On Monday, as the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Office of the Public Protector’s public hearings into socio-economic conditions in Alexandra got under way, residents told Daily Maverick that “marauding forces” were responsible for the chaos in Alexandra.
Asked who the marauding forces were, 60-year-old Mothibi Segopha of the Alexandra Landowners Association said they were the people occupying the Beirut area between First Avenue and Sixth Avenue from number 99 to number 166.
“Phillip Dlamini here, his house was demolished by the marauding forces. He had to start from scratch. From ashes,” said Segopha.
“We are thankful now that there is interest from the HRC and the Public Protector. I laid a complaint with the Public Protector regarding the socio-economic and poor living conditions of the people of Alexandra in 2003. I received no feedback from the Public Protector or the HRC. In 2005, I obtained an interdict to stop any development in Alexandra because there was no development, but only demolitions,” Segopha said.
Spokesperson for the HRC Buang Jones said the commission and the Office of the Public Protector would investigate the socio-economic conditions residents were complaining about.
“And whether it amounts to improper conduct, corruption and maladministration,” Jones said.
He said the commission was acting after it had become aware of media reports of a looming shutdown in Alexandra in April.
Jones said the commission would also probe mushrooming illegal structures, illegal electricity connections, failure to collect waste and the under-resourced fire station. He said the commission would also probe the causes of the protest, how the government responded and how the City of Johannesburg responded.
The commission will also investigate whether the alleged R1.3-billion allocated for the Alexandra Renewal Project was used responsibly and whether such use or failure thereof impeded on the socio-economic rights of the people of Alexandra. The commission would assess whether the government devised or monitored and rolled out a housing project in Alexandra and the adequacy of policing in the area.
“The community needs to know what the plan is for Alexandra. Our issues did not begin with the current government but have been an issue over many years when the previous administration was still in charge. It began with a march in February, but prior to the march the community had complained to their councillors about the invasions and poor services,” said Bobby Solomons, spokesperson for the Alexandra Shutdown Committee.
“Nothing was being done,” said Solomons. He said JMPD wasn’t responding to the complaints. He said road and street maintenance was lacking in the area.
“Potholes have become a permanent feature on the roads.”
Roadsides were overgrown, which created fertile ground for criminals
Asked by Vusumuzi Dlamini from the Office of the Public Protector if anybody had been directly affected by crime as a result of overgrown roadsides, Solomons said that on 4 May 2017 a man known as Phelelani had been killed as a result of this. He said the Alexandra Shutdown Committee had a police case number.
“It’s bushes where thugs hide. Every community member will tell you that guns normally go off like crackers in Alexandra,” said Solomons.
“It’s a huge problem because the issue of safety of our people comes to the fore,” he said, adding that the JMPD was not doing anything to prevent land invasions in the area.
One of the issues that came to the fore during the strike was the increase in illegal structures over the past two or three years.
“The infrastructure here was designed only for a certain number of people,” said Solomons.
Solomons’ Alexandra Shutdown Committee colleague Sandile Mavundla said land invaders were now impacting on schools.
“Even today we can march. Politicians must come clean on the issue of Alexandra. The city never responded appropriately to issues which we raised. If the city is refusing to intervene then who will?” asked Mavundla.
Matthew du Plessis, senior legal officer at the HRC, asked the Shutdown Committee about the schools they claimed had been affected by land invaders. Mavundla cited three schools in the area, including Kwa-Bhekilanga. Mavundla, however, conceded that the invasions were not on the actual school grounds.
Responding to a question on whether the city had responded to the crisis, Mavundla said:
“I don’t think the mayor was committed to solving our issues because he went to Marlboro when we asked him to come to Alexandra. The mayor is businesslike and not a politician. The mayor was not willing to solve our problems.”
Mavundla told the hearing that the Alexandra cemetery was also in a bad state.
“Sewage is flowing into people’s graves at the Alexandra cemetery,” Mavundla said.
He said a petition had been submitted on the morning of 21 February 2019. “When we asked for the requested feedback from our councillor, we were told that the city had no capacity.”
“Would you say the Alexandra Shutdown committee is representative of all the people of Alexandra?” asked the HRC’s Jones.
Mavundla replied: “The movement is open to everyone who is concerned about development and service delivery in Alexandra. We are not politically affiliated, but will not alienate political support in our endeavour to attain development in Alexandra.”
Jones asked Mavundla about a media statement in which one of the leaders of the shutdown was said to have business interests in some developments in the community.
“I think that could have been about me, but I can tell you that I have no business interests, the mayor fabricated that story,” replied Mavundla.
Asked whether the sudden interest in listening to the plight of Alexandra had brought hope for development in the area, Dodo Shiburi of the Alexandra Landowners Association said:
“My only gripe is that it’s long overdue. We made submissions as early as year 2000 with both the HRC and the Office of the Public Protector.”
Shiburi added that the country’s Constitution was flawed:
“How can the constitution of a country say that a country belongs to all who live in it? You will never find that in Botswana or anywhere else. He said he had no faith in the HRC to resolve the issues.
“We lived in Alexandra until the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) told us we’d be allocated houses. After our houses were demolished we were forced to pay rent, yet 70% of us are not working in the organisation. Some are disabled,” Malebo Mokgabudi of the Alexandra Anti-rental Committee said.
She told the hearing that most of their landlords were foreigners and she openly expressed her unhappiness at this.
“We ask ourselves, should we pay rent to foreigners?” she asked. Mokgabudi said some landlords have more than one RDP house.
“Some officials were selling the houses,” she said. She added that what was confusing was that residents didn’t know where to go, after five years.
The Alexandra Anti-rental Committee’s Priscilla Makelani told the hearing:
“The government has put us in a fireplace.”
The committee said it could not understand why it had to pay rent to foreign nationals. If houses were allocated, residents should be allocated seven-roomed houses such as those owned by foreign landlords.
“How do you know that people occupying the houses were staying there illegally and what are the tell-tale signs that foreign nationals were occupying the houses?” asked the SAHRC’s Du Plessis.
Makelani replied that when an audit was conducted many foreign nationals fled the area and left the houses.
The Office of the Public Protector’s Dlamini asked Makelani if she would say that the Alexandra Renewal Project had been effective in alleviating the poor living conditions of the Alexandra community.
“They failed. They set us against one another instead,” replied Makelani.
The hearings continue at the HRC offices in Braamfontein on Tuesday. DM
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