Burning anger over homes

Two separate housing protests Tuesday in the Edendale area descended into chaos as police battled residents whose anger had erupted because they are fed up with being fobbed off as they wait for decent housing.

A cloud of black smoke hung over the Peace Valley informal settlement near Edendale as a crowd of angry residents blocked roads and tried to burn down neighbouring factories.

One large group’s protest was over the delay in a housing project that was approved 17 years ago.

Msunduzi’s fire department and the police had their hands full as they tried to put out the fires that erupted around the fences of the factories such as Umzungulu Windows.

They eventually dispersed the crowd, who retaliated by pelting them with stones.

The Peace Valley 2 housing project was reportedly approved by council in 2001 but the beneficiaries are still living in shacks. 

This week’s protest was sparked by the start of a different housing project on the site that the community claimed was allocated for their development.

“We feel disrespected by the government. How do you build houses for other people on land that was meant for us yet we are still living in shacks?” said Mzamo Mbele.

Msunduzi is in the process of building 23 houses for families that had to be relocated from ward 19 because their homes were encroaching on the reserve of Selby Msimango Road.

The affected homeowners had to be moved because the road is currently being widened as part of the integrated public transport network (IRPTN). The project is considered an “emergency development” as it has delayed the IRPTN, and is funded by the Department of Transport.

Ntombi Sibiya said she has lived in Peace Valley for over 20 years and voted in every election with hopes that the then incoming councillor would deliver the housing project promised to the residents in the 1990s.

“Some people who registered for the houses at the same time as me have since died without seeing their new home and now it looks like we might never get them at all,” she said.

The angry protesters accused ward councillor Dumisani Phungula of failing them. They said he had not updated them on the progress of their projects in years.

Speaking to The Witness on Tuesday afternoon, Phungula acknowledged that “there is a long outstanding housing project” for Peace Valley 2, but said it was not related to the development currently under construction.

“The project they are protesting about has taken long and it must be fast-tracked but we have to follow procurement processes.

“The service provider was appointed but has subsequently withdrawn so we are now in the tender process to appoint a new one,” Phungula said.

Peace Valley housing project ‘has nothing to do with the relocations’

Phungula said a community consultative meeting was called to discuss the relocation of the people from ward 19 and it was agreed that they be allowed to come to ward 23.

“The Peace Valley 2 housing project is funded by the Department of Human Settlement and has nothing to do with the IRPTN relocation but we engaged the local community on the matter so that everyone understood what was happening,” he said.

He said when the protest first broke out on Monday, he invited City officials from the human settlement unit to brief the community on the status of their housing development, but the residents chased them away.

A flock of goats make their way through broken glass during a housing protest in Herschensonn Road in Masons Mill on Tuesday.

According to Msunduzi’s integrated development plan, the Peace Valley 2 development is a multi-year project where an estimated R24 million would be spent over the 2018/19 to 2020/21 financial period. Phungula said while he understood the frustrations of the local community, the violence that was displayed during the protest would not be tolerated. He said it  was becoming a culture for people to destroy property worth millions of rands during protests.

“We accept the genuine concern of the people but we don’t accept the destruction of property that we are witnessing, so the law enforcement agencies must arrest those who are perpetrators of this violent conduct,” he said.

He said threats of arson could chase away investors from the area and that would exacerbate the challenge of unemployment as some people would be retrenched when factories close down.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said that four people were arrested for public violence.

‘Add us to the housing list’

In another protest in the area on Tuesday morning, the community of Masons Mill, near Edendale, closed off Archie Gumede Drive with burning tyres, trees and rocks demanding that their names be added to the list of beneficiaries in a housing project.

The public order police unit, traffic department, Msunduzi Municipality officials and fire department responded swiftly to the situation and by 8.30 am the road was already clear and open for public use.

Speaking to The Witness, the irate protesters alleged that the people on the housing list were from Johannesburg, Peace Valley, Ashdown and Dambuza.

“How can they build houses for other people where we stay. We have been living here since 1996 and we are not prepared to move. They will have to build those houses on top of us,” said a community member who asked not to be named in fear of victimisation.

Another community member said they would not stop protesting and blockading the road until their ward councillor, Dumisani Phungula, agrees to address them.

“We have not seen our councillor in two years. He refuses to speak to us. We want him to address us and tell us what we want to hear,” said the community member.

Ward 23 councillor Phungula said most of the people who were protesting on Tuesday morning were not even residents in his ward.

“Those people have their own wards and ward councillor and are just land invaders,” he said.

“Msunduzi Municipality has an ongoing land invasion case against them and some of their illegal houses have been demolished.”

Phungula said the proposed housing project for the area has not been approved and therefore there was no list of beneficiaries yet.