Bitou housing protests
Tempers flared among Bitou residents when several high-ranking politicians visited the area last week to deal with housing issues following widespread protest action in recent weeks.
On Thursday 5 July, national Human Settlements minister Nomaindia Mfeketo and her provincial counterpart Bonginkosi Madikizela made site visits for potential housing developments with Bitou mayor Peter Lobese and Eden mayor Memory Booysen, and addressed communities involved in the recent riots.
The visit to Kurland Village in the Crags was peaceful, but tempers flared in New Horizons where residents from this community as well as Qolweni and Kwanokuthula had gathered.
‘We are gatvol’
“We are gatvol (fed up)!” said longtime New Horizons resident Judy Oliphant, her sentiments echoing those of the majority of locals. “I have been living in Plettenberg Bay for 50 years now and I have nothing… We also want housing, we’ve had enough of only promises,” she said.Issues raised at the meetings included corruption in the housing allocation process; issues around the availability of land and the time it takes to get a housing development off the ground.
The Bitou Municipality acquired a section of land, known as Portion 20, for New Horizons five years ago, but no development has taken place since then and residents demand to know why there has not been any housing development in New Horizon for over 23 years.
‘Additional land earmarked’
Lobese and Madikizela explained that they are in the process of purchasing additional land in the area and want to launch the housing project once all the land has been acquired instead of developing in “bits and pieces”. Lobese said the additional land is a contentious point as the owners want more than what government is willing to pay. He added, “If we don’t reach an agreement with the seller we will expropriate that land. We will take it without compensation,” Lobese said.
The landowners who attended the meeting were not allowed to address the community and the politicians. One owner, Angus Greig, believes the reason is because authorities are “frightened” about what the landowners would say. He said the municipality has not yet indicated, in writing, that they want to purchase the land – despite the fact that the process started about five years ago and they have not yet received valuations for the
Residents demanded that Portion 20 be developed as the area was earmarked for more than 400 houses.
Unity Barnard said New Horizons has been waiting for 23 years for housing. “And before that, there were houses built in Blikkiesdorp. These were one-unit places which meant your toilet was next to where you cook your food. What did they think about the New Horizons community to allow such a development? We will not wait two years and when they finally decide to build us homes, they better build us proper houses.”
Granville Neldritt said, “When will you guys start developing Portion 20. We don’t want you to wait to purchase more land. We want you to build the 450 structures earmarked for the area so that our people can start moving out of their shacks and into their houses.”
‘We pay our bills’
Spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens of New Horizons Forum Claude Terblanche wanted to know why their needs are being neglected “Bitou has built 1 170 RDP houses over the past 10 to 15 years, of which New Horizons received only 62 units. We are not in the current budget for housing despite being in the IDP for the past 10 years. This while we are the second best community when it comes to paying our municipal bills,” he said.
He proposed that the best way forward would be for the municipality to start building homes on Portion 20. “The community just wants houses like the rest of Bitou, but one can’t sit back and wait while other communities are receiving houses, especially Kwanokuthula that has received 771 units over the past five years.”
Madikizela said that he cannot dismiss the corruption claims but added that the department was doing all it could to prevent it and was working with various stakeholders to address the issue of land availability.
Mfeketo said the department of rural development would visit Plett today (July 12) to discuss a piece of land the department owns in the Crags for a possible housing development.
Kurland residents speak up
In contrast to New Horizons, the visit to Kurland Village went relatively peacefully.
Resident Gordon Constable said that one of his concerns is the housing allocation criteria.
“We want the criteria to be reviewed so that the community can be sure those who receive houses are the ones who deserve the houses,” he said.
He added that he is aware of people who have two houses. “In these cases, two people lived together and both applied for and received houses. In at least one case one of the two beneficiaries died, leaving the surviving beneficiary with two houses. I believe this is unfair. We are struggling here and cannot afford for one person to have two houses.”
Enough land, yet ‘no land available’
Another Kurland Village resident Marlene Joseph said she fails to understand why there are issues around land availability for government housing.
“We see week after week hectares and hectares of land being advertised, yet when we come to meetings like these we hear there is no land available,” Joseph said.
She also said that government should not only focus on those living in informal settlements. “We have people here who are squatting in people’s backyards.”
Some described the Kurland Village residents as a “forgotten community” and also highlighted instances where RDP homes had been sold and the beneficiaries had moved back into shacks. They also highlighted instances where government homes are being rented out, while the owners live in informal homes.
Following the meetings, residents – especially from New Horizons – said that despite the visits, very few of their concerns had been addressed, and responded by staging more protests on the N2 on Thursday night, Monday night and Tuesday morning.
On Monday night the protesters gathered near what is known as The Rasta on the N2. The road was blocked and traffic had to be diverted.
Granville Neldritt from the New Horizons Concerned Citizens Forum said the protest involved New Horizons and Qolweni residents.
On Tuesday morning, New Horizons residents gathered on the N2 once more as, according to Neldritt, residents felt that officials ignored their plights and made no attempt to answer their questions.
“We are trying to get this done the legal way, but we are running out of options,” he said.