One month into his job, Western Cape Human Settlements MEC Tertius Simmers is sitting with two big problems, The first is the issues surrounding the housing waiting list — a bone of contention for many communities waiting for houses. The second is trying to rebut national Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s budget speech in which she claimed the DA-led government backed out of a deal to create housing in the Western Cape.
Simmers on Monday 15 July outlined the acceleration of service delivery within his department as a key priority. Prioritising people for Breaking New Ground housing, directing more resources for the upgrading of informal settlements and increasing affordable and gap housing will feature in the next step of delivery by the provincial Human Settlements department.
Simmers is housing MEC in Premier Alan Winde’s provincial cabinet, following the DA’s election victory in the 8 May 2019 national and provincial elections.
Read in Daily Maverick: The work begins now, says Winde as he announces provincial cabinet
Simmers said that during his first month in office he had covered more than 8,000km in the province, visiting various Human Settlements project sites and engaging with a vast cross-section of stakeholders during this period.
During his visit to municipalities including Bitou, Breede Valley, Cape Agulhas, Drakenstein, George and Knysna, Simmers heard complaints from residents that they were still on the waiting list after 20 years, while government homes were being sold and let.
Seven priority projects in the province were identified for small-town renewal projects, said Simmers. These include Metro Grounds (George), Melkhoutfontein (Hessequa), Zoar (Kannaland), Vredenburg (West Coast), Louis Fourie (Mossel Bay), Dysselsdorp ( Oudtshoorn), Hawston and Schulphoek (Overstrand).
“We have to continue improving our rural communities and I am committed to ensuring this,” said Simmers at a press briefing in Cape Town to outline his first month in office.
He said the elderly, people with disabilities, single-headed households, those who have been the longest on the waiting list and backyard dwellers will be prioritised.
“This means, whenever we identify beneficiaries from the housing waiting lists, backyarders must be prioritised, as we will work on a 50/50 split within the other criteria. Backyard dwellers need to ensure that they are on the waiting lists,” said Simmers.
“I’m in the process of engaging my colleague, the provincial minister of Transport and Public Works, Minister Bonginkosi Madikizela (his Human Settlements predecessor) about releasing well-located provincially owned buildings and tracts of land for human settlement developments. In due course, I will make further announcements about these engagements,” said Simmers.
In March 2019 Madikizela said during his then Human Settlements budget vote that there were plans to create up to 10,000 housing opportunities in the inner city areas of Tamboerskloof, Bo-Kaap, Oranjezicht and the Cape Town CBD.
Read in Daily Maverick: There will be affordable inner-city housing in Cape Town, but only when plans are finalised.
Another pressing issue for Simmers is tackling a comment from national Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who said during her budget speech:
“In 2009 the Housing Development Agency (HDA) signed an agreement of alienation of ownership with the provincial government of the Western Cape to transfer land that belonged to them to the HDA so that human settlements could be created for the people of the Western Cape. As soon as the DA took control of the Western Cape, they reversed the legal agreement. I am giving notice today that we will expropriate the land that was legally transferred to the HDA.”
But on Monday, Simmers said that agreement had been with the previous, ANC-led provincial government and not the DA-led administration, and was not lawful.
He said he could confirm that the agreement between the provincial government and the national HDA was concluded before the 2009 election and was to “alienate a number of properties belonging to the Western Cape government to the HDA”.
In that election, the DA gained control of the province from the ANC for the first time and went on repeating election victories in both the 2014 and 2019 election cycles.
Simmers said “when the agreement was discovered after the DA took control of the province in 2009 the then premier was advised that the agreement was unlawful due to non-compliance with the provisions of the Western Cape Land Administration Act, 1998.
“It is not correct to say that the land was legally transferred to the HDA. After informing the HDA that the agreement was unlawful, it never took any action to try to enforce the agreement. This was not surprising, given that a number of statutory requirements for valid disposal of provincial land had not been met. As such, there never was any valid and binding agreement between the parties, let alone a legal transfer of land to the HDA.”
Instead of seeking to play politics with the province, said Simmers, Sisulu should encourage Patricia de Lille, the new Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure and former Cape Town Executive Mayor, to release nationally owned land in the city — Ysterplaat, Culemborg, Youngsfield, Wingfield and Denel, for housing.
Simmers said that together, these properties could bring in nearly 93,000 affordable housing opportunities. DM
"If you took the most ardent revolutionary vested him in absolute power within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself." ~ Mikhail Bakunin