30 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY: WAITING IN VAIN
Poverty-stricken Port St Johns gogo dead at 91 after endless wait for housing, service delivery
On 4 February, Gogo Maswelekile Phetshana died waiting for a house, water, and a flushing toilet. She died on the floor of her mud house, having lost her bed in several floods and disasters, without ever receiving any of these services.
Until her last day, Gogo Maswelekile Phetshana was holding out hope for a house.
Gogo Phetshana lived in Cwebeni Village near Port St Johns since 1939. She lived there all her life only leaving a handful of times to go to town and once to Mthatha where she applied for a grant. She liked to sing and dance and, in video footage taken of her, it was clear that she was the life of any celebration in the village. She loved children.
Her old age grant and R500 provided as a special hardship grant from the South African Social Security Agency kept her, her daughter and her six grandchildren going.
In a video interview before her death, she said that her mud house was leaking badly when it rained. The family had no toilet and had to walk far to collect water.
Since 1994 she was promised a house, running water and a flushing toilet from authorities. She died without ever receiving any of these.
Gogo Phetshana went down fighting and still holding the government to the promises they had made of a house for her family. She looked after herself and another eight people with her pension.
Spate of natural disasters
Cwebeni Village has seen a huge amount of disasters causing death and destruction as traditional mud houses collapse under heavy rain. Next door in Hlamvana Village an elderly woman living with her grandchildren lost her one boy when her thatch roof was set on fire by lighting and the child burnt to death.
Also read in Daily Maverick: Port St Johns flood crisis leaves more than 1,000 displaced and waterworks, bridges destroyed
In Bholani Village a young adult was severely burned when his house collapsed on him during a storm at the age of 10. His face was caught in the cooking fire, resulting in the loss of an eye and ear and his nose.
Earlier this year the Cwebeni Community Development Forum sent a petition to the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa and Premier Oscar Mabuyane to ask him to attend to their dire situation.
The petition contains the following description:
“The village has not had access to clean water in six years. There are 20 communal taps in the village but none of them have water. A hundred families were left destitute after their homes were damaged by severe weather. Over a hundred families said they did not have enough food. Forty families had no toilets. The terrible condition of the roads leading to and from the village makes it difficult for ambulances and school transport to reach them. High travel costs made it very difficult for them to access the closest clinic.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Service delivery collapse: ‘Gatvol’ Eastern Cape resident reports provincial-wide failures
The chairperson of the Cwebeni Community Development Forum Nceba Mamve said the situation in Cwebeni Village was very bad.
“The majority of households depend on social grants and in some households, there are more than seven family members, this is a poverty-stricken village,” he said.
“Some people go to bed with an empty stomach.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: MEC reveals Eastern Cape’s dire food insecurity statistics
“Maswelekile has been living in those conditions for a very long time, she started with her RDP application back around 1999 and up to now that house has never been built.”
“Getting an RDP house was her prayer but unfortunately she died waiting for that house. Even though we don’t have proof, the painful part is that there are reports that Maswelekile’s RDP house was given to someone in Flagstaff,” Mamve said.
The Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements have up to now ignored a request for comment on this issue.
Not a drop to drink
Mamve said residents of Cwebeni village are still fetching water from the river and drinking water with their donkeys.
“We are still waiting for the OR Tambo municipality to intervene in this water crisis,” he said.
“Even though Gogo is no longer around but we will fight for her house, even now we don’t know how we are going to bury her because there is no proper house,” he said.
“Last year we submitted to the Department of Human Settlement a list of 114 people who are in desperate need of RDP houses and they promised to immediately build 20 RDP houses. It was later last year but as we speak only one RDP house has been built even though one RDP house is not finished.”
The municipality has offered to provide emergency housing to some residents who were victims of recent floods but there is a persistent fear that this will remove their chances of a RDP house. While emergency housing is only meant for a few months some residents have been stuck in emergency housing for more than a decade after losing their homes.
“So there is no progress at all here in terms of service delivery and the government needs to take people very seriously,” Mamve said.
Chaguba Royal House chairperson Yekani Maninjwa said all the villages under the Chaguba Royal House are faced with poverty and slow service delivery.
“People are struggling with basic service delivery, it’s not only about Cwebeni village but all villages are facing the same problem,” he said.
“The Cwebeni village has a water infrastructure problem and, as we understand now, the OR Tambo District Municipality is trying to resolve that so that the community can have access to water,” he added.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Hawks arrest OR Tambo municipal officials over millions paid for unfinished and unbuilt dams
“In terms of roads there was a contractor who was appointed but there was a misunderstanding between the villages about where the road should start and that contractor stopped working,” he added.
“As I said the unemployment in our village is a big problem, as the Royal House we are surrounded by 14 villages with over 10,000 people and the majority of people depend on the child grant, the disability grant and an old age grant. There are no job opportunities at all,” Yekani added.
“Our responsibility as a Royal House is to seek assistance from NGOs or government and as a result of that recently in December Cwebeni village benefited from Sizwe Kupelo Foundation, Gandaganda Forum and Gift of the Givers with food parcels.”
Service delivery failures
The integrated development plan (IDP) for the OR Tambo District Municipality confirmed the crisis both in Cwebeni and in other villages in Port St Johns.
According to this IDP of the 35,334 households in Port St Johns municipality there are fewer than 10,000 flush toilets, 3,710 pit toilets, 176 households working on the bucket system and 2,656 with no sanitation facilities. In Port St. Johns there are 25,980 households without piped water or communal water facilities.
The document further confirms that the bad roads in the area are impeding progress.
“The very low historical investment in the access road network in the [Port St Johns District Municipality] has resulted in very poor access to the major road routes. This not only isolates already impoverished communities from important livelihood socio-economic opportunities but also inhibits economic development, making it expensive and difficult to move inputs and outputs from many parts of the district.”
Port St Johns municipal spokesperson Simthandile Ford said the entire Port St Johns is in desperate need of access roads.
“All those roads will be constructed in the allocated and planned years of construction. Even at [Cwebeni] the construction will be carried out within the municipal finance management act to ensure sound and sustainable management of the financial affairs of the municipality. It will be done according to Treasury norms and standards for the local sphere of government.”
Roads to nowhere
During the South African Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into the State of the Roads in the Eastern Cape, Sabelo Mavundla, the deputy business leader at the Auditor-General’s Office said the Port St Johns Local Municipality had used 96% of its infrastructure budget but only met 25% of its targets.
Themba Lazola, a former mineworker who retired in Cwebeni Village said he has become the village’s informal ambulance driver because emergency vehicles can’t reach them due to the state of the road. He has been doing this since 2015.
In 2023 alone, he transported seven patients from his village to the hospital and some of the women even gave birth in his Hilux bakkie while he was driving them to the hospital.
The most recent incident was on 25 November 2023.
“It was raining the two previous days then on the 25 November 2023 while sitting at home, I received a call at around 10 pm to come help. I took the woman to the Tombo Clinic.
‘The ambulance drivers told me that they couldn’t get there because of the bad road.”
“Even myself I decided to sell my Fortuner and buy a Hilux bakkie so that I will be able to drive. So I have been doing this for a very long time even now I am ready if I receive a call,” Lazola added.
The Cwebeni access road is one of the roads that are being assessed in the SAHRC’s inquiry into the state of roads in the Eastern Cape.
Mabuyane’s office has not yet commented on the Cwebeni community’s petition.
Gogo Phetswana will be buried on 17 February. DM