No councillor in Ivory Park would interfere with the building of new RDP houses or the allocation of houses that had already been built, ward councillor Petru Zitha emphasized at a meeting between residents and City of Johannesburg housing officials.
Ivory Park, in the northeastern suburb of Midrand, is in Joburg’s Region A, and has a long history of disputes relating to RDP housing. “Councillors are always perceived as being corrupt, despite residents being invited to engage with them and talk freely,” said Zitha. He had always been hands on with matters relating to his ward, he said, despite any negative perceptions.
The meeting was called for Wednesday, 17 March, but events leading up to it started long before that date.
An Ivory Park resident reported a case of alleged abuse of power by officials to Corruption Watch. Anna Mokone* had lived on a stand in the township since the 1990s but was forced to leave because of a dispute between herself and her common-law husband. The City was planning to build RDP houses and the couple was registered as a beneficiary.
Mokone heard rumours recently that her estranged husband was selling the house, prompting her to approach Corruption Watch for help.
Region A’s housing office informed Corruption Watch that because Mokone had not lived on the property for years, she was not entitled to the house. Until that point, she had believed that her husband had influenced officials at the office to keep her out of her house.
Three weeks after beginning an investigation into the alleged illegal sale of the house, Sabelo Hlatshwayo, Region A’s assistant director of service delivery, confirmed to Corruption Watch that Mokone’s husband still lived at the house, and concluded that it had not been sold.
Explaining housing policy
But Mokone was unhappy with these findings, and the fact that she had now been removed from the City’s database as a beneficiary of the house. She again turned to Corruption Watch, and the meeting was called to clarify confusion around housing allocation.
Hlatshwayo explained the policy at the gathering, acknowledging that his office regularly dealt with such disputes. But it could only offer advice for complainants to go to court as only this route could overrule their policies. It was resolved that Hlatshwayo’s office would co-operate with Corruption Watch in further investigating Mokone’s case.
Zitha said it was hard to change perceptions that those at the top were to blame, especially because corruption was rife in the country. The media, he said, also played an important role in educating people. A weekly slot on Voice of Tembisa, a community radio station in the neighbouring township, was dedicated to bridging the gap in service delivery between the city council and residents.
“What ends up happening there is that unexplained, unproven allegations of corruption are made by residents, often implicating councillors, and this defeats the purpose of such a programme.”
Be informed, residents advised
Other Ivory Park residents with housing queries sat at the meeting, listening quietly as Hlatshwayo and the councillors explained the City’s legislative obligations and the terms of the housing programme. One councillor, Titus Mabotja, appealed to residents to learn how council matters worked, rather than simply rushing to label them as corruption.
Hlatshwayo agreed, saying his office made every attempt to educate the public on the policies that affected their relationship with the City. “But very often an unsatisfied complainant finds it easier to point a finger at administrative staff who are only doing their jobs.”
There are over 100 000 households in Ivory Park, which started out as an informal settlement in the late 1980s. Residents were leased stands by the old Johannesburg council in the early 1990s, on which they could erect informal housing structures. Following the 1994 elections, an RDP housing plan was rolled out for the area. An audit of the stands was done to establish the validity of existing leases and to determine how many houses should be built.
Zitha explained that a policy adopted after Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane became MEC of housing in 2004 was meant to rid the area of informal housing as a matter of urgency. “The plan was to build houses in every available piece of land in Ivory Park, and only handle the administrative processes of registering would-be beneficiaries later.”
Qualifying for a house
Although the process was not wrong, Hlatshwayo conceded, it did come with costly burdens, and it may look like the council was allocating houses only to some and not to everybody. “Only some of the lessees in the original arrangement qualified for housing,” Hlatshwayo explained to Corruption Watch. “We have around 4 000 residents who were found to be without the required documentation they needed to qualify for houses, but we cannot simply remove them from the land, even though it is owned by the City.”
These cases ranged from original lessees selling stands to friends or family without informing the council, to lessees who had died or relocated, leaving their children or relatives behind. These people needed to be placed on the City’s database before they could receive houses. But residents saw this requirement as corruption and maladministration by officials who wanted to place their own families in the houses.
One of the conditions of the lease arrangement with the old council was an annual update of the details of stand occupants. Another was that if an occupant was found to have been away from the stand for 90 days or more, they would forfeit the stand, as in Mokone’s case.
“We are certain that every last house that was allocated in the area was given to the rightful person, and welcome anyone from that community who can provide proof that this is not the case,” said Hlatshwayo.
But Mokone is still not happy about her circumstances, and has been advised by Zitha to approach the Johannesburg Family Court for advice.
* Real name withheld as investigation is pending