Activists put housing back at top of priority list

A peaceful placard protest was held in Parkwood on Friday February 26.

Housing – and the need for it – in the Western Cape has become a contentious issue, often playing out through violent protests and heated debate coupled with the desperate pleas of the homeless and backyard dwellers for a home of their own.

With the local municipal elections due to take place some time between August and November this year, housing has been pushed to the top of the agenda, and is being used as a bargaining chip by communities to get what they want or need for the cost of their vote, said chairperson of the Destitute Resident’s Association Reagan Swartz.

The non-profit organisation’s work places emphasis on Section 26(1) of the South African Constitution that states that everyone shall have the right of access to adequate housing. In the constitution, accessibility means that the state must create conducive conditions for all its citizens, irrespective of their economic status, to access affordable housing.

Mr Swartz said although there has been a general outcry for housing over the past few years, he expected more to come before the elections.

“It is a political tool to be used, the people ask for what they need the most and political parties or the current government make promises to fix issues or address service delivery and other matters.

“This is, however, the problem, they are but merely promises that don’t often come to fruition, or at least not as we need it to happen if at all,” he said.

Mr Swartz spoke to the Southern Mail after a meeting and peaceful placard protest held by a Parkwood group on Friday February 26.

Traffic on Prince George Drive was backed up on Friday afternoon and several law enforcement vehicles including police, traffic services and Metro police were on the scene to monitor the situation.

Police kept an eye on the peaceful protest along Prince George Drive.

Paul Phillips handed over a memorandum of demands from the Parkwood Backyarders, Landless and Homeless Movement which was started to address the ongoing housing issues in Parkwood.

In 2018 there were intense clashes between law enforcement, police and residents which resulted in riots, arrests and the torching of the Parkwood Community centre.

Reading from the memorandum on Friday, Mr Phillips said the people of Parkwood Estate had a real need for housing.

“Our situations have deteriorated to inhumane living conditions post-1994. This situation greatly contributes towards the social ills and crime we experience on a daily basis because we have seen no real development and redress for Parkwood Estate. We live in slums and our people are robbed of their dignity and sense of self worth.”

The demands listed in the memorandum include feedback from the provincial Department of Human Settlements about the lack of communication and update on the delivery of housing – specifically for the residents of Parkwood.

Paul Phillips from the Parkwood Backyarders, Landless and Homeless Movement spoke at the protest.

Mr Phillips said they also wanted feedback about what they describe as the politically motivated appointment of the Project Steering Committee (PSC) and alleged non-recognition of leaders by the department to serve on the committee.

“We demand that a forensic audit and investigation be initiated to address and investigate the housing waiting list, the awarding of occupancy in council rented stock and the services rendered by housing officials and their unprofessional behaviour.”

They also demand that the premier and MEC for human settlements Tertius Simmers come to Parkwood “so they can see for themselves the real situation and conditions relating to the housing needs”.

The group demanded a response from the department within three working days – which is today, Wednesday March 3.

A meeting held by the gr,oup on Saturday February 20 was phase one of the group’s plans said Chad Crowley who is also from the Parkwood Backyarders, Landless and Homeless Movement.

“Three years ago we had the exact same meeting and no one has come back to us. The peaceful protest is phase two of us trying to communicate with human settlements and at phase three – which comes after the three working days – we expect answers.”

Nathan Adriaanse, director of communications for the provincial Department of Human Settlements accepted the memorandum.

Dominique Booysen from the Parkwood Backyarder’s Association who is on the steering committee, said he didn’t see anything wrong with the current elected steering committee but said there had been lack of communication from the department.

“There was a meeting last year and nothing else, and backyarders want answers, which we can’t give them.

“We are desperate for answers and (want to know) when the housing developments will start because the process is very delayed. I am also a backyarder and have been on the waiting list for a very long time, so we need the development of the houses to start,” said Mr Booysen.

Director of communications for the provincial department of Human Settlements, Nathan Adriaanse, who was at the meeting on Friday, said the department was committed to engaging with all communities.

Mr Adriaanse said the project steering committee which comprised local community leaders had all the necessary information at hand to provide feedback. He said the local representative from Parkwood hadd provided feedback to the community just over two weeks ago.

“The department has at all times provided information on the Greater Retreat Housing Development, currently we are still in the planning phase and this involves a number of statutory processes.”

He added that the last meeting with the Sub-council, ward councillors and project steering committee had been held in September last year.

Responding to allegations that the steering committee election was politically motivated, Mr Adriaanse said the department noted the comment and was aware of the concerns raised. “Politics was not the motivating factor around the selection of the PSC. This is a fair and transparent process, as they are elected by the community. The provincial Department of Human Settlements is a responsive department and will make every effort to respond to the memorandum,” he said.