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By Zara Nicholson
Tensions have reached boiling point in the Winelands town of McGregor as living conditions for hundreds of residents deteriorate and land earmarked years ago for housing remains untouched.
Now hundreds of informal settlers in the area have squared off against the local council over what they see as a blocked housing development.
People live in cramped conditions in a squatter camp and need to be moved, but land identified four years ago as suitable is still undeveloped.
A visit to the McGregor squatter camp in the quiet town near Robertson showed families living in one or two-bedroomed shacks with no electricity and very little running water.
About 115 families share 11 toilets and a few taps that provide water for cooking and cleaning.
People in the informal settlement are angry, and prepared to make their anger known.
When a Weekend Argus team walked through the settlement one resident shouted: "Are we living in apartheid again?
"We want electricity here, or are we not privileged to move forward?
"Must we keep moving back?"
According to the Breede River Municipality website and several residents, McGregor has a housing backlog of more than 450.
A housing development plan for the area indicates that just over 400 low-cost houses are to be built in the next three to five years.
The website states that backyard dwellers "live in appalling conditions" and it was "absolutely necessary to relocate these backyard dwellers to formal housing units".
The website only speaks of "28 individuals" squatting illegally, but a visit to the site saw more than 100 shacks in the camp.
At issue is a decision taken four years ago after a public participation process that land known as Steenoonde was suitable for development, but since then the local council appears to have delayed the development of the land.
Residents say Steenoonde was deemed suitable for housing in terms of installing electricity and water services, closeness to transport, shops and schools.
It also had the major advantage of being available as it was council-owned.
The council website identifies three other areas earmarked for housing but Steenoonde is not mentioned.
Emily Otto, a resident of the squatter camp, said: "This is not where the community's heart is and the council knows this.
"They know people want to live in Steenoonde.
"This is not a good life, with 10 households using one toilet, it's pathetic."
Residents say Steenoonde is now never mentioned by the local council.
One of the areas the municipality mentions as being earmarked for priority housing is Grewe Street in the Krans Nature Reserve, but residents say this land can't be built on as it is part of a nature reserve and extremely rocky.
However, the municipal manager for the Breede River Municipality, Soyilsile Mokweni, said the Krans area was not a nature reserve but municipal owned land near to existing municipal infrastructure services.
Mokweni said: "Steenoonde is remote and has no bulk services.
"Apart from the lack of bulk infrastructure services, its development will be perpetuating apartheid planning and not complying with the housing development policy of the provincial government that seeks integration of the different communities."
The municipality planned to build 300 housing units and was doing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in the Krans area, he added.
Residents also said they were upset because the Breede River Municipality disbanded McGregor's ward committee last month. Residents said the body used to listen to their problems and made things happen.
In a letter informing the ward committee that it had been disbanded, the Breede River Municipality said a meeting was to be held earlier this month with the public to elect a new ward committee, but it had not taken place.
Members of the disbanded ward committee and residents said they were unhappy about the dismissal.
They said they believed local councillor Gawie Fielies wanted to have "all the power".
A resident in the squatter camp, Magrieta Losch, 43, said: "We are unhappy about the ward committee being disbanded for no reason. We chose them and we don't know what is happening.
"With the council you never know what's happening and you never hear the truth. But there was trust in the ward committee."
Approached for comment, Fielies said he did not have authority to speak to the media about service development issues.
Maria Oostendorff, a member of the old ward committee, said people had been promised development and housing for years but nothing ever happened.
"People are fed up now and they don't know what to do any more. They want to move out of these houses but they don't know when, even though things were discussed and decided on years ago."
Oostendorff, other members of the disbanded ward committee and other community members, most of them who are not on the housing waiting list, have now formed the McGregor Development Forum.
Mokweni said the disbandment came after several interventions by the speaker of the Breede River Municipality had failed to resolve the in-fighting among the members of the ward committee and the ward councillor, Fielies.
He said this was in line with ward establishment policy as adopted by the council and added that the term of office for a ward committee was two years and that their term would have expired in March anyway.
"Councillor Fielies has a responsibility to uphold the decisions of the municipal council," said Mokweni.
"Thus it is far from the truth to say he has single-handedly stifled and delayed the development of housing in McGregor."