For food, for clothing, for “disaster relief” - and in Masi especially for housing, and most frustratingly for the plan for their long-term future, the so-called “Masiphumelele Spatial Development Framework”, and the implementation of an upgrade agreement signed with former mayor De Lille in the presence of the public protector at the end of 2017.
This Masi development plan was first announced to be in the making about five years ago and since then it has been kept locked away, but promised again and again - the latest time early in October this year.
But again nothing. Then, as before, something happens to cause further delay - this time, the responsible mayco member resigned. In the years and months before it was because the “process of compiling the plan was too complex”, “more consultation with experts was needed”, “not yet ready for the public” etc. The latest draft of this modest plan from March this year, just 40-odd pages long, comprising more guidelines than details, is still not shared with those who will be most affected: the Masi community and all neighbouring villages. Meanwhile, everybody knows that public participation is legally required if ever anything substantial should be put in place.
People from other communities in our valley who might not be familiar with daily life in Masi must be in a state of wonder when they read the regular announcements by “officials” in our local papers: “New houses for Masi!”, “Phase 4 housing projects on track”, or “More housing for Masi got thumbs up!” These are just some of the PR headlines repeated over the years.
In fact, not one house has been built by the government for those thousands of residents in Masi surviving as “backyarders” or in informal settlements, who do not own a piece of land themselves. Only some landowners of modest means could indeed receive subsidies years ago to build on their properties in phase 1 and 2. But all those who have nothing and try to survive in the informal settlements and backyards were just put on waiting lists. As it seems like forever.
When I began to work in Masi more than 16 years ago, already a phase 4 housing plan was being spoken about.
After a terrible fire in October 2006 at the informal settlement “School Site”, when 400 shacks burnt to the ground in one night, it was an initiative of local leaders, NGOs and neighbours of Masi to create the “Amakhaya Ngoku Housing Project”, which replaced about two-thirds of the former informal settlement with flat buildings for the fire victims. Of course, not all went without conflict - but at least since 2009 there has been no more fire or flooding.
And what has happened since then about the government phase 4 housing project, which should be built on two sites with altogether at least more than 300 homes? Finally, after all these years, two sites have been secured and fenced for more than a year now. Since then - no progress again. Why? Many reasons are given, but not one is convincing. How encouraging would it be to see that once in almost two decades government housing options materialise for at least some of the poorest of the poor.
Mayor Mr Plato and new mayco member for urban development and local ward councillor Ms Purchase, please:
1. Allow, finally, public participation in discussing, understanding and maybe even improving, together, the “Masiphumelele Spatial Development Framework”, and implement the signed upgrade agreement from the end of 2017 between Masi leaders and former mayor De Lille.
2. Focus on the completion of the forever promised phase 4 housing project instead of making cheap election points by telling neighbours and local journalists about twice per year: “Now Masi gets houses!” We appreciate the construction of a fire station next to Masi and a new taxi rank, but not as an excuse to delay housing any further.
After many years of working in the Masi community I had to leave overseas a half-year ago for urgent family matters. Although I have only again been visiting for a while, I was approached not only by some Masi leaders but by a group of neighbours from Masi (in Lochiel and Guinea Fowl roads) who had been informed by City officials that an “expansion” of Masi is coming and they better sell now than later. Instead of being frightened, the neighbours formed the Lochiel Small Holding group of 30 small businesses, who present an excellent example of an integrated neighbourhood, as they also create many jobs for Masi residents.
And no matter what you hear from the officials: there is enough City-owned land in our area to allow for more such integrated communities. Please come to the table, Mr Mayor and Ms Mayco Member for Urban Development - and do not wait until desperate people take to the streets again.
* Dr Van Dijk is co-founder of the HOKISA Children’s Home in Masiphumelele - www.hokisa.co.za
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media