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How bickering between ANC and IFP local municipalities stalled a R168m Melmoth housing project

The disputed Thubalethu housing project in Melmoth. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/Daily News

The disputed Thubalethu housing project in Melmoth. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/Daily News

Published May 27, 2022


Durban - The IFP-governed Mthonjaneni Local Municipality in Melmoth, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has blamed the previously ANC-run King Cetshwayo District Municipality for being behind the collapse of the multimillion-rand Thubalethu housing project.

The project, which was started in 2011, cost R168 million. At that time each RDP house was valued at R150 000.

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The project is yet to be completed and some of the houses, which were nearly ready for occupation, have been vandalised, becoming an eyesore along the R66, which connects Melmoth to Ulundi.

Doors, windows and plumbing have been stripped from some of the houses. There is overgrown grass around the houses and the access roads have been destroyed, meaning that if the project is restarted, fresh roads have to be built.

The multimillion-rand project, which was an extension of the Thubalethu township in Melmoth, was to be constructed in two phases. In the first phase, 600 family units were to be built and the remaining 512 units were to be built later.

More than a decade later, the project is nowhere near being finished and issues of political bickering and poor planning have been cited as reasons for the delay. At the time it was started, the ANC, with the help of its coalition partner, the NFP, had just snatched the local municipality from the IFP for the first time.

The Daily News has been investigating how the project collapsed. At first, the provincial Department of Human Settlements under Jomo Sibiya claimed that it stripped the local municipality of its developer status because it failed to do its work.

Under an agreement with the developer, the local municipality was to do everything and the department was only supposed to provide funding.

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The Daily News recently had an interview with the mayor of the local municipality, Mbangiseni Biyela, his deputy, Phumlani Ntombela, and the municipal manager, Zipho Mthethwa.

They all dismissed claims by the department that they were behind the collapse of the project and placed the blame on the King Cetshwayo District Municipality, under which they fall.

According to Biyela, under the leadership of the ANC, the district deliberately and for political reasons dragged its feet in fulfilling some of its obligations such as installing sewer infrastructure (water and sanitation are the prerogatives of district municipalities).

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Among the issues Biyela cited was poor planning; he said the power grid did not have the capacity to power the project.

“There is finger-pointing over the issue… some are even pointing fingers at the district municipality… the current district is now doing its work after lagging behind. You all know that the district recently changed hands on November 1 (after the local government elections),” he said.

Biyela slammed Sibiya and his department, asking them what they had done since taking over the project.

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“Well, the MEC can claim that he has taken over the project; what has he done on it since then? We are waiting for him to carry on with the work. However, there are challenges with the project, but we are working on overcoming them,” Biyela said.

Ntombela denied that Sibiya’s department has taken over the project. He said the district municipality should be blamed for the collapse of the project, which they were now trying to resuscitate.

“There is no such thing that the provincial department has taken over the project, we are still working on it as the mayor has said… I want to emphasise what the mayor said. Yes, there was a tug of war between the local and district municipality that affected the people of Mthonjaneni, there was no co-operation, However, right now the project is on track and flowing,” Ntombela said.

The district municipality is now under the IFP and according to Biyela, they were now seeing progress on the matter.

Lindo Phungula, the ANC mayor who was in charge of the King Cetshwayo District Municipality after the death of the former mayor, Nonhle Mkhulisi, did not answer when asked to state what he knew about the project and respond to the allegations made by the IFP leadership at the local municipality.

Sibiya fired back at Biyela and his deputy. He said the poor planning part should be shouldered by the municipality as they rushed ahead with the project before the basic infrastructure has been installed.

"The municipality commenced with the construction of houses when not all planning requirements for a project were met. The following pre-conditions for any project to commence with construction had not been met when the project construction commenced: The bulk infrastructure as in water and sewer were not in place. Electricity supply to the project area was not adequate.

“Some sites were too steep and required the construction of retainer walls, in order for the NHBRC to approve their construction and occupation by beneficiaries. No provision had been made by the municipality for this. The sewer treatment plant was not adequate to cater for the new development. The above illustrates that the cause for the project to be in this state was the Mthonjaneni Municipality and not the Department of Human Settlements,” he said.

Furthermore, Sibiya said the project has been revived and bulk construction work on the project is complete.

“This has paved way for the connection of the 242 units that are in the infill areas of the existing township. Of these nine houses have since been connected and fifty have been completed, are being connected to the sewer lines in preparation for occupation …”

Work on the remaining 270 units in the greenfield development area east of the R66 was scheduled to start on April 1, 2022, and was scheduled to be completed before the end of the 2022/23 financial year.

Daily News