Housing a burning issue

Tensions are running high in Parkwood and there are fears that protests will soon start up in the area again.

Last year people protested to highlight their plight for much needed housing in the area (“Long wait for land”, Southern Mail, June 27, 2018).

The protests turned violent after several stand-offs between officials and residents who occupied an open piece of land between Prince George Drive and Walmer Road and the roads were blocked several times.

Millions of rands worth of damage was reported after the Parkwood community centre was set on fire and protesters looted shops in the area.

After the protests the provincial Department of Human Settlements announced that they were looking at solutions and identified seven vacant plots in and around Parkwood and Lotus River as possible sites for social housing projects.

In the meeting, residents were shown maps with the seven proposed plots earmarked for possible housing after an audit of available land within Parkwood and surrounding areas such as Ottery, Grassy Park and Lotus River was done.

However, at the time Ntomboxolo Makoba-Somdaka, spokesperson for MEC of Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela, said the identification of various parcels of land did not in any way suggest that they were suitable for development but that a a full professional team of consultants would be appointed to evaluate each parcel of land.

The department had a meeting with the community to give updates on the status of the evaluations.

On Saturday February 2, residents held a picket along Prince George Drive to address the housing issue. They held up placards which read “Where are our houses” and “Fastrack Parkwood housing”.

Tyres were burnt in the area on Thursday February 7 and Prince George Drive was closed once again, forcing motorists to use alternative routes in peak traffic.

Dominique Booysen, chairperson of the Parkwood Backyard Dweller Association, said the burning of tyres was not the association’s doing but said he understands why it was done.

“People are frustrated because there are lots of talk but nothing is being done about the lack of housing in Parkwood,” he said.

Community worker Paul Phillips said the Department of Human Settlements is dragging their feet on the agreement that was initially made after the protests.

“People are frustrated and unsatisfied because nothing is materialising and it’s just meeting upon meeting with no real outcome. We hear that other communities are getting housing but nothing is happening in Parkwood. Winter is coming again and nothing is happening.

“There are also concerns about how the department is going about addressing the needs around housing for our people because a steering committee was established but there is no representation from the community. It was not democratically done because there are people on the steering committee who the people of Parkwood don’t even know,” said Mr Phillips.

In response to the recent tension in the community, Ms Makoba-Somdaka said a meeting was held in December last year where comprehensive feedback was given in terms of the proposed housing development for the greater Retreat area, which includes Parkwood.

In response to the establishment of a steering committee, she said the committee was established by the community.

“We encourage communities to elect a project steering committee which will interact with the department. We can confirm that for Parkwood a project steering committee was elected and it is incorrect that the steering committee does not have representation from the community,” she said.

Ms Makoba-Somdaka said further meetings will be held with the community this month about the processes that are being followed.

“The department has appointed a full professional team of consultants who have already undertaken many hours of work, this was presented to the community in terms of the land parcels and what the potential housing yield could be,” she said.

“People have a right to protest but that should be kept within the legal ambit of the law. If that does not happen the law will take its course,” said Ms Makoba-Somdaka.

Grassy Park police spokesperson Captain Wynita Kleinsmith confirmed Thursday’s traffic disruption.

“Prince George Drive was closed both ways due to tyres that were burnt on the road and Public Order Police (POP) were on the scene. The situation was monitored and protesters scattered. The road was reopened not too long after. A criminal case was not opened and there were no arrests,” she said.