/ 14 April 2011

‘I’m tired of living like this’

The Gauteng department of housing is to demolish at least 115 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses less than five years after the houses were handed to their beneficiaries.

At R50 000 per RDP house, this means the department has to spend at least R5 750 000 more than it should have.

The houses are in Braamfischerville in Soweto. Braamfischerville is a development consisting of 19 000 units where parts of the area have been problematic to the residents. The Mail & Guardian spoke to a number of Braamfischerville Extension 13 residents, who recounted how they have endured muddy conditions on their doorsteps when it rains, sewage overspill problems, and a lack of proper streets and street lights ever since they moved into the area five years ago.

The residents of Braamfischerville have many housing complaints. They say that since they were relocated into their RDP houses five years ago, they have had numerous problems including flooding and impassable roads. The M&G went to Braamfischerville to investigate.

“They said they [government] won’t give us street lights because it is full of water under the ground. They don’t tell us what we must do, we don’t know what to do; really we don’t,” said an angry 60-year-old Victoria Kaman.

Kaman says the area is so bad that when it is raining she can’t walk behind her house because it becomes too muddy.

Her situation is not unique. Constance Hlope-Mzizi, who lives two streets away from Kaman, said when it rains she has to put bricks in the yard to avoid walking on the muddy water.

She says that even if it is not raining she can see water seeping through the ground next to her stoep. “Winter or summer, it’s the same. Even if it is not raining, you would see water coming out of here.”

A street further down, Johannah Mmutle has had it worse. She showed the M&G pictures she took of her floor filled with sewage water after it rained.

She has bored a hole at the back of her house to allow water passage whenever her house is flooded.

“I have taken my son to his grandmother’s because … when he is here he has flu, some rashes. I’m tired of living like this, really,” said Mmutle.

The residents claim that nothing is being done to improve their situation despite numerous pleas.

Aware of the problem
But ward councillor Wilson Mfaba says he has been aware of the problem since 2008 and has reported it to the Gauteng department of housing.

Mfaba says after he had communicated with the department in 2008, a consulting company, Emba Project Management (Emba PM), was appointed and it recommended relocation of affected residents, that storm water drainage be implemented and the tarring of streets. A contractor is currently on site.

Affected people were given an option to relocate to Lakeside, near Benoni, but they refused, Mfaba said.

“Some [had] valid reasons [for refusing]. For example, some people indicated that [they] work in Krugersdorp — it would be too far for [them to commute] from Lakeside, which is next to Orange Farm, to Krugersdorp or Johannesburg.”

Other reasons included their children, who study in Johannesburg.

According to Mfaba, in the end only two people were relocated to Lakeside. The rest had to wait to be relocated to the Doornkop Greenfield-Lufhereng Project, which is situated less than 5km away from Braamfischerville. He said the first batch of people was moved late last year and another batch is expected to be moved this month.

Mfaba, the Gauteng department of housing, and even Rand Leases Properties — the company that built the houses — claimed that the area was not wet when the houses were built.

“When the houses were handed over to beneficiaries, the stands/houses did not have any problems up until three or four years down the line [when] the beneficiaries experienced underground seeping water,” the department’s spokesperson, Motsamai Motlhaolwa, said in a written response to the M&G.

Engineering report
But none of the three parties could give a clear reason for the sudden “underground seeping water” affecting residents to the extent that not even street lights can be put up.

“The department of local government and housing undertakes town planning activities prior to any housing development. Before the project was implemented, studies were undertaken by the developer [Rand Leases Properties] to the satisfaction of the municipality and the department of local government and housing to check if the area was suitable for development [houses], and it was found to be suitable,” said Motlhaolwa.

Oliver Jones, project manager of Rand Leases Properties, said an engineering report was done for the whole of Braamfischerville.

“We were aware that this area was a pan, and therefore a 1:50 and a 1:100 year [ 1% chance of flooding in 50 years and a 1% chance of flooding in 100 years] floodline study was carried out. The area was demarcated and zoned as a public open space. Houses were sufficiently situated from the 1:100 floodline as was done based on circumstances at that time,” he said.

“We view that the major problem with this area is due to the reeds that have since overgrown the area. This is causing the pan to silt up and causing the water level to rise,” he said.

“It is my layman opinion that if council cleared the pan, the situation would be resolved. And the pan would return to its formed state. However, we await the results of Emba PM to come to a final conclusion.”