Revamp at last for historic township where shacks outnumber formal households

2020-02-12 22:00

President Cyril Ramaphosa looks set to make good on one of his election promises in the Eastern Cape with the launch soon of the ambitious project to redevelop one of the biggest informal settlements in the province.

The reconstruction of Duncan Village, a historic township in the Buffalo City Metropolitan, will see about 20 000 families in this informal settlement in East London relocated to temporary housing during construction.

Founded in the 1940s to solve a housing crisis in East London’s black areas, Duncan Village has over the decades become one of the country’s biggest housing headaches.

Today shacks outnumber formal households in the township of 80 000 people.

Basic services are hard to come by and unemployment is sky high, making it one of the most uninhabitable settlements in the country.

Ramaphosa has visited Duncan Village three times in the last three years.

His last visit was during his back-to-back campaign rallies in Dimbaza, Butterworth and Duncan Village ahead of last May’s general elections.

He said then that government was aware of the challenges such as housing, unemployment and poverty in Duncan Village and promised to prioritise its revamp.

Last Friday, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Deputy Minister Pam Tshwete, MEC for Human Settlements Nonkqubela Pieters and Buffalo City Metro executive mayor Xola Pakati signed a memorandum of understanding, paving the way for the reconstruction of Duncan Village to start.

Tshwete said after the signing ceremony: “The Housing Development Agency (HDA) has identified land parcels for housing development in and around the city and the three spheres of government have agreed on the funding arrangements.

“This means all parties concerned will prioritise Duncan Village and surrounding areas when it comes to the R1.8 billion Human Settlements Development Grant in the 2020/21 financial year and the R761 million Urban Settlements Development Grant in the 2020/21 financial year. This intervention is in line with the district development model as launched by the president last year,” said Tshwete.

Nongcinile Phetshu, was elated on hearing the news.

Phetshu, who lives in a small shack with her six children in Ward 2, said their living conditions were unbearable and inhuman.

She said poverty and unemployment landed her at the informal settlement.

Originally from Centuli Village in the Alfred Nzo District Municipality, Phetshu arrived in East London in 2008 in search of a job.

She left her four children behind.

When she couldn’t find a job she started selling vegetables along Douglas Smith Highway, one of the busiest streets in Duncan Village, earning her nickname “No-Veg”.

Nongcinile Phetshu (61), who has lived in the Duncan Village informal settlement for the past 12 years, is very happy that the area will be revamped. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

She has since given birth to two more children and brought the other four to live with her at Duncan Village.

“I am very excited to hear that Duncan Village will finally be a priority of government. We have been promised houses many times before but we are happy that the president has taken this issue of housing seriously.

“We are living in squalor because we are poor and we don’t have any other choice. This place is not good at all. We are exposed to diseases.

“There is filth running through the shacks, with mosquitoes and flies all over the place. I really cannot wait to have a decent place to stay,” she said.

The HDA, an entity of the national department of human settlements, will oversee the project. In the first phase 5 500 house will be built at a cost of R220 million.

“Duncan Village is an area with historical significance in East London where more than 20 000 of its households currently reside in informal dwellings.

“In terms of the agreement between the executive authorities of the three spheres of government, the HDA will be the programme manager to support the metro’s human settlements programme.

“This includes monitoring and supporting current and future implementing agents in Duncan Village and other areas,” said Tshwete.

She said the agency would oversee the implementation of the entire project and ensure that all bottlenecks that might impeded service delivery were unblocked.

It will also ensure full participation of all role-players and be accountable to the three spheres of government, she said.

The president launched the district development model in Lusikisiki and in eThekwini in September and October last year, respectively.

Duncan Village is earmarked for two important deliverables. The first one is the building of 5 500 housing units over set period of time.
Buffalo City Metro executive mayor Xola Pakati

Khusela Diko, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, said the Duncan Village project was exactly what the model sought to do – “to break down the silos in government planning, resourcing and budgeting and to ensure that government works together”.

“It’s about unblocking the bottlenecks and in the process ensuring that development happens quicker,” Diko said.

“So you would know that, for example in the case of Duncan Village, you have the municipality in the case of Buffalo City Metro, the provincial department of human settlements and national government.

“So, when they are coordinated in the form of the district development model they are able to move quicker,” she said.

Diko said with Duncan Village becoming a priority, it would be easy to get other supporting departments within their plans to remember that there was a priority plan within a certain district, coordinate efforts and ensure that their budgets were clear for that particular district.

Pakati said the signing of the memorandum would help in accelerating housing development in Duncan Village.

“Duncan Village is earmarked for two important deliverables. The first one is the building of 5 500 housing units over set period of time.

“This being a key project means that this phased development will not just look at the housing units but also accommodate industrial zones where people will be able to have economic activity and be close to all amenities,” said Pakati.

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February 23 2020