Allegations that a rental scam is being run at the temporary camp housing Imizamo Yethu fire victims are among a raft of complaints about conditions there.
More than 300 families left destitute by the fires in March and April are living in 3m x 3m shacks the City built at the Hout Bay Sports Complex.
They are there temporarily while the City lays the foundations for access roads and basic services – a process it calls “super-blocking” – in Imizamo Yethu.
However, while the shacks were supposed to be an improvement on the marquees that housed the displaced families in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 fire, those living in the sports complex camp say conditions are not much better, as the shacks don’t keep out the cold and rain, there are too few places to cook and there is very little electricity.
Then there’s the matter of the rental scam. While those in the camp stopped short this week of naming those running the rental scam, for fear of reprisal, they confirmed it was doing the rounds.
This comes after the City has already raised red flags about rebuilt homes in Imizamo Yethu being rented out to members of the community to benefit a group of “slum lords” (“Court bans leader from pushing rebuild,” Sentinel, March 24).
Nosi Tshofuti, one of the residents of the sports complex camp, described how the rental scam worked.
“What happens is that these people renting the shacks already have rebuilt their shacks in Mandela Park, but they still have their shacks here (at the camp). They then rent these out to other people,” she said, adding that she did not know how much they were charging. This was confirmed by another resident, Nosipho Zimoshile, who said “new people” were arriving in the camp all the time. “These shacks are being rented to them.”
Ward councillor Roberto Quintas is also aware of the scam. “Usually there is a claim that the ‘sale’ or ‘lease’ has gone sour due to double sales or forced evictions to make way for new and higher paying tenants. This alleged sale or rental of City-owned land is tantamount to fraud.”
He believed people weren’t coming forward to report the scam because they feared intimidation by the “landlords”, but he said they needed to do that to “expose those in the community who profit from the desperate need of many.”
Ms Tshofuti lost most of her possessions in the fire, but she is becoming frustrated by life at the camp.
“The shacks have gaps where the water and cold come in. My 3-month-old child is feverish all the time,” she said.
“The shacks are also very small, and my older child sometimes has to sleep on the floor.”
There is one communal kitchen at the camp and no electricity in the shacks. There is also only one place where residents can charge their cellphones, and they risk having them stolen if they leave them unattended.
“There are long queues at the kitchen, so by the time I come home from work, it is difficult to cook food. We are told we can’t use candles and paraffin in the shacks, but everyone here does because they have no choice. Of course we understand this creates a fire hazard.”
Frustration is growing because residents don’t know how long they will have to stay in the camp.
“We were first told a few months, but I am sure we are going to be here longer than six months,” said Ms Tshofuti.
She said that for the most part, residents felt safe because of the presence of security guards and law enforcement officers.
Ms Zimoshile has already had to send her 5-year-old son to live in the Eastern Cape while her shack is being rebuilt in Mandela Park.
“These shacks are too small, and now it’s just me and my boy, who is 18 months old. These shacks have not been put together properly. There are holes (gaps) and when it rains the water comes in. Sometimes my child gets sick because of this,” she said.
She has used paper to plug gaps in the roof.
Residents are appealing to the public for donations of solar heaters and camping equipment, as many of the shacks have no furniture.
Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, said the City was communicating to residents and their leaders daily about progress with the super-blocking. “It is a mammoth task, which includes the installation of services and construction. Much progress has been made and the fire-affected residents remain a priority for the City. In Madiba Square, super-blocking is under way and civil contractors are on site. Electrical contractors are due next week, weather permitting and if all goes according to plan.”
She said all the shacks in the temporary camp had been built from a standard City-issued fire kit “in accordance with community consensus” and they were designed to “fit securely”.
Any selling or renting of the shacks was illegal and residents with information about such a practice should report it to the police, she said.