Housing protesters burn roads

Chairperson of the backyarders association, Thandolwethu Aba in a heated argument with a Harare police station officer during the protest.

All roads leading to Mandela Park in Khayelitsha were barricaded with rubble and stones when backyard dwellers staged a protest over sluggish housing development and poor service delivery last Thursday, May 2.

The residents had gathered in the early hours and started burning tyres on the road.

However, their actions pro mpted the law enforcement agencies to use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

When Vukani arrived in the area, there was a heavy police presence and groups of residents could be seen scattered around.

The backyarders claimed that between 2008 and 2009 there was a project which was meant to build houses for them, however, no progress had been made on it.

Chairperson of the backyarders’ association, Thandolwethu Aba, said the project was meant to build 52 houses and was to be completed within two years. He said the development sites had been identified.

However, he said there was an argument about the list of people who should be getting those houses and and screening of the beneficiaries was never conducted due to unknown reasons. This, he said, was a major concern and they informed the elected steering committee about this but nothing was done.

Over the years they discovered that people were building houses while others had erected shacks on the vacant land which was meant for development.

Mr Aba said there was a group of backyarders who had formed their own organisation but claims that they are the rightful beneficiaries of any housing development in the area. He accused them of selling the plots and said this was one of the main reasons that prompted them to occupy vacant housing sites in the community by erecting shacks. He said for years they had been waiting for the City and provincial government to start building houses.

“We want our houses. We are tired of living in squalid conditions. We have waited for so long and no one seems to care about our cries. We have no idea why the project has stopped. We are going to protest until someone from the government heeds our call. We are tired of being treated like less than human beings. We want the development of this community to take place as well,” he said.

Mr Aba said last month they held a meeting with various stakeholders but arguments broke out among residents and they were chased out of the meeting.

He said they don’t have a clinic in their community or South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) pay-out points. Department of Human Settlement spokesperson, Muneraa Allies, said the Mandela Park Housing Project started in 2014 and consisted of two phases.

She said phase one delivered 281 housing opportunities which benefited approved beneficiaries from Mandela Park and Gugulethu, and that phase had been completed. She said phase two was set to provide 58 housing opportunities but this was increased to 89 since the department managed to secure additional plots in the area.

And phase two is set to benefit Mandela Park backyarders.

“While phase two was under way, various groups illegally invaded some of the plots. This also resulted in the various groups disputing the beneficiary list of the project.

“Phase 2 of the project is set to benefit Mandela Park backyarders. The department has held various meetings to mediate between interest groups that want to benefit from this project. The incidents delayed project completion,” she said.

Backyarder Thandeka Pamla said she has been living in the area for more than 10 years and life has been miserable. She said backyarders do not have water and electricity and landlords were rude and the rent was too high.