By Lelethu Zono and Ntombentsha Yamiso
During the cold winter of 2017, the Pyks family was left stranded after their home on 5th Avenue in Hooggenoeg was burned down and demolished in a fire accident.
To aid in their situation, community members immediately intervened and relocated the Pyks family to the local community hall, which they have been occupying ever since. For the past six years, the family has been waiting for the Makana Local Municipality to respond through its Disaster Management Unit and assist in providing them with a house or at least a basic temporary structure but to no avail.
To add to the critical condition, Thandiwe Pyks, the family’s mother, passed away several years back while waiting for a decent shelter that offers her family privacy and dignity. The Action for Accountability (A4A) civic actors recently visited the Hooggenoeg community in Ward One, and the family expressed disheartening views of neglect and discrimination against them.
“Ever since we moved here, we have lost dignity because people keep reminding us that we don’t belong here. We never get complete privacy; people are leaving the property without consulting us, saying that the hall belongs to the government, so we cannot complain,” says 55-year-old family member Hendrick Peter.
According to Peter, their stay at the community hall has been unbearable, with water and sewage pipes leaking and often flooding the property. “The toilet has been leaking for a long time and stinks; the municipality does not attend to it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Pyks family’s stay in the hall has also affected the rest of the Hooggenoeg community. One of the essential services a municipality must provide to its residents is a Community Hall to hold public gatherings. Still, for over half a decade, Hooggenoeg has been denied this service.
Francis Franklin is a member of the Hooggenoeg Community Police Forum (CPF) and the Neighbourhood Watch and is concerned about their inability to hold community meetings at the hall. “We cannot hold ward meetings, and are most of the time forced to convene meetings outside, even during cold weather,” says Franklin.
The community also feels that the hall has become grounds for criminal activities. Another resident Beulah Joubert says they feel unsafe as the hall has turned into a “smoking den” for the youth and is often left unattended to, attributing this to the death of the family mother, Thandiwe Pyks.
It was during an A4A CivActs team meeting held at the Currie Street Community Hall in April that a Hooggenoeg A4A civic actor shared concerns about the community’s lack of access to the hall, and said that the municipality has failed to provide alternative accommodation for the Pyks family.
In May, after the A4A followed up on the matter, Hooggenoeg A4A civic actors drafted and filed a submission to have the issue prioritized by the Makana municipality as a matter of urgency affecting the Pyks family and the rest of the Hooggenoeg community. With the Disaster Manager post vacant in the Makana municipality, the A4A CivActs, supported by the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), wrote to the Municipal Manager (MM) Phumelelo Kate. The submission reminded the MM of the municipality’s legal obligation to intervene in disaster issues within its jurisdiction.
The concerned A4A civic actors are conducting follow-up communication on behalf of the Hooggenoeg community. Should there be no response, the submission will be escalated to the Eastern Cape Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (ECCOGTA).
Furthermore, with Ward Councillor Phumelele Peter of the ANC being a no-show in the Hooggenoeg community, A4A CivActs member Sandra Whiteboy says Peter does not hold ward meetings when they are due. “The last meeting he held here was in March last year, and he does not conduct regular site visits to understand our issues here in Hooggenoeg,” she added.
Hooggenoeg is the Makhanda part of Ward One, sharing the Ward with Riebeek East, where Peter is based. This lack of communication by the underperforming ward councillor has left the community feeling neglected and forgotten. Thus, Hooggenoeg A4A CivActs members have made a formal call to the Makana Local Municipality Speaker, Mthuthuzeli Matyumza, to urgently intervene on this matter as the Hooggenoeg community continues to be deprived of its right to participate in municipal affairs affecting their livelihoods as written in Section 152 (1) (e) of the South African Constitution. Councillor Peter’s lack of visibility and communication in the Hooggenoeg community contradicts several clauses of the SA constitution, such as the right to access information. The ward councillor’s underperformance also violates section 5. (1) (c) of the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000 states that ward residents have the right to be informed of decisions of the Municipal Council affecting their rights. The roles of a ward councillor include;
- Being in close contact with their constituencies ‘on the ground’ and keeping Council informed of the real experiences and views of the residents
- To serve as a communication link between Council and Community.
- To hold regular public meetings within the Ward and to interact directly with any interest group even if that group is not represented on the Ward committee.
- To make sure residents’ concerns related to Ward 1 are represented in Council
To add to the non-communication, residents say that even the ward committee is barely visible and that some of its members stay in other communities, failing to follow up on priority issues. According to the 2006 Handbook for Municipal Councillors, however, ward committees are supposed to raise issues of concern about the local Ward to the ward councillor and to make sure ward residents have a say in decisions, planning, and projects that the Council or municipality undertakes which have an impact on the Ward. As a result, the Hooggenoeg CivActs members have asked Matyumza to allow the community an opportunity to elect two new committee members that stay in the area and are dedicated to serving the people.
At the time of going to print, the Makana Municipality had failed to provide communication, while the people of Hooggenoeg continue to live under critical conditions.
Lelethu Zono and Ntombentsha Yamiso are CivActs members and media fellows in the Makhanda Action for Accountability (A4A) project at the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).