Housing hopes dashed

The group of affected housing beneficiaries.

Scores of Imizamo Yethu housing beneficiaries claim homes that are rightfully theirs are being occupied by others, but the City is still sending them the water bills – some for more than R50 000.

There are believed to be more than 70 residents in this predicament. And the eight who spoke to the Sentinel also accused Lungisa Bezile, a member of the Masakhane Bantu People’s Housing Project, of selling their homes to non-title deed holders.

An outraged Mr Bezile has strongly denied that and threatened legal action for defamation against his accusers.

All eight beneficiaries also produced sworn statements in which they claim to be the legal owners of the disputed properties.

Masakhane was formed in terms of an arrangement with the City in the wake of the 2004 fire that destroyed more than 500 shacks in Imizamo Yethu.

It was decided that 135 (later escalated to 143) people would return to the area as part of the housing project, with Masakhane handling the housing roll-out in terms of the people’s housing process (PHP), once all the beneficiaries had been identified.

Mr Bezile claims apparent “changes” to the original housing beneficiary list – drawn up by the City in 2005 – were made by former Ward 74 DA councillor Marga Haywood with the help of SA National Civic Organisation Hout Bay chairperson, Clifford Nogwavu.

Ms Haywood and Mr Nogwavu, he claimed, had colluded to create confusion in the housing lists as a way of “discrediting” ANC leaders. It’s an allegation that both Ms Haywood and Mr Nogwavu have denied.

One of the beneficiaries, Linki Mantyi, said she had registered for a home in 2005 and had been given a title deed to her home in 2009.

“But when I was going to move in, there were four people already living there. They told me it was not my house but theirs. I went to a lawyer, and he wrote two letters to this family, but nothing has happened,” Ms Mantyi said.

Meanwhile, she has received a water bill of R5 052 from the City, even though she is not staying in her home.

“I am still staying in a shack with my husband, four children and grandson. It is very difficult staying there for the kids.”

Like others interviewed, Ms Mantyi alleged other residents were being awarded homes in return for paying Mr Benzile R10 000.

Another beneficiary, Priscilla Moloke, said she had been told her home was built in 2010 and she could move in.

“I went to the house. This guy opened the door, and I told him I was looking for Priscilla, in other words, me. He told me there was no Priscilla living there. I told him I was Priscilla, but he said this was not my house,” she said.

“He then went into a back room, and he returned with my housing papers. I asked him how come he had my papers, and he said he bought the house for R10 000 from Lungisa.”

Ms Moloke said when she had approached Mr Benzile, he told her that she had not wanted the house.

“Why would I say that I didn’t want the house?”

In the meantime, Ms Moloke has received a water bill from the City for R55 000.

Another woman, Vuyiswa Qina, said she had also found a woman living in a home meant for her.

The occupant had told her that she should see a lawyer if she wanted the home.

Ms Qina said her lawyer had sent the woman two letters telling her to get out but they had both been ignored.

She said she had approached the City’s housing office in Plumstead many times but officials had told her “they just do what Lungisa tells them”.

Funyanwa Mafenuka claimed that despite being given erf numbers, no house had been built on the property.

“But I found that the City had put another name on my erf number. The person living there has now put a shack on the plot,” she said.

Fezile Nkophe, Monica Tola, Nomathansanqa Nguqu and Nosipho Sipayile also shared similar stories.

The affected beneficiaries claimed Mr Nogwavu had been very helpful at first but had later ignored them.

Mr Bezile claimed the City, and not Masakhane, had selected the beneficiaries from its housing database on a “first come-first served” basis.

The problems had started in 2009, he said, when the first beneficiaries had starting to moving into the newly-built homes.

“Right in the middle of the project there comes a group of people who were claiming that they were the owners of the same houses that we’ve built. We then wrote the MEC of Human Settlements, and also copied the City of Cape Town, enquiring how this thing happened.

“What we then saw in the list of people who are claiming they are owners of the houses was that there was a duplicating of the same erf number that one (person) was living on. I had nothing to do with the list and the allocation of people. The allocation was done by the City.”

Mr Bezile then pointed out the changes he claims were made by Ms Haywood and Mr Nogwavu.

But Ms Haywood denies this.

“Housing allocations are completely out of the sphere of politicians, and politicians do not have access to these lists,” she said.

“The only thing I have in my possession is a beneficiary audit, which was done by a company mandated by the city council. This reflected that there were 3 400 families in IY, but there were only 1 100 housing opportunities. As a politician, I had no access to any other lists.”

She believes Mr Bezile’s claim is an attempt at “subterfuge”.

“Maybe he feels it will make him look better to improve his predicament. You can phone any of the housing officials, and they will tell you that politicians cannot access the housing lists.”

Mr Nogwavu also described Mr Bezile’s claim as “absolute nonsense”.

“Firstly, changing a title deed is not an easy thing. I was working with the beneficiaries, and I gave some of the lists to Lungisa Bezile. Instead of using those lists, he made up his own lists by hand. Lungisa is selling those houses,” he said.

He said Mr Bezile was making the allegations because he was “backed into a corner, and there was nowhere to run to”.

But Mr Bezile warns he will take legal action against his accusers for defamation and says those accusing him of running a cash-for-houses racket must lay charges “so we can actually get to the bottom of this thing”.

“I lost my home, I lost my furniture, I lost my dignity because of these allegations… I’ll never take advantage of a poor individual. How would I expect one to pay R10 000? Just imagine, a household that is dependant on a grant from government, I will go and claim R10 000. How is that person going to get the R10 000? And why would I do that?”

Mr Bezile said he was still committed to the housing project in his community despite the allegations.

“This (experience) is very painful to me as an individual, but also for my family and my kids that I’m bringing up.”

He said he had met with the City last week and it had agreed that municipal bills issued to housing beneficiaries without houses would be scrapped.

He said 50 houses were being built so far for the 76 beneficiaries without houses and the rest would be part of the new development in Imizamo Yethu.

What others are saying

The affected beneficiaries’ cause has been taken up by Lulama Bini, of the Imizamo Yethu Movement, and Mkhululi Ndude, of the IY Movement and EFF Hout Bay.

Mr Bini said the City knew about the housing debacle, but officials had told him in meetings those affected should de-register to qualify for houses in a new project.

“We told them that this can happen, but they must build the houses first,” he said.

City officials had confirmed there had been a “mistake” on the beneficiaries list, which had resulted in duplication of the erf numbers, he said.

Mr Bini claimed City officials had refused to visit the site and see for themselves that the beneficiaries belonged in the homes.

Mr Ndude said people shouldn’t be penalised for a “computer error”.

“Their (beneficiaries) lives can’t continue if they have bills over their heads,” he said.

“The EFF must intervene in this matter. We are appealing to the youth to stand up for their parents. If the mayor can’t intervene, there will be a war in Imizamo Yethu. We will block people entering these houses until the situation of the old people is solved.”

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said the City was making “every effort” to help those left in the lurch by the Masakhane Bantu project.

“It was during the implementation of the project in 2009 that a number of erven were swapped between beneficiaries,” Mr Herron said.

But he added that that was “not unusual in housing projects where, for example, beneficiaries are no longer interested in benefiting from a particular project”.

The community, the City and the support organisation had agreed at the time on “the swaps” and those had been “properly documented”.

But the properties were mistakenly registered in the names of the original beneficiaries, not in the names of those on the swaps list, during transfer.

“This caused a mix-up of title deeds and caused a lot of frustration among beneficiaries,” Mr Herron said. “Thus, it is true that in some cases the owner of the top structure – i.e. the house built through the PHP project – is not the same person as the owner of the site on which the house was built, and a number of title deed holders were compelled to live in informal structures away from their properties.”

The registered owners had not and would not be asked to hand over their title deeds without the proper checks and balances in place to ensure fairness, he said.

Furthermore, the City was aware of the billing situation and who was affected and would take “appropriate action”.

Residents could report alleged fraud, with evidence, to their closest housing office, as well as to the SAPS, Mr Herron said.