Shocking Neglect of Tembisa Informal Settlements and Backyard Tenants

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Caucus Leader

Tembisa informal settlements and backyard tenants are shockingly neglected by the Ekurhuleni metro council.

This is the major finding of my visit there yesterday as part of the DA’s “Don’t forget the forgotten” campaign in which I visit deprived communities once a month and stay the night to experience and highlight what needs to be done to improve their lives. I was accompanied by DA Constituency MP Mike Waters and DA Councillors Barbara Harrison, Phillip Thamahane, Khetha Shandu, Allan Sauls and Eddie Taylor.

The Vusimuzi informal settlement is vast, with about 8500 shacks wedged in between a cemetery, power lines and a stream that often overflows. Polluted water flows everywhere from leaking pipes, but there are less than 20 working taps for everyone to use, which is grossly inadequate for more than 30 000 people who live there.

A decent water engineer could easily fix all the leaks that waste a huge amount of water, as well as install more taps that are desperately needed, but the council has ignored all pleas by residents.

Despite the power lines, there is no electricity – as one resident put it, there is “electricity above but not below”. A few chemical toilets are provided, but most residents use pit toilets that they dig themselves. Rats are a major problem. They are everywhere, and one actually ran over my feet. I saw a young child whose ear had been chewed off by a rat.

Across the way from Vusimuzi are RDP houses built in Esselen Park which many residents claim they should have been allocated but weren’t because of corruption in the housing lists.

Another major unattended problem in Tembisa is the plight of backyard tenants. I met leaders of the Phomolong Tenants Forum, which has 5000 members in wards 12 and 13. They actually outnumber the home-owners in these areas.

Despite the fact that there are 200 000 families who live in backyards in Ekurhuleni, the council has no policy to improve their lives. This compares badly to Cape Town where Mayor Patricia de Lille has paid a great deal of attention to the needs of backyard tenants.

The council has so far ignored their petition that land be identified for social rental housing that they could afford, and have the option of buying later on.

Other observations from my visit include:

* Poor roads and rat infestation at the Winnie Mandela informal settlement

* A collapsed bridge on Benjamin Nthlane road has been unrepaired for two years despite five people who have died in car accidents there. This bridge joins Tembisa and Ivory Park, but people now have to take a long alternative route to travel between these areas. The problem is that the Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni councils both say that the other council is responsible for the repair, but meanwhile the residents suffer.

I stayed a peaceful night at the shack of Mr Justice Langa in Vusimuzi. There is a good community spirit at Vusimuzi, but life is hard because of the council’s neglect of their basic needs.

The DA will campaign for the council to meet its obligations to upgrade their living conditions.

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