Fanelo Maseko visited Residensia area in the Vaal, where families were moved from the area and had their homes demolished to make way for a shopping centre. Lebogang Molote took the pictures
After seven years, the 44 families of Residensia township in the Vaal, whose homes were demolished to make way for a shopping mall, still remain destitute and hopeless in a temporary relocation village.
They were moved from their land and their homes were demolished in November 2011 by the Gauteng department of human settlements because their land had been zoned for the erection of the building.
The remains of the original Residensia Magistrates’ Court building, built in 1937
Residents claimed they were promised they would spend six months in the temporary village – situated in Evaton – while plans were made by the department to allocate each family an RDP house and title deeds.
However Keith Khoza, the spokesperson for the department, refuted this and said his department never entered into agreements with the families.
Khoza said the department did not promise occupants they would obtain subsidised houses within six months.
“Included in the planned eastern (Residensia) and government precincts development was a housing project. The occupants were to obtain houses in this housing project, which was dependent on the implementation of the broader precinct’s development.”
However, residents insisted that promises were made to them, otherwise they would not have agreed to demolish their homes.
“It was them that decided to move us here, but now they are failing to fulfil their promises,” said 57-year-old Timothy Motaung.
“We do not even have electricity here, let alone privacy with our wives because these units are only one-roomed.”
The 22 units are shared by families, with a wall dividing each bedroom so two different families can be housed.
Motaung said they were happy to move because they hoped to get new RDP houses, since their houses were old and had cracks.
But now everyone’s morale was low because it was becoming obvious they were sold dreams that would never materialise.
Residensia, situated in Evaton, covers an area of 25km2 comprising old houses and buildings such as shops, a church, mortuary and an industrial block which houses several small businesses.
Residensia families arrived in the area in 1968 after they were forcefully removed from farms in Meyerton.
On their arrival, the families occupied the old houses and land that was previously owned by whites.
The original white residents of Residensia had been moved behind the railway line to an area now known as Eatonside.
The families were again moved by the democratic dispensation under the banner of the Evaton Renewal Project (ERP), a national Human Settlements urban renewal project.
Instead of being placed in decent houses, however, they were put in units in a temporary relocation village.
This prompted the other residents to refuse moving because their current homes were much bigger.
“If I had agreed to be moved there, where would I have placed this furniture?” asked 50-year-old Pulane Letsele.
“It would have been better if they were moving us to bigger permanent houses, not this temporary situation they created, which now seems to be permanent.”
She said although they were told the relocations were making way for development, none had taken place in Residensia, meaning those who opted to go simply worsened their situation.
“I also do not have a problem leaving here, but only if they offer me a better house, not those matchboxes.”
The renewal project seemingly collapsed in 2014 and 2015 because of alleged corruption, mismanagement of funds and the disappearance of the project’s budget – estimated at over R1 billion at the time.
When City Press arrived in the area, many of the unemployed residents were standing in the sun. The village is made up of 22 houses, each with two bedroom units inside, measuring 21m2.
Each family shares a one-bedroom unit, including one family of seven, which shares a single toilet situated right in front of the small kitchen.
“As you can see, we all sleep here round this tiny space,” said 57-year-old Pulane Tloanyane.
“Me and my husband do not even have privacy in our bed at night because our kids sleep around the bed with these blankets,” she said as she pointed to a stack of blankets.
Asked about the small size of the houses, Khoza said it was a concern to the project team as well, especially for bigger families.
Another resident, Florinah Kocha (52) said they were all forced to either demolish their houses in Residensia or allow ERP contractors to demolish them.
“It would have been better if they had allowed us to bring our shacks here so we could extend these houses. But they said no shacks are allowed here. So how do I get to have an intimate time with my husband in this space?” she asked.
Another affected resident, 41-year-old Manana Tsepetsi said she had to share her small unit with her three children. “My eldest son is now 23-years-old, he is growing while we are still stuck here.”
She showed the City Press team a piece of paper she said they were given during their removal from Residensia.
The one-page letter has the letterhead of MIH Project Management, a company that handled the Evaton Renewal Project on behalf of Human Settlements.
The paper, which was addressed to the family, states “This serves to notify you and your family that you will be relocated from Tango Street, Residensia, Evaton to the temporary relocation village in Bodea road, Evaton”.
The letter also stated that before moving, residents had to clear their current space for a private developer.
It further stated that residents were required to demolish their informal structures before moving.
However Khoza denied that brick structures were also demolished.
“No permanent housing structure was demolished during the relocation. Only temporary dwellings such as ‘mekhukhu’ were demolished and the iron sheets were retained by the owners.”
During City Press’ visit to Residensia, there was evidence that some buildings might have been demolished, including rubble from what used to be a butchery still visible on the ground.
Residents claim that all the buildings were demolished by the department’s contractors.
A Residensia resident shows some houses that remained after the demolitions
Another resident, 41-year-old Mpho Tshabalala told City Press he was renting a shack with his friend in Residensia when they were also moved by Human Settlements officials.
“They demolished our shack before moving us to this place which doesn’t even have electricity.”
He said they were sent from pillar to post trying to get the Emfuleni local municipality to connect them to the grid.
“That is why most of us have resorted to stealing electricity from our neighbours. No one has a legal electricity connection here and you can’t blame us because it’s been seven years we’ve been living without electricity.”
Khoza said Eskom – the service provider in the area – disconnected power to the units. The department, he said, does not pay for the electricity consumption.
The residents have organised themselves into a committee, led by 61-year-old Jabulani Nkwanyana.
“We had numerous meetings with the Gauteng human settlements officials at their Meyerton offices, but nothing has materialised,” Nkwanyana said.
Head of the residents’ committee Jabulani Nkwanyana says they have had many fruitless meetings with government officials regarding their situation
He said during their last meeting, in which Emfuleni local municipality officials were present, Human Settlements officials promised to renovate the temporary units into two-bedroomed houses.
The officials also allegedly promised to allocate new RDP houses to the remaining half of the residents in nearby Tshepong township and Savannah City. But all these promises were not fulfilled.
However, Khoza said when it became clear the planned development would no longer happen, the residents were informed and three options were presented to them by the project team.
Firstly, they had the choice to move back to Residensia to reoccupy spaces they had rented (prior to being relocated to the temporary village).
Secondly it was proposed that the temporary units they occupied could be converted from 21m2 temporary dwellings to 40m2 fully subsidised, permanent housing, which would be allocated to qualifying residents.
“Lastly, they had to register on the housing needs register to await the houses as is the case with all other beneficiaries.
“On the issue of being allocated the converted units at the village, which arguably would be the most feasible solution, the majority of residents opposed it. The Gauteng department of human settlements never promised to move the residents to either Tshepong or Savannah,” he said.
Nkwanyana said what pained him the most was that after all the upheaval, broken promises and seven-year wait, the shopping centre that displaced them was not even built.
Emfuleni local municipality spokespersons Stanely Gaba and Lebo Mofokeng did not respond to questions sent to them on June 27 2018.
- This story is provided by Loxion News, a member of the Association of Independent Publishers
These features are part of a journalism partnership called Our Land between City Press, Rapport, Landbouweekblad and Code for Africa to find the untold stories, air the debates, amplify the muted voices, do the research and, along the way, find equitable solutions to SA’s all-important land issue