Multi-million rand Wentworth flats refurbishment threatened to ’score cheap political points’
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Durban - For years, the Wentworth community, south of Durban, had fought the government over their poor living conditions and derelict housing.
In 2010, all this changed when the provincial government committed more than R120m to refurbish 1148 housing units.
Ten years later, more than 600 units have been totally refurbished, and the project, which also includes fixing the outside sewage system, installing new geysers, gating up the flats and fixing the decades-old plumbing, is in full swing.
That was until this week when members of the Cape Coloured Congress political party are alleged to have marched on the project and threatened to shut it down.
The project was disrupted on Monday as scores of youths demanded jobs and threatened that no work would take place until they were employed.
Neil Axford, who is standing as the Cape Coloured Congress ward candidate in Wentworth, denied that his party had organised any protest and said he was merely called to address the residents' concerns.
At the crux of the issue, he said, was the lack of local labour on the project, and the people of Wentworth wanted to be employed on the project.
Desmond D’Sa, the project steering committee’s (PSC) chairperson of the refurbishment, believes that the protest and the threats to shut down the project is an attempt to score cheap political points ahead of the local government elections.
“The project at this particular site started in November 2020. Why are they now only coming to stop it?” D’Sa asked.
“We have meetings every week and every month about the project. Where are they? I have the minutes. They don’t attend these meetings and have never been there before when the community first started fighting for the upgrades. Now, they want to come and show the community that their candidate, who has no history of activism in Wentworth, is fighting for them by stopping a project that is benefiting the people of Wentworth,” he said.
Regarding local labour, D’Sa said that they did employ locals, but were often let down as those who were employed often left for “shut down” work at the refineries.
“I am not one to be on the side of the government and often take them on, but when they do something good, they must be applauded, and this project in Wentworth is one of them. People can see the change that is happening,” he said.
MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works Jomo Sibiya has assigned both Heads of Department for Human Settlements, Mdu Zungu and Public Works Siboniso Majola, to monitor progress around this project to ensure that there are no disruptions.
“As government, we want to ensure that this project is completed within budget and on time. In addition, I wish to state that I have received text messages and reports from concerned members of the community, including senior citizens alerting me about the disruption of this work by members of a certain political party. Those wishing to contact me, please send messages to my WhatsApp number 066 594 0353.
“The community must unite and show a public display of condemnation of such behaviour. These elements are a tiny minority that must be isolated. I have been informed that leaders of this political party are not only misleading the community but have hijacked genuine community concerns to advance their narrow - political and selfish agenda. No political party or individual has a right to stand between service delivery and communities,” Sibiya said.
He said that he was exploring the possibility of visiting the area to strengthen participatory democracy.
Regarding the issue of job creation, he said that local members of society had been employed in the Austerville Flats Refurbishment Project.
“A total of 7 local contractors have been verified by the Department of Public Works as part of the procurement process. This focus is to ensure that emerging entrepreneurs are subcontracted. We have made provision for 40% of services to be procured from local emerging entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, most of the contractors are not compliant with National Treasury’s Central Supplier Database. In this regard, we are working with Provincial Treasury, as the custodian of procurement, to assist them to ensure compliance with CSD,” he said.