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‘Enough is enough’ — Diepkloof Hostel residents threaten to continue service delivery protests

‘Enough is enough’ — Diepkloof Hostel residents threaten to continue service delivery protests
Gauteng Housing MEC Lebogang Maile (centre) addresses the media during his visit to the Diepkloof Hostel in Soweto on 19 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Gauteng Housing MEC Lebogang Maile admitted conditions at the Diepkloof Hostel were terrible, but said the provincial government did not have the funds to upgrade it.

For decades, Diepkloof Hostel residents in Soweto have been living in abject squalor, with politicians making promises to improve their living conditions year after year.

With elections fast approaching, residents are now threatening not to exercise their democratic right to vote and to chase politicians away since they do not want to be used as pawns.  

They are prepared to protest until the general election on 29 May.

diepkloof hostel

The dilapidated Diepkloof Hostel. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

“We are only people when it is election time. This time we refuse to be used for their gain. We are saying enough is enough,” said resident Khumbuzile Sibiya.    

This comes after the community embarked on a service delivery protest on Monday. The protest turned violent and major roads, including the N12 and N1 highways, were blockaded with burning tyres and stones.

The police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Language of last resort

Another resident and a community leader at the hostel, Sanele Msibi, said their cries had fallen on deaf ears over the years and protest action was their last resort.

The protest was also a strategy the community would use to compel Premier Panyaza Lesufi to fulfil promises he reportedly made to the community.

“We have been speaking to government officials for a very long time, but nothing is happening. We have been begging Panyaza for services, but he simply won’t deliver. He does not even bother to come here but instead sends his people to come here, but they are useless.  

“I think striking is the only language they understand.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: The architecture of apartheid

The residents spoke to Daily Maverick on Tuesday, shortly after Housing MEC Lebogang Maile and his entourage visited the area to “solicit a deeper understanding of the concerns raised by dwellers and what triggered yesterday’s protest”.

diepkloof hostel

Diepkloof Hostel residents have had enough of the poor conditions at their residence. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Maile, however, spent barely an hour with residents inside the hall. Instead, he addressed their leadership and the media.  

Probed on this, his spokesperson, Castro Ngobese said: “A meeting was arranged with induna and leaders of the protest. It was then agreed that a bigger meeting, inclusive of the community, will be convened this coming Thursday. Any insinuation that MEC Maile snubbed the community is not only false but littered with venom.”

Lack of funds

Having inspected the hostel, Maile admitted that the residents’ living conditions were “terrible” and unacceptable, as was the case in the province’s other 64 hostels. He said work had begun to rectify this.  

He attributed part of the problem to the growing population in all hostels, which meant that bulk infrastructure was insufficient and needed to be expanded.

An assessment commissioned by the province found that R20-billion was needed to expand and upgrade the infrastructure, funds which the provincial government did not have, Maile said.  

Despite the lack of funds, the MEC promised something would be done.

“I don’t want to make promises that are not going to be met. We want to make sure that on Thursday when we meet with the city, we are able to look at the details and what can be done immediately,” he said.

South Africa will celebrate Human Rights Day on Thursday. Residents said they were worried the public holiday could lead to a postponement of the meeting, which they would not accept and would take back to the streets.

Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda failed to meet the community last week while he attended to the ongoing water crisis in the city. His spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, said the visit would be rescheduled to a later date which would be communicated to the residents and the media.

‘We will go back to the streets’

The chairperson of the Diepkloof Hostel community organisation, Sibongiseni Khoza, said it was in the provincial government’s best interest to show up for the meeting.

“No one had a gun to Maile’s head when he picked the date of Thursday. So they must come here holding hands. Should they come here on Thursday without a plan of action, we will go back to the streets.”

The residents have had to live without water and electricity for years, and despite many registering for RDP houses in the 1990s, the hostel has remained their home.

It was only in late 2023 that water and electricity were provided.  

“If it took them more than 15 years to give us water and electricity; we are really worried about how long it will take to fix the housing mess.

“The houses can collapse any day, especially when it is raining. Even yesterday when there was heavy rain and lightning, I was praying nothing happens to any of us,” Khoza said.

The community has held countless protests to force the government to build them houses. Eventually, some houses were built in the vicinity of the hostel, but the city failed to explain the finer details to the community.

The expectation among the hostel dwellers was that the houses were RDP houses and they would live there free. However, when Daily Maverick visited the area in 2016, many residents said they could not afford the R750 monthly rental.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Diepkloof Hostel Protests: Police teargas fumes fell children at local crèche

In June 2023, Daily Maverick reported that Gwamanda was shocked at hardships faced by residents during a visit to the Diepkloof Hostel. At the time, Gwamanda met and addressed residents and admitted the municipality’s slow pace in dealing with the lack of service delivery in the area.

“The work of the local government is to deliver services. There is no service delivery here. We have to start afresh. Your anger, residents of Diepkloof, is warranted,” Gwamanda said.

“I don’t know why it has taken us so long to tackle the challenges that you are facing,” he told residents. DM

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