Bheki Mashile's Letter from Umjindi

Home boy. House proud

Ms Sisulu, as publisher of a community newspaper in my little municipality of Umjindi – Barberton being its seat of government, thus the name of the newspaper, The Umjindi Guardian – I was over the moon at your announcement that your department will no longer give free houses to anyone under 40 unless they are disabled or the child head of the household.

Housebound: Umjindi ANC council speaker Vusi Mkhatshwa

But, I must admit, it was not only the statement itself I found pleasing but also its perfect fit as a relevant front page story. The Umjindi Guardian takes great pride in its editorial content: no stories to be seen about gogos receiving food parcels but rather, what has led to Gogo being in a position to need a food parcel.

But hey, the front page story will certainly help get your message across. While seeking reaction from the community to the important news, we found that many had no knowledge of the announcement. I had to highlight it to the buggers. Boy! Talk about a society that appallingly does not keep up with current affairs! Add to that our municipality’s dismal failure to communicate with the people, and what do you have? Yes, so-called “service delivery protests”.

Its okay, don’t thank me for disseminating the information. But do just get your department to place adverts in local community newspapers that reach the affected people, instead of the Sunday national papers, which are not – repeat, not – bought, let alone read, by the sector of the population that Human Settlements serves.

Be that as it may, I think you will be happy to know that your decision has received overwhelming support from those I sought reaction from in the community. I will spare you the  rehashing of the many problems the RDP scheme has encountered. I would hate to insult your intelligence by doing so since one  can deduce from the announcement that you are fully aware of them.

However, I could not help but ponder two important questions:

(1) Was the statement not premature? According to Umjindi’s mayor Lazaras Mashaba the municipality is yet to receive any directive on the implementation of this policy. Surely there are long waiting lists as well as town planning decisions already taken that focus on low-cost housing etc that will need to be dealt with?

(2) I could not help thinking that the statement, or policy, might be a bit short-sighted since it makes no mention of stands. You will agree that the free stands allocation has gone hand in hand with free housing (RDP) allocations.

I am concerned about the reaction that my lead story – your announcement – might elicit from those on the waiting list, under-40s of course, of which there are many. And what about Umjindi’s planned low cost housing township development that was hastily decided upon after a land invasion?

Early this year a sizeable number of Umjindi community members and opportunists undertook a land invasion claiming that the municipality was taking too long even to allocate them stands, never mind RDP houses.

Now the stands question: the municipality’s response was to purchase land and allocate plots to some – a good number – of the invaders. Now, they built shacks on their respective portions but few, if any, are living in them. Because they regard them as mkhukhu (an RDP house still pending) and are waiting for the RDPs to which they are entitled. Oh yes, that’s Mzansi’s culture of entitlement for you.

Oh by the way, many of the land invaders who were allocated these stands are living at home while they wait for their RDPs. And when I covered one of their land invasion meetings they all, yes all, appeared to be younger than 40. Much younger. Not to mention that some were not even Umjindi residents but taxied in from places like Nelspruit to take part in the land (stands) grab.  

I would like to offer a word to the wise.  When the directive about implementation is finally sent out to the provinces and local municipalities, don’t forget the stands matter. But more importantly, you will need to insist and implore that the local municipalities must communicate this policy properly to the community and to do so without fear. 

And lastly, Minister, while your announcement highlighted the government’s displeasure at recipients of free housing who sell or rent them out, well, here is another problem that I trust you must be aware of: the demolition of the original RDP structure as the recipient develops the stand in years to come. A good many people object  so vehemently to the practice that my Guardian was flooded with angry complaints when Umjindi’s ANC council speaker Vusi Mkhatshwa inherited an RDP house from his mother and immediately tore it down to build his “middle class” dream house.

Oh, by the way, our good speaker touts himself as the local upholder of ANC values! But his example highlights the free-stands matter and will simply render the housing policy short-sighted.

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