When government is a slumlord: Pefferville’s ghastly blocks of flats

“When it’s time to vote they will come here in numbers, yet we do not get any services from them”

By Chris Gilili

Photo of block of flats
Blocks of flats owned by the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality in Pefferville are in a terrible state. Photo: Chris Gilili

Residents of Pefferville in East London say the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality has neglected their blocks of flats.

We visited some of the blocks and found them in a poor state. Many flats have broken windows. There are leaking pipes. The putty used to hold the windows is falling off. And the electrical boxes are faulty.

The blocks were built in the 1960s or thereabouts. There are four apartments per block, and about 50 families renting in total. The blocks belong to the municipality.

Residents we spoke to complained that their flats have not been maintained for about a decade.

“They must just hand them over to the people, since they battle with renovating them. At the end of the day we pay money to stay here,” said resident Sam Dom.

Rachel Jantjies is a resident of Block 2A. She stays in the two-room apartment, which she moved into in 1987. “I moved in here with my parents, from a shack informal settlement. My parents have since passed on and I stay with my two children and three siblings in these two tiny rooms. In the early 2000s, maybe, the municipality would come and fix these toilets but now we report and report things, but no one ever comes.”

“I don’t even know where the money I am renting goes. The only electricity we know is illegal here. These boxes are just decorations and have died a long time ago. Even now there is a leaking sewage pipe, from room 1A on top of our residence. It has been going on for three years now. We called the municipality water services. People came and checked it but it never got fixed. I survive by selling fish at schools. I cannot afford to fix everything by myself,” said Jantjies.

She is supposed to pay R200 per month rent, but has fallen in arrears. “Every month we receive letters that demand us to pay water and electricity bills. For what?” Jantjies asked.

Next to Jantjies’ door, is an electrical box which supplies the whole block. The box lies open with cables hanging from it. There is enough space below it to fit a child. “I once found my son playing inside the box, but managed to rescue him in time. This box is a death trap waiting to happen.”

Jantjies’ concerns are echoed by Janine Ndlela. She lives with her husband and son, in a three-roomed apartment. She is also a ward committee member for Pefferville. She moved to the township in the 1985.

“These flats are too old and the municipality has ignored them. I pay rent of R300 every month for municipal services like water and electricity. I am fortunate because my husband is working and I also receive piece jobs now and again. So we are able to take care of our home and repair some things that get broken. I do what I can to make the house look good. We know the municipality takes forever,” she said. “Many people here cannot afford to pay rent, paint walls and fix broken sewage system.”.

“BCMM must do right by the people. And come and renovate these rental units. When it’s time to vote they will come here in numbers, yet we do not get any services from them,” she said.

However, Ndlela said residents are responsible for the faulty electricity. She said that since they cannot afford to buy electricity they have made illegal connections. This has damaged the block’s electricity system.

Several other residents we spoke to made similar complaints about the municipality’s failure to maintain the blocks.

But municipal spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said, “It is the occupant’s responsibility to maintain any broken windows, and fix leaking water pipes inside the houses. Government cannot come inside and fix leaking pipes, sinks and broken walls.”

Head of Human Settlements at the municipality Ntombizandile Mhlola said the municipality did not until now have a budget to maintain the rental units. “However the municipality has plans already this financial year 2018/19, to renovate and maintain the rental houses. It’s been long since renovations were done in Pefferville and we are in a process to change that. I cannot really say what has caused the delay,” she said. She did not provide details on when the renovations will start.


Published originally on GroundUp .

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