“I fell into a pit of mud and human waste”

2 weeks 6 days ago
Pit toilets finally repaired at Eastern Cape school where caretaker nearly drowned

By Phathiswa Shushwana and Chumani Mazwi

Photo of toilet buildings
New pit toilets have been built at Kalalo Junior Secondary School after a caretaker nearly drowned in the old toilet. Photo: Chumani Mazwi

In August 2015, Mntundini Saphepha went to use the pit toilet at Kalalo Junior Secondary School in Elliotdale, Eastern Cape. The floor collapsed and he fell into a pool of mud and human waste.

Saphepha told his story in an affidavit to the Bhisho High Court during a hearing on Norms and Standards for school infrastructure in July this year. “I fell into a pool of mud and human waste up to my chest. It was so disgusting and there was even sanitary pads floating in the waste. I was drowning.”

It took Saphepha 25 minutes to free himself from the pit.

“I took off all my clothes and I poured water all over myself. I quickly called home and asked someone to bring me some clothes to change into.”

He called the school clerk who took a long pole to measure the depth of the pit. “It was about two metres deep.”

“I was scared to death when it was happening. I was in there for so long. I am so embarrassed by the whole thing.”

“I didn’t eat the whole day and half of the next day. I was so disgusted as I thought I might have digested some of the pool of mud and waste. I am now always anxious and nervous every time I have to use the bathroom.”

Saphepha said district officials had visited the school on 7 September 2015 and promised to build a new staff toilet.

New toilets were finally built in March 2017. The school now has four toilets: for boys, girls, people with disabilities, and staff.

When GroundUp visited the school this week, learners and staff said the new toilets were more hygienic and safer.

Grade 8 learner, Nosipho Mtsikini said, “The new toilets are clean and do not smell, we can also wash our hands in the sinks so that we will not get germs.”

School principal Matiti Sithembiso said, “These new toilets are safer than the previous toilets. There are slabs underneath to the toilet to support it from collapsing.

“We can rest assured that what happened to the caretaker in 2015 can never happen to anyone in this school again.”

But thousands of other South African schools still have unsafe pit toilets and though the judgment in the Bhisho High Court on 19 July compels the department to implement its Norms and Standards policy, the education department has decided to appeal the judgment.

In this week’s mini-budget, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced that in 2018/19 funding for sanitation projects in schools would be “reprioritised”. “Over the medium term,” he said, “government, donors and private sector companies will fund these projects and test new sanitation technology.”

He said R3.4 billion had been allocated to the education infrastructure grant for construction and maintenance of schools, including sanitation.

But Equal Education, which has been fighting for Norms and Standards, said the Minister’s speech did little to make the commitment to safer schools a reality.

“While he did not announce any further cuts to the education infrastructure grants, the R800 million that has been re-prioritised towards school infrastructure, provides little reprieve after the 2018 budget announced a R7 billion budget cut to infrastructure grants over three years,” Equal Education said in a statement after the budget.

“The irony of the Minister’s promise in the wake of the same government’s decision to appeal a court order compelling it to implement the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, also cannot be overstated.”

Several children have fallen into pit toilets in schools and some have died according to civil society organisation SECTION27:
• In 2007, six-year-old Siyamthanda Mtunu, a learner at Dalasile Primary School in the Eastern Cape, was using the toilet when the walls of the cubicle collapsed on him. Mtunu died on the way to the hospital.
• In 2013, seven-year-old Lister Magongwa, a learner at Mmushi Primary School in Limpopo, was using the toilet when walls of the cubicle collapsed on him. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
• In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape, a learner at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo, fell into a pit toilet at school and drowned.
• In 2016, five-year-old Oratilwe Dilwana, a learner at Tlhotlheletsang Primary School in North West, fell into a pit toilet. Oratilwe swallowed human waste and sustained severe head injuries. His mother told GroundUp he is now afraid of toilets and he has learning problems.
• In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa, a learner at Luna Primary School in the Eastern Cape, fell into a pit latrine and died.

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Council delays its decision on social housing project

3 weeks ago
“The decision today is unjustifiable. Council is a total and utter shambles,” says housing activist

By Aidan Jones

Aerial view of land
Salt River market along Voortrekker Road, located on two MyCiTi bus routes and alongside Salt River Rail Station is a site that councillor Brett Herron has said “is the perfect location for a higher density mixed use, mixed-income development in the inner city”. Photo: 2018 Google map / 2018 AfriGis (Pty) Ltd.

The Cape Town City Council was scheduled on Thursday to announce its decision on the sale of City-owned land to housing non-profit organisation Communicare for redevelopment for social housing. But the decision was pushed back to the next council meeting because “the DA caucus has some queries around the technical aspects of the report” said ward councillor for the area Dave Bryant (DA).

The land in question is Salt River market along Voortrekker Road, located on two MyCiTi bus routes and alongside Salt River Rail Station. It is a site that councillor Brett Herron said “is the perfect location for a higher density mixed use, mixed-income development in the inner city”.

The matter was referred back by councillor Angus Mckenzie “for further technical clarification”. Mayoral Committee Member for Assets and Facilities Management councillor Stuart Diamond said “this will allow us to thoroughly understand the integrated housing model proposed by our social housing partner [Communicare]”.

CEO of Communicare Anthea Houston said of the delay, “This is a set back for those in need of affordable housing opportunities in the city … It would be huge loss to Cape Town if they pull out now.”

Some civil society organisations were outraged. “We are in the midst of a housing crisis and nothing can excuse council’s lack of urgency and vision when so many people are being evicted,” said Jared Rossouw, co-director of Ndifuna Ukwazi. “The decision today is unjustifiable. Council is a total and utter shambles.”

“This is deeply disappointing and worrisome. It has been in the pipeline for over ten years and been through two political party administrations,” said Helen Rourke, programme manager at the Development Action Group. “We appeal to the City Council to expedite the review of this application and resolve any unanswered queries,” she said.

“I fully support it and want to see it happen as soon as possible,” said Herron of the proposed project. “We have an affordable housing crisis in our city and this is a project that will help us address that crisis.”

Rossouw said that if the project is approved by a council, “It would be a first for the city and set a precedent for social housing across the country.”

How social housing could work

“We [Communicare] have spent R2.1 million so far in planning this project with extensive input from the City since 2014,” said Houston.

She said the site could accommodate “about 750 units if nine storeys are built”. The plan is for 30% (210 units) to be used for social housing (for households earning under R15,000 per month) and 14% (105 units) potentially serving the gap market (households earning under R22,000 per month). “The remaining 435 units would be market rentals,” said Houston.

“This kind of social housing can go to four storeys or higher, as opposed to Breaking New Ground houses or other programmes which don’t have funding to go much above one level. We need dense, tall buildings in well-located areas so you get more use out of the same amount of land,” said Rossouw. “And the only way to make this feasible is to cross-subsidise.”

Cross-subsidisation means having tenants from across the income spectrum, with those in higher brackets subsidising the rent of the lower income tenants. “Mixed-income works because it is a model that makes good long-term maintenance of the structure possible,” said Houston.

Rossouw said, “There are some councillors who want to sell the land at market value to private developers because it will generate more revenue for the City, and there are others who realise that selling it at nominal value will help address spatial apartheid.”

“As ward councillor I remain committed to the provision of well located affordable housing and remain confident that this project will prove to be a great success going forward,” said Bryant.

GroundUp has written previously on the viability of subsidised social housing before – see here.

The next council meeting is scheduled for 13 December 2018.

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Rubbish uncollected for months in Port Elizabeth

3 weeks ago
Ward 58 councillor Mendiswa Makunga (ANC) stops assistant giving her phone number to GroundUp

By Joseph Chirume

Photo of garbage
Rubbish piles up at illegal dump in Powerline informal settlement . in Motherwell. Photo: Joseph Chirume

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in Eastern Cape is struggling to clear dumping sites. Residents say they have no option but to dump rubbish in the open spaces as the public collection centres are overflowing. They say rubbish has been accumulating for more than three months.

This week Ward 38 councillor Edward Harker (DA) embarked on a cleaning operation in Jacksonville, using his bakkie to ferry rubbish to the municipal dump. “Rubbish is found everywhere; in the main roads and between houses … The municipal workers came to collect the rubbish last week but they just clear a few streets and disappear,” said Harker.

Nomusi Makazi of Ward 56 in Motherwell, referring to a dumping site in Mkombe Street, said the refuse collection department cleared one area and skipped other places and took a long time to come back.”

A resident who did not want his name mentioned said, “Many people have now resorted to dumping close to the councillor’s gate. We hope this will take the message straight to the municipality. We are fed up with this situation.”

Rubbish is also piling up in Powerline informal settlement in Motherwell.

Mavis Nhlapo said, “Our children have no playing grounds and end up playing at the rubbish hills. The places are dangerous and pose a health risk … The situation is out of control. There is a municipal front loader that often pushes the rubbish into one heap. It just leaves it like that. There used to be trucks that would carry the rubbish away, but they are no longer coming. At times we burn the rubbish at night.”

Marx Qandana, a ward committee member, blamed residents. “Residents are illegally dumping their rubbish in open spaces. The municipality is collecting the rubbish but residents keep dumping in this area … Some residents even swear at us when we restrain them from dumping.”

GroundUp went to the offices of ward 58 councillor Mendiswa Makunga (ANC) whose assistant phoned the councillor in our presence explaining it was a service delivery question. The councillor forbade the assistant to give GroundUp her number.

Spokesperson for Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality Mthubanzi Mniki said he was still investigating.

When Mniki was asked on 26 September about mounds of rubbish that had accumulated for months on the corner of Maphikela and Maxabashawa Streets in NU10 and in Powerline Informal settlement, he said the illegal dumping sites would be cleared by the Addo Road depot in the week of 2 October.

But a resident in Maphikela street said, “The front loader only came to push the rubbish away from the road and put it close to the back of houses.” Nothing had been collected to date.

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R162-million housing project incomplete after over a decade

3 weeks 1 day ago
“The conditions are shocking. As the government we are ashamed,” says KZN Premier

By Nompendulo Ngubane

Photo of incomplete house
Busi Madlala is living in an incomplete home. Photo: Nompendulo Ngubane

Beneficiaries of Msunduzi municipality’s Wirewall Rectification Programme in Phase 4, Imbali, have been living in unfinished houses for years.

Municipal spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcobo said the project started in 2007 to fix homes built by the provincial Department of Human Settlements between 1997 and 2002. She said the “R162-million project” was implemented because the municipality discovered that the previous homes “were not suitable for human occupancy”, with protruding wires “causing electrical problems and shocking people”.

However, the project was halted in 2010 due to “underperformance by the contractors”. Ngcobo said a new contractor was appointed in 2013 and work on the project resumed. “But there are delays due to challenges like demolition approvals and missing beneficiaries,” she said.

The two-storey houses have several rooms. Each family has their own entrance with a kitchen, two bedrooms, living room and a bathroom. But many of the houses were left roofless and without doors and windows.

Bongiwe Madlala lives with her family on the ground floor of one such house. “We were told that the houses would be demolished [for fixing]. They were already giving us problems. We were getting electric shocks when using electrical appliances.”

She said that in 2011 they moved out to rent a house while theirs was being rebuilt. “Then the project stopped. We didn’t know what went wrong,” said Madlala.

She said she could not afford to continue paying rent so they had no choice but to return. “There were no windows and doors. The top floor was not finished, so when it rains water drips in from the roof. Everything from the walls to the floor becomes wet. It’s not safe to use electricity, and the wall is covered in mould.”

She is scared that the ceiling will fall on them one day. “The cracks are now visible … It leaks for days after rain.”

Stholakele Gumede lives in the same situation nearby. “I have decided to tighten the windows with wire. When it’s windy they shake. When it rains, we put buckets on the beds,” said Gumede.

“We don’t know what the problem is. The project has been stopped on numerous occasions. We were told that the houses were not properly done by the previous construction companies,” she said.

Madalala said, “The only thing we want is for these houses to be completed. We are sick because of the conditions we are living under. The government must finish and build these homes properly.”

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu visited Phase 4 last month. He told residents, “The conditions are shocking. As the government we are ashamed … We apologise to the residents.” He promised residents that he would take the matter to the Department of Human Settlements. “I want to know all the details of what happened since the project started years ago.”

Spokesperson for the provincial Department of Human Settlements Mbulelo Baloyi said, “We have responded to the Premier’s office and told them that the department is working on a plan to tackle the problem.”

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Joburg’s Golden Highway barricaded in housing protest

3 weeks 1 day ago
Freedom Park residents demand land

By Zoë Postman

Photo of road with burn marks
Freedom Park residents barricaded the Golden Highway demanding land for houses. Photo: Zoe Postman

About 30 residents of Freedom Park in Johannesburg South barricaded the Golden Highway with burning tyres and rocks on Monday morning to demand land for houses.

After protests in May over land and housing in Johannesburg South, the Gauteng provincial government adopted the rapid land release programme. The programme is designed to identify land for redistribution to people who want to build their own houses. In Johannesburg South, some farms have been identified as land for redistribution.

In May the Gauteng Executive Council said in a statement that the land belonging to local, provincial and national government would be made available for people in the province “wanting to build houses for themselves, urban agriculture, township businesses, sports and recreational purposes”.

But Peter Monethe, chairperson of the Black Consciousness Movement in Freedom Park, told GroundUp that the community had not heard from Member of Executive Council for Human Settlements Uhuru Moiloa since the programme was announced.

According to a statement released by the Gauteng provincial government on 13 May, at a meeting with residents from Freedom Park, Eldorado Park and surrounding areas at the Eldorado Park Stadium held on 12 May, Moiloa said the provincial government had acquired land that would yield close to 60,000 housing units. “This is a commitment that we are making to these communities,” he said.

Monethe said at the rally residents had asked for an exact date for the start of the project. “We were told not to worry because they would communicate and work with us,” said Monethe.

Since then, Monethe said he had sent a proposed development plan of the land to the Gauteng Human Settlements department but had not received a response. He said the community had also tried to deliver a memorandum to Moiloa at the beginning of October but they had been told he was not available to accept the memorandum.

“They don’t respond to our memorandum, calls or emails … There is no communication about progress and this is why we decided to take to the streets because of the growing frustration,” said Freedom Park resident Lehlohonolo Makhele.

“We want the MEC to come to Freedom Park and to tell us an exact date when we will be moving onto the land, that is all we want,” he said.

Pulane Motja has lived in Freedom Park for 18 years. She lives in an RDP house with her husband, two children and eight other family members. She works part-time as a domestic worker when she can.

She said her mother-in-law had sold the RDP house and now the family was facing eviction. “We will have no place to go if we are evicted … We need the land so that we can build a shack while we get enough money to start building our own house,” she said.

Motja said she wanted Moiloa to respond to the community and give them the land that they had been promised.

GroundUp had not received responses from the Department of Human Settlements, the Premier’s office or the Gauteng Executive Council’s spokesperson by the time of publication.

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African cities can raise more money. Kenya and South Africa offer useful lessons

3 weeks 2 days ago

African cities will gain a billion new residents by 2050. But local authorities across the continent don’t have the resources, powers or skills set to meet the growing demand for housing and services.

Africa’s rapid urbanisation is a huge opportunity for national governments.

It’s cheaper to provide all kinds of services to people living in urban areas, from paved roads to health care. Urban growth can turbocharge economic development, since people working in industry and services tend to be more economically productive than those working in agriculture. And urban Africans typically live longer and have higher incomes than their counterparts in the countryside.

Yet across the continent, municipal authorities are often weak and their ability to raise taxes are constrained. This is primarily because of widespread poverty, which means that the tax base is very small. But it’s often compounded by legislative constraints – for example, municipalities often don’t have sufficient authority to collect taxes – and administrative incapacity – where they don’t have the ability to collect taxes effectively.

The net result is that municipal budgets in sub-Saharan Africa are tiny. This severely constrains the ability of municipal authorities to raise investment for much-needed infrastructure.

Our newly published paper points to the catalytic role that national governments can play in raising finance for towns and cities.

In broad terms, the finance for infrastructure required for urban services can be raised in five ways: transfers from the national government; the use of the municipality’s own revenues; debt finance raised by municipalities; financing provided by utilities and other service providers; and capturing a proportion of the increase in land prices that comes from infrastructure investment.

National governments have a key role to play in establishing enabling legislation and building the capacity of municipal authorities to use these financing options. This is evident from recent experiences in Kenya and South Africa.

Lessons from South Africa

In 2014, South Africa’s economic capital, Johannesburg, became the first city in the global south to issue a green bond. Successfully issuing a bond allows a city to borrow money much more cheaply than just taking out a commercial loan - and by issuing a green bond, Johannesburg also showcased its environmental commitment.

The country’s second largest city, Cape Town, followed three years later.

Both cities are rightly celebrated for this achievement. Issuing a bond requires sophisticated financial skills. The municipal authority must be able to identify bankable projects and package them in a way that attracts prospective investors.

Issuing a bond requires more than just financial know-how. Investors need to be convinced that the municipal authority has secured public support for their projects. That it’s able to build and manage projects, whether bus networks or recycling facilities. And that it has transparent, accountable systems that protect against corruption.

Johannesburg and Cape Town had to tick a lot of boxes before they could issue their green bonds. But they didn’t do it alone. The support from the national government played a critical role.

South Africa is the only country in the region that explicitly permits city governments to borrow money. Legislation clearly states that cities can use debt financing, including municipal bonds, to invest in infrastructure. This national legislation provided prospective investors with the confidence to purchase Johannesburg and Cape Town’s municipal bonds.

Other African cities such as Dakar in Senegal and Kampala in Uganda, have also tried to issue municipal bonds, but were stymied at the last minute. Without explicit regulatory and political support at the national level, municipalities cannot use this financing option.

Lessons from Kenya

In Kenya, the utilities take on borrowing rather than municipalities. Kenya’s water and sanitation utilities are owned by the county governments and have the legal right to borrow to fund new infrastructure.

But the legal right to borrow doesn’t mean much if nobody wants to lend.

The Kenyan government (with support from the World Bank) has worked with the utilities to help them access loans from commercial banks. Utilities are encouraged to borrow to support new water or sewer connections, public toilets and public water supply points.

If the utilities successfully implement the project, they receive an additional grant by the government that they do not have to repay. By offering a grant under these conditions, the national government is incentivising utilities to build their credit history so that they can borrow more cheaply in the future.

With support from the Netherlands and US, the Kenyan government is also helping utilities collectively issue a bond to pay for new infrastructure. This pooled approach means that a prospective lender face much less financial risk if any one utility or project fails. The lenders are therefore willing to lend money at lower interest rates.

The first pooled bond should be issued this year. It is expected to finance services to around 400,000 Kenyans.

Pooled funds have been used in Colombia, India, Mexico and the Philippines, but have rarely achieved scale in sub-Saharan Africa. Other countries looking to replicate Kenya’s success need to adopt comparably clear legal frameworks.

The need for national leadership

Many other towns and cities across sub-Saharan Africa face huge infrastructure deficits and rapid population growth. They can use the bond markets to raise a significant portion of the capital required to address the infrastructure development gaps.

But local governments will not be able to raise the necessary finance alone. As our paper shows, national governments across the region have a critical role to play in making sure the right laws are in place, and helping local government or utilities mobilise investment for sustainable urban infrastructure.

The Conversation

Sarah Colenbrander receives funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Department for Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Ian Palmer works for a consultancy, Palmer Development Group and for the African Centre for Cities, attached to the University of Cape Town. His work has been funded from various public sources in South Africa and internationally.

Democratising Housing & Urban Development in the Johannesburg inner city : 71 Properties Investor Site Visits

3 weeks 2 days ago
At the GBCSA Planet Shapers event held on 18 October at the City of Johannesburg’s new Council Chamber, Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba shared his vision for democratising housing and urban development in the Johannesburg inner city over the coming years.

Part of this plan has been the release of 71 properties to the private sector to convert into low cost housing and student accommodation. The investment is intended to be within the region of R16bn to R20bn. Investors and property developers will be assisted in decision making, with tours of all properties being set up by the JPC.

Site visits have been scheduled for the second half of October, as per the schedule below. For more information, please contact Bliss Yeni on 010 219 9022.

Joburg Inner City Site Visits 2018


Cancer causing toxicants found in a tributary of South Africa's second largest river

3 weeks 3 days ago
A water bridge over the Klip River in Gauteng, South Africa. Shutterstock

A new study has established that sharptooth catfish found in the Klip River which feeds into the Vaal River, South Africa’s second largest river, contains banned pesticides which can cause cancer when consumed by humans.

The river runs through high density residential areas, including Soweto, Lenasia and Fleurhof in the south of Johannesburg. Some residents supplement their diet by fishing the popular catfish in the rivers as well as dams fed by them. The Conversation Africa’s Nontobeko Mtshali asked Rialet Pieters to explain the implications of these findings.

What are these banned pesticides?

The pesticides we looked at are collectively known as organochlorine pesticides. They are used in agriculture to control insects that eat crops.

We did a human health risk assessment on the sharptooth catfish found in Orlando Dam and the Fleurhof and Lenasia areas in the south of Johannesburg. We chose this fish because it’s popular and widely consumed. The pesticides we targeted in the sharptooth catfish were lindane, heptachlor, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin and dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT). We found levels of heptachlor, DDT, and lindane in the fish.

All of the pesticides except for one, DDT, which is used against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, are banned in South Africa. So they should not be in the river. It’s not clear how they ended up in the Soweto, Fleurhof and Lenasia areas, though they could have made their way down the river from malaria-prone rural areas of the country.

The pesticides, with the exception of DDT, were banned by the international community under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants because of their harmful effects on the health of humans and wildlife. South Africa is a signatory to the convention and is obliged to reduce and eliminate the use of all the compounds listed in the convention.

The DDT presence is unusual in an urban area because it’s mostly used in more rural settings to control mosquitoes and the spread of malaria.

How bad are the pollution levels in the river that runs through Soweto, Fleurhof and Lenasia?

We found the pesticides were present in fish tissue that we tested. DDT was the most prevalent at all the sites. The concentrations of the pesticides were at levels much higher than internationally accepted parameters. This suggests the fish pose a risk to human health because the compounds bio-accumulate in the fish and when people eat them they can potentially cause cancer.

There is evidence that the banned pesticides, as well as DDT, can cause a host of cancers such as lung, skin, bladder, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to name but a few.

We did a human health risk assessment using the concentrations of the pollutants in the fish to predict their effects in humans when consumed regularly. We collected 30 sharptooth catfish (one of several species of fish in the river) and determined the concentrations of DDT in the fillet.

We then calculated the chances of developing cancer for a human weighing 60 kg and eating 30 g of the contaminated fish every day. We followed the internationally standardised calculations and values for predicting human cancer risk. To account for the varying levels of pesticides in fish, cancer risk was calculated for the mid-range and high range pollutant level.

The probable cancer risk to DDT exposure varied between the three sites. The probability of developing cancer from eating the fish contaminated by DDT from Lenasia was the highest. We found that 251 out of 10 000 people may develop cancer if exposed to the mid-range level of the pesticide and 1 105 out of 10 000 people may develop cancer from the high range. At Fleurhof the risk ranged from 172 to 359 in 10 000 and at Orlando Dam from 191 to 624 in 10 000 people.

According to the US Environment Protection Agency, any risk greater than 1 in 10 000 is deemed an “unacceptable risk”.

We did not calculate the total cancer risk potentially posed by all the compounds together. Our focus was on DDT because of the high concentrations we found.

What should be done to fix the problem?

People who regularly eat or buy fish from the contaminated water need to be made aware of the risks to their health. One way of doing so is to have notice boards that advise on the safe consumption levels of the different species.

Fish from these areas need to be monitored regularly. And the sale of pesticides needs to be regulated better to ensure that the banned ones aren’t being traded.

Nico Wolmarans also contributed to this article.

The Conversation

Rialet Pieters receives funding from the Water Research Commission (K2/2242/1/16) of South Africa and the National Research Foundation

Mayumi Ishizuka works at Hokkaido University. She receives funding from JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science).

Nico Smit receives funding from South Africa's National Research Foundation (NRF).

Ruan Gerber received funding from the Nation Research Foundation (NRF).

Victor Wepener receives funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Department of Science and Technology and the Flemish Inter University Council.

Wihan Pheiffer receives funding from Water Research Commission (K2/2242/1/16) of South Africa and the National Research Foundation.

Yared Beyene and Yoshinori Ikeneka do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Heartbreaking stories after massive Khayelitsha blaze

3 weeks 3 days ago
Hundreds of shacks destroyed and one person killed

By Vincent Lali and GroundUp Staff

Photo of Khayelitsha fire
A fire devastated SST Section in Khayelitsha on Saturday morning. All photos: Vincent Lali

A raging inferno killed one person, destroyed hundreds of shacks and displaced about a thousand residents in SST Section, Khayelitsha on Saturday morning.

Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security JP Smith said one person had been confirmed dead. Estimates of the number of people displaced have varied and at the time of writing it appears that about a thousand people have been left homeless. We have no information on the person who died yet.

Residents we spoke to said the fire started at about 2:30am. As is often the case with shack fires, the cause is unclear.

At 1pm fire-fighters were still dousing small, stubborn fires in various parts of the informal settlement, popularly known as Blowy.

The high winds blew ashes up, causing them to cover the faces of the people who had lost their life’s belongings, and who were still trying to salvage their building materials.

Nomveliso Gxiya wanders through the rubble of what used to be her home.

Nomveliso Gxiya (37) said she was asleep when smoke filled her shack and woke her up. I rushed out of my shack, saw a huge blaze approaching my shack and pulled my children out before I called out to my neighbours,” she said.

Gxiya said she frantically moved out her wardrobe, fridge and bed, but her children’s clothes and another wardrobe burnt.

“I decided to simply move my belongings out and made no effort to put out the fire because it was already big. Besides, the communal taps are located far from my shack,” she said.

Gxiya said the shack dwellers made no attempts to extinguish the fire as they scrambled to pull their possessions out of their burning shacks.

Wearing a T-shirt, a skirt and slippers, she said: “I have no clothes other than the ones I’m wearing.” She said the fire had left her and her children, aged nine and 19, without a place to lay their heads.

Phathiswa Pensele said the fire burned her shack in which she stayed with her boyfriend and her two children, aged one and three. “When I woke up, the fire had already damaged nearby street lights, so I could not see through the black smoke. The only thing visible was a huge blaze coming my way.”

Pensele said: “I watched the fire as it destroyed other shacks and screamed aloud when it reached mine.”

She was lucky enough to manage to move out all her belongings, but her shack burned.

Pensele said she saved money to buy building materials to erect her shack while working as a grape picker at a farm in De Doors in 2004. “Now I have no money to buy more building material. I don’t know where I will sleep tonight,” said Pensele. Currently, she works as a rubbish collector in Blowy. She said her attempts to move her belongings had left her drained of energy.

Andisiwe Ngubo said she was woken up at about 3am on Saturday. “Residents who were drinking alcohol nearby shouted and told us to wake up as the fire was engulfing our shacks,” she said. “I stepped out of my shack wearing only pyjamas and saw the inferno approaching before pulling my children out of their shack and fleeing.”

The fire destroyed her children’s school uniforms, SASSA cards, ID documents, schoolbooks, bed, birth certificates and her other possessions. “Now I have nothing to wear except these pyjamas as the fire destroyed all my belongings,” she said.

Ngubo said she has no job and lives on her children’s government grants. “I have no money to buy building materials to rebuild the shack. If the City doesn’t give me building materials, I will sleep outside,” she said.

Ngubo was hungrily eating bread as she spoke to GroundUp. “I’m famished, confused and shocked as I speak,” she said trying to regain her energy.

A scene that is far too common in South African informal settlements.

Community leader Nobom Twayise said the fire would have not caused so much devastation if the shacks were not built so close to each other. “We now want the City to remove some residents and place them elsewhere so that there can be space between shacks,” she said.

Twayise said, “If the shacks were not closely clustered, the fire-fighters would have easily entered Blowy to douse the blaze and it would not have destroyed so many shacks …Paramedics can’t enter Blowy; residents must carry a sick person on the shoulders to a nearby street where ambulances wait.”

Asked about the request for removal of some shacks, Councillor Anda Ntsodo said: “No, they can’ be relocated elsewhere. They will be returned to where they stayed before the fire happened.” He said the City has a plan to upgrade all informal settlements but it would kick off with the oldest ones located in Site B and Site C, Khayelitsha.

Asked about potential plans to upgrade Blowy, Ntsodo said it doesn’t feature in the City’s financial plans for this year but it would do so next year.

Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela visited the area. “We plead with the fire victims to allow the Disaster Management department to clear up debris,” he said.

Madikizela said he was anxious that a similar fire might break out in the future and wanted to turn the informal settlement into a serviced site. “We need to deal with a resettlement plan and a long term plan. My view is that we clear up the site and allow them to return and rebuild their shacks in such a way that basic services can be provided.”

When Madikizela mentioned a “long term plan”, Thoba September cut him short, saying the plan never materialized in Hout Bay. He said the mayor had promised to build houses for the fire victims there but it has not happened.

Some residents were not impressed with Madikizela’s intentions to help the fire victims. “You are a failure Madikizela. Where is the land?” shouted local youth leader Mxolisi Godongwana.

Madikizela retorted: “Shut up!”

MEC for Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela visited the area shortly after the fire.

Meanwhile on Sunday morning, authorities, including the City’s Disaster Management unit, were counting and registering victims of the fire. JP Smith wrote that the site is being cleared by the Solid Waste Department. Smith said that people will then be allowed to “resettle in an orderly manner”. He said the City wants to “keep access routes clear to allow for services to be reinstalled. Firebreaks will be maintained between structures to allow for formal reblocking to take [place] afterwards.”

Given past experience, where people begin rebuilding their shacks immediately after a fire, and that building firebreaks would require moving some people elsewhere, it’s unclear how this plan can be carried out, at least in the short-term.

Smith also said fire victims will be provided 3,000 meals on Sunday, as well as kits to help them rebuild their shacks. The kits include sheets of corrugated metal and plastic, wooden posts, nails, a window, a door and a frame for the door.

Donations and relief materials can be dropped off at the Khayelitsha Fire Station.

Money donations can be made to the Mayoral Relief Fund (GroundUp has no responsibility for this account or how the funds are spent):
Bank: Nedbank
Account: 1158667043
Branch code: 198765
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Published originally on GroundUp .

© 2018 GroundUp.
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Nairobi's slum residents pay a high price for low quality services

3 weeks 4 days ago
About 56% of Kenya’s urban population currently lives in a slum Shutterstock/John Wollwerth

About 56% of Kenya’s urban population currently lives in slums. Nairobi even hosts one of the largest slums in Africa, Kibera.

In Kenya, settlements are classified into two types: informal (or, slum) and formal (or, regular) settlements. Informal settlements are areas with insecure residential status and those in Nairobi are quite dismal. They’re very overcrowded, housing is made of poor quality building materials – like mud or metal sheets – and they often lack basic amenities like drinking water, electricity and sewage disposal.

My recent study examined the living conditions experienced by Nairobi’s slum residents and compared them to those in formal settlements. Specifically, it was to understand how worse-off they are when it comes to basic amenities and whether the rent and costs that slum dwellers face are at least commensurate with the poor quality of amenities.

I found that tenants in Nairobi’s slums are getting a very bad price deal for the quality of living. This is because there’s a huge demand for low-cost housing, and not enough to meet it.

These findings are important when it comes to evaluating whether policies are including all groups in the development of the city. It’s vital that policymakers try to close these living quality gaps as much as possible.

Low quality

For my study, I used World Bank data from a survey of over 1,000 urban households across Nairobi’s formal and informal settlements.

I analysed a dozen indicators for housing-related living conditions. These related to the physical structure of houses (for example the number of rooms), in-house basic amenities (like water), neighbourhood basic amenities (such as garbage collection), and whether they have formal rental contracts.

Not surprisingly, I found significant disparities between the formal and informal settlements in terms of access to amenities. For instance, compared to 84% in the formal settlements, only 36% of households in informal settlements have access to in-house or in-compound piped drinking water.

The study also revealed that households in the slums are getting a bad “price deal” for the “product quality” of their rental housing.

I also found that slum area tenants are paying on average about 16% in higher rent than their formal area counterparts. This means tenants in Nairobi’s informal settlements aren’t just experiencing a significant lower quality of housing and related basic amenities relative to their counterparts in formal settlements, but they are also paying a higher price or rent premium for such quality.

Premium prices

To understand the rental disparity I used a technique designed to study mean outcome differences between groups, such as analysing wage gaps by sex or race. I used it to determine what rents would be paid for the same quality housing unit if it was situated in Nairobi’s formal settlements versus its informal settlements.

The method enabled me to estimate whether the rent paid for the same quality housing unit was more or less in informal settlements than in formal settlements. I was therefore able to estimate whether the rent paid for the same quality housing unit was more or less in informal settlements than in formal settlements.

So what causes the difference? I believe it isn’t just a reflection of extortion by slum-landlords, but rather distortions in market outcomes. There’s a huge demand for cheap accommodation in Nairobi which far outstrips the supply for affordable housing units. Kenya currently has an overall housing deficit of over two million units.

As more households move into Nairobi’s slum areas, they wrangle to get cheaper houses, even if the supply is stagnant, because of their proximity to workplaces.

It doesn’t help that there is little competition among a few politically well-connected slum landlords, which means there’s less incentive to reduce prices, and normal competitive market forces are less likely to play out.

My study’s finding of slum-premium in Nairobi’s rental housing market is akin to the evidence that poor people pay more for basic services in many situations. For instance, studies suggest that residents of poor neighbourhoods in US cities often experience higher market prices for lower, or same quality products – like groceries – because they have to travel further for them.

What can be done?

While none of these are a magic bullet, they offer steps towards addressing the quality of life of Nairobi’s residents.

First, policy initiatives must be put into place that incentivise slum tenants and landlords to improve the quality of the existing housing stock. This includes formalising property ownership – so the landlord feels more secure that they won’t lose the property once they’ve worked on it – and tenancy rights which would compel landlords to provide a certain standard of living.

Second, policy initiatives must be rolled out that expand existing housing stock with better quality, and also provide affordable, new housing units. The Kenyan government is already taking steps towards this, and this will unleash competitive market forces that bring down rents, or at least improve the quality in the existing rental housing markets.

The Conversation

Debabrata Talukdar does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Day care centre rebuilt after fire - for the fifth time

3 weeks 6 days ago
“I just need the municipality to assist me rebuild,” says principal

By Chris Gilili

Photo of a woman showing a burnt shack
Ncumisa Yoyo shows the fire damage at the Zamani Day Care Centre she founded in Duncan Village, East London. Photo: Chris Gilili

In July, the Zamani Day Care Centre in Duncan Village, East London, burnt down for the fifth time.

“We lost most of the children’s school work, stationery and other essentials. But our principal keeps us going and motivated,” says Isabelle Quill, who has been a teacher at Zamani since 2010.

The centre is still open. Three of the 12 classrooms survived the fire; one class has been rebuilt, thanks to donations. Nine classrooms are currently functioning.

“I am someone who focuses on how I will get out of a situation rather than complain. I love children and teaching them,” says the principal Ncumisa Yoyo, who established the centre in 1995 in a two-room shack.

In 2003, a fire started from a flame stove. “The parents were cooking for a function that day. The flame stove burst and engulfed the whole place with fire. Before we knew it, all the shack structure was demolished … I managed to pick up the pieces and rebuilt the centre with donations from various people. With major help from students studying at the Brigham Young University (BYU) in the United States,” says Yoyo.

“In May 2004 a fire started from a neighbours shack … Again in 2007, after everyone was gone, in the evening a teacher called and told me the crèche is in flames. I came as fast as I could. Unfortunately, even then, nothing was saved … In December 2015 around 3am I received a call also telling me that my daycare [centre] is burning again … The latest, in July this year, happened around 9am,” says Yoyo. The cause of the latest fire is unknown.

The centre has 300 learners in day care – 250 in Duncan Village and 50 at another branch in New Life. Parents pay R150 for each child and R250 for English classes each month. The Department of Social Development assists with a food subsidy for 60 of the 300 children. Yoyo also receives donations from the National Lottery, which helps pay the salaries of five teachers.

The crèche consists of a container and zinc sheet structures. A brick building has been built after the July fire.

“One of the many challenges we have is not having electricity here. We use a gas stove to cook for children. Our electrical box burnt with the structure in 2015 and was never restored. The municipality said it will have a challenge with bringing electricity here, because of the many illegal connections around the area. I don’t want to blame the (illegal connections) izinyoka, but most of these fires come from neighbouring shacks.”

“The BYU community has always had my back. Every time I had a crisis, they always intervened. I am at a loss for words to explain how grateful I am to them. Even now, after the blaze in July they sent me money to help with rebuilding the centre … I wish the Buffalo City Metro can chip in and assist me with rebuilding all that I lost,” she said.

Published originally on GroundUp .

© 2018 GroundUp.
This article is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

38 minutes 33 seconds ago
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