Members of Parliament who choose to live in one of three parliamentary villages in Cape Town have tabled a litany of complaints about their living conditions.
The legislators, who pay R362 a month for a state-subsidised house, say this comes with health and safety risks. Some of the houses have as many as four bedrooms. The MPs have also expressed concern about being potential targets of criminals.
They made their frustrations known at a parliamentary committee meeting, headed by Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia De Lille, whose department is, in effect, the state’s landlord/landlady.
De Lille told her tenants that plans for renovations were under way and that, so far, refurbishments had cost taxpayers more than R100-million. This included the cost of demolishing some homes with asbestos roofing.
“There are a number of asbestos units there,” De Lille said. “Asbestos has been banned in this country for many years now, and we have failed to demolish those asbestos units. They are not safe for any human being to live in.”
Cape Town’s three parliamentary villages are situated in Acacia Park in Goodwood, Laboria Park in Belhar, and Pelican Park near the False Bay coast.
They house mainly MPs and their families, but also some government and parliamentary staff as well as officials who assist ministers when they are in Cape Town.
The public works department told Parliament that there were ongoing efforts to increase safety and patrols at the villages, which are fortified by fences and monitored by cameras and access-controlled booms. However, the department also noted the number of unregistered guests and visitors entering and leaving the premises, saying they could pose a safety risk to residents.
Eviction letters have been issued to some of the occupiers of domestic quarters and to some sessional parliamentary workers (who are only in Cape Town when the House is in session).
The department criticised the police for ineffective protection services, claiming some officials played computer games while on duty and others unplugged access control equipment to charge their phones.
But De Lille also criticised MPs, saying they weren’t ideal tenants. As part of her presentation to the committee, she detailed how some tenants had refused to register their visitors, vehicles and even taxis. They hurled insults at members of the South African Police Service, who, said De Lille, were merely doing their work to ensure residents were safe.
De Lille said police and security staff had their hands full trying to keep an eye on residents and on state property.
“Dependents remove the wheels from wheelie bins to make wagons and toys,” she said. “They climb on the roofs of the units, and make a noise and have parties on weekends. There’s the abuse of alcohol and drugs with friends visiting for the day. Some dependents who are over the age of 18 are unemployed and roam around the residences.”
An MP, who did not want to be named, said safety was an issue at his residence when Parliament was in session. The MP said he kept his personal belongings to a minimum as Cape Town was his place of work and not his permanent home.
While Parliament is open and functioning from Monday to Friday, MPs are afforded the flexibility to move to and from their constituencies at the start and end of the week. Said the MP: “Most of us fly into Cape Town on Sunday night or Monday morning. We leave on Thursday night or Friday morning. I am not there on weekends, but I believe it’s a party.”