R2bn flagship project in jeopardy

Read : 295 times
Mail & Guardiam

Two years on, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s R2-billion flagship revitalisation project in the Eastern Cape’s debilitated Duncan Village township is in jeopardy after court action to halt it.

But this is only one of the many delays that have hampered the process, despite more than R1-million having been spent in the current financial year towards the appointment of a consultant for the design of 5 000 houses, as well as a “social survey”, according to the city’s sixyear development plan.

The total budget for the current financial year was R19-million, and only a fraction of the money has been used. The programme is meant to build more than 20 000 houses, of which 931 have been built to date.

The area’s congested and narrow streets are populated with old and rusted shacks. Hazardous live-wire electric cables snake the roads, while children play without any sense of the danger to their lives. An unhygienic, putrid and stomachchurning stench lingers in the air, caused by the pool of sewage that floods every street in the township.

Tetinene Jordan, the community leader who brought the court application on behalf of residents, joked that Duncan Village was spared the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic “because the coronavirus stands no chance against the germs in our township that protect us”.

The court action followed growing anger among Duncan Village residents, who have alleged that the Buffalo City metropolitan municipality failed to consult them about the development. They also allege that the city excluded the community from participation in the build programme.

In June, the East London high court granted, with costs, the Duncan Village class action application that the government should consult and involve community members throughout the development.

Since the judgment, Duncan Village has remained an eyesore, with rubbish strewn across the township, and little development, save for the temporary shelters that were built on its outskirts to deal with congestion as part of the national government’s Covid-19 response.

Ahead of the May 2019 general elections, during a November 2018 campaign visit to Duncan Village as the ANC’S presidential candidate, Ramaphosa bemoaned the state of the township, and instructed the provincial and national governments to “turn things around in the area”.

However, Buffalo City’s Integrated Development Plan 2021-2026 acknowledged that the revitalisation project was beset with inefficiencies, and that its progress was “very slow”.

“There is a challenge of [the] mushrooming of shacks and land unavailability in Duncan Village,” reads the city’s plan.

But this was contrary to the announcement made in February 2020 by Deputy Minister of human settlements Pam Tshwete that the Housing Development Agency had identified “land parcels for housing development in and around the city”.

Tshwete was speaking during the

signing of a memorandum of understanding, together with Eastern Cape Human Settlements MEC Nonkqubela Pieters and Buffalo City mayor Xola Pakati. The memorandum was meant to kickstart the revitalisation of the township.

“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,” Tshwete said.

Nine months later the community instituted court action against the Buffalo City metro, the provincial human settlements department, the human settlements ministry and Asla Construction, the appointed service provider.

The judgment said the failures of the local, provincial and national governments to consult the Duncan Village community gave rights to Jordan to seek legal action.

Jordan told the Mail & Guardian the lack of consultation and community involvement in the development, as well as what he called “the arrogance of Buffalo City”, was the reason for the court application.

“We obviously want to see our area developed because this place has been neglected by successive governments, and that is why it looks as disgusting as it does,” Jordan said.

“But this development must be done with the community’s involvement, because we are told that people will have to move from their homes to make way for construction.

“But no one is telling us how this is to be done and when. Local businesses must also be involved in this project, which should not only benefit unknown companies,” he added.

Asla chief executive Werner Jerling said: “We can confirm that all stakeholders are being consulted and that Asla continues to act in accordance with our contractual obligations on our scope of the works.”

Nkosinathi Sikobi, who was also part of the court application, said the action was brought because the municipality had long forgotten about Duncan Village.

“Buffalo City municipality undermines the people of Duncan Village, as if the community members are insignificant. Even the municipality’s legal representatives said the people of Duncan Village weren’t even ratepayers. I think that’s why they did not want to involve us in this project, so we had to go to court,” he said.

Buffalo City spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said the court order did not aim to stop the project, but was rather a class action application for the community to be part of the development to speed up the process,

The city was developing temporary shelters, the first phase of which would constitute 2000 units at Ziphunzana Bypass. The development of this phase is 47% complete. The next temporary shelter, Ngwenya said, would be at Mtsotso, with 119 of the 1174 units already completed.

“These projects are a confirmation that the de-densification of Duncan Village is already being implemented, and we appeal to residents to co-operate with the process of moving to temporary structures, as this is an effective way of creating space for construction within Duncan Village,” Ngwenya said.

“The slowness of the project implementation is well documented as it was caused by the fact that the project was delayed through court actions … We would like to plead with the people of Duncan Village to be part of the solutions and cooperate with us, rather than work against us,” he added.

National human settlements department spokesperson Mandulo Maphumulo said the department was working with Buffalo City to ensure the project’s delays were resolved.

“The delays impact our collective commitment to ensure Duncan Village is upgraded and lives of the community are improved. We have assisted in making available funds to both the province and [the city] to implement the project.”

‘There is a challenge of [the] mushrooming of shacks and land unavailability in Duncan Village’

Sign up for Free Daily Building and Construction News