considerable tension and a lack of trust between all the local stakeholders and the City of Cape Town. This context presents a significant risk to the potential for the proposed development and resettlement planning.”

First some facts about the new road from the mentioned SIA report: The total length of the proposed road extension is 940m and would run inside the wetlands informal settlement. Over the full length of the road a wall will be built which would be approximately 2m high and would form a physical barrier between the wetland and residential area. It is hoped that the wall would preclude the possibility of further illegal invasion of the wetland.

But what about the promised housing improvements for the many families who must be removed for this new road?

The report is sadly very clear here: “While undertaking this assessment, the authors found that the client, the City, was not in a position to provide a detailed plan of how they would deal with the resettlement process.”

About the present living conditions in the wetland informal settlement, they conclude, despite all promises of service delivery our councillor makes: “Living conditions in the wetland informal settlement adjacent to Masiphumelele are very poor. While there are some taps and toilets, residents have indicated that these are completely insufficient to meet the needs of the residents.”

For example, the report notes: “This amounts to an average of almost nine households (or 19 people) having to share each public toilet.”

How many people will be affected? The report says: “The wetland informal settlement current estimated total population could therefore be in the region of 5122 people… Additional data on the length of time people had been living in the wetland area indicates that 40% of the households claimed they had been living there for 11 to 20 years and another 31% for six to 10 years. Only 3% indicated that they had been living there for less than one year.”

There is no doubt that the challenges related to extreme poverty, as in the wetlands informal settlement of Masiphumelele, will not go away by themselves or because of election propaganda.

Of course, Ms Purchase will respond by saying that the quotes are “out of context” and that I do not know all that has happened since.

It would be great if she would share a final version of the SIA with all of us if this exists (but please in full and not her interpretation of it).

I was working for 16 years in Masiphumelele on a daily basis, and I organised more than R20 million for the only social housing project in Masiphumelele ever (of course, also with certain challenges attached). I am fully aware of many problems in Masiphumelele.

I never have “chosen” any leaders in Masiphumelele, but cannot see any other options for real and peaceful development if the Masiphumelele community will not be supported in creating their own strong and properly elected representation.

The present divisions will not serve anyone, also not the City officials.

I therefore strongly suggest that not only the “Masiphumelele spatial development framework” (SDF) is published by the end of January 2019, but also the latest findings of the consultants who are tasked by the City to report on the social consequences of a new road cutting through the poorest area of Masiphumelele.

We can still learn from properly done research, instead of being surprised later by harsh realities.

* Felicity Purchase, Fish Hoek ward councillor and mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, responds:

The Houmoed Road extension is undergoing an environmental impact assessment(EIA). If approved, then the question of housing and moving current residents gets under way.

These are not election promises but real service-delivery issues. We started the phase-two project in 2008. This is how long it takes when you follow the legal frameworks required in terms of national government legislation.

We are delivering on issues whether election or no election. We don’t make promises. We do what we have to, even if it takes a very long time. We started the taxi rank building project in 2014. The problem was after the instigated violence, contractors refused to bid on the contracts. Remember the contractor on the Houmoed Road extension had their equipment and building site torched.

The irresponsible supporting of service delivery protests under the guise of support for people committing vigilante crimes has had unintended consequences which need to be understood and remembered for the future.

Every action has a reaction or consequences.

We will continue to help the community to develop and build themselves which we are doing daily.

We will continue with our obligations to improve the quality of all our residents’ quality of life within the legal frameworks we have as frustrating as we find this.