It’s a blistering hot afternoon when we arrive at the Barracks. This regimentally built cluster of council houses was erected as a transit camp in Wentworth in 1972.It was to temporarily house part of the community that was forcibly removed from Cato Manor to Durban South in 1966, and was living in shacks along Duranta Road. Thirty-six years later the same community lives there, many of them impoverished and unemployed. The smell of rotten eggs permeates the air. The stench is not rotten eggs though, but rather a blend of pollutants emitted from the refinery stacks that overshadow the dwellings of the people living in the Wentworth community.
To be precise what we smell is a concoction of about 100 chemicals that are discharged from the oil refinery every day. In this case the rotten egg smell comes from the Engen oil refinery — but SAPREF oil refinery is only a further 700 m’s away and also emitting its own 100 chemicals or so. This toxic concoction is what the Wentworth community breathes in daily and reports have indicated that there are very high asthma, cancer and leukemia rates in the area. The blend includes metals such as lead and mercury as well as very small dust particles called PM10 that get deep into the lungs making it hard to breathe. Add to that, emissions such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, dioxins, hydrogen fluoride, chlorine, benzene and others. It is no wonder this area has been referred to as a virtual gas chamber.
WAITING TO INHALE
HOUSING DELIVERY CRISIS
In light of the “serious problems with housing service delivery”, the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) has commissioned an audit to “take a rigorous look at housing delivery – from top to bottom”, and examine, review and analyse the chronic problems in the delivery of houses.
The outcomes of this audit would be: facilitation of criminal action; institution of civil action; forcing contractors to finish their work; claims against contractors who have not done their work properly; blacklisting of repeat offenders in all provinces; and naming and shaming of people both inside and outside of government.
“There are rotten people. They take advantage of the public sector – this audit will look at this, and we can assure those who are involved in dodgy deals that there is no place to hide,” said Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale in 2009.
“Heads are going to roll,” he warned.
“We need to focus on issues we know are specific impediments – fraud, delays, corruption, absentee contractors, ghost houses, shoddy workmanship, and corruption around waiting lists,” Sexwale stated. –(Business day 2nd November 2009)
This documentary takes place within the framework of Sexwale’s call to clamp down on fraudsters in low cost housing developments. It looks at the first development in Wentworth (since the 70’s) and is a story of shoddy workmanship, accusations of embezzlement, community struggle and lax governance. eThekwini Housing department have refused to engage meaningfully with the community – despite the fact that they are responsible for the development. The MEC’s office is unable to monitor the project because it is a mayoral project and none of the money came through them. The community has struggled to find the right avenues to lodge their complaints. In the end their only option is a political one and they are in the process of taking the matter to the Supreme Court.
The question asked is; How does the eThekwini Municipality and the contractors get away with this shoddy development in light of national governments call for an audit.
The community say that the R48 million was not spent on this development and the fact that it is falling apart after only a few months of occupancy is proof of this. They say that at least R20 million was embezzled.
This story tracks the struggle of the community, the complications with governance and the final court case.
From the beginning
The Barracks community had lived opposite the Engen Oil Refinery for 40 years. This regimentally built cluster of council houses was erected as a transit camp in Wentworth in 1972. It was to temporarily house part of the community that was forcibly removed from Cato Manor to Durban South in 1966, and was living in shacks along Duranta Road. Thirty-six years later the same community lives there, many of them impoverished and unemployed.
This community has been exposed to the extremely high levels of pollution and regular fires from the Engen oil refinery as well as a blend of pollutants emitted from the refinery stacks that overshadow the dwellings of the people living in the Wentworth community. This is a concoction of about 100 chemicals that are discharged from the oil refinery every day. The Barracks community are exposed to the rotten egg smell that comes from the Engen oil refinery — but SAPREF oil refinery is only a further 700 m’s away and also emitting its own 100 chemicals or so. This toxic concoction is what the Wentworth community breathes in daily and reports have indicated that there are very high asthma, cancer and leukemia rates in the area. The blend includes metals such as lead and mercury as well as very small dust particles called PM10 that get deep into the lungs making it hard to breathe. Add to that, emissions such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, dioxins, hydrogen fluoride, chlorine, benzene and others. It is no wonder this area has been referred to as a virtual gas chamber.
Many of the children suffer from respiratory problems, low IQ and sores and rashes on their skin – a result of their exposure to this toxic concoction. Medical bills are high and the Multinationals responsible for this low grade of health in the community have done nothing to help.
Hardly anyone in the community has access to jobs or medical aid and many spend hours at the clinic.
Many of the older members of the community have suffered from strokes or died of cancer.
Housing and Health struggle
This community has been struggling for environmental justice for many years. Part of this struggle was to put pressure on the eThekwini Housing department to relocate them away from the industrial hazardous area they were forced to live in. The community went through an extensive public participation process to locate land that was suitable for their needs. They put forward many documents outlining their request for duplexes or houses on various tracts of land that they had found to be vacant. They were promised improved housing and a better life.
In 2007 the community was informed that they were being moved away from the Barracks to a new housing project in Landsdowne Road in Jacobs. They were informed that they would be moved into flats that were 15sq meters smaller than the dwellings that they had.
The community protested against moving into flats that were smaller than where they were as many of them had extended families and in some cases 15 people lived in one dwelling. They said that they could manage in the Barracks because of the space – but that the flat situation would make it impossible to house their whole families. In addition they did not want a flat project because flats breed crime. Their entire social structure was under the threat of being torn apart and they were angry.
They then learnt that the flats were to be built on a storm water attenuation area and were to be built on steel stilts and the structres to be made from steel frames and light weight concrete. This meant that the walls would be thin and privacy would become a problem. They had heard that the foundations of the new project had already collapsed twice and they became suspicious of the type of development they were being offered.
When they realised the raw deal they were being offered they began to call for the refurbishment of their current dwellings opposite the Engen Oil refinery — instead of a relocation. After all, Engen’s claim that they were being moved to protect their health was based on a lie.
They were being moved to a location that was only 40m’s away from the busiest highway in KZN and also close to smaller chemical factories and a lead based paint factory. This meant that they were being moved into a different type of pollution which was equally dire for their health.
The community was allocated only 110 of the 128 flats. This meant that at least 10 families would not be able to move in as there was not a proper head count done. They also heard that 10 of the flats were being sold to ANC family members for as little as R10 000 each.
Allan Holmes and Gail Saunders are two of the Barracks community members who have forcibly occupied two of the ten empty flats. They say that these flats should have been allocated to the Barracks community but were allocated to outsiders instead.
Given all these factors and the fact that their objections were falling on deaf ears, they decided to stage a protest outside the flats in July 2009. Their protest was met with rubber bullets and a few arrests. The protest included old people and children.
In April 2010 the metro police and the red ants arrived and gave the community immediate notice to evacuate. They were forcibly removed from their houses and as they moved out their dwellings were bulldozed.
The traumatized community was then forced to relocate to the Landsdowne Housing project.
To begin with the ten now homeless families slept in the corridors. After 5 days they forcibly broke into the empty flats and took occupation of them – saying that the project was built to upgrade their lives and therefore were not meant to be sold to people outside of their community.
They were given notice by City for immediate evacuation. They refused to move and took the case to the Legal Resource Centre who took it on as a human rights violation in keeping with the Grootboom ruling.
Shoddy workmanship and corruption
After only a few days of living in the flats, things started to fall apart as geysers burst, pipes leaked, paint peeled off the walls and rats began to infest under the flats. It was patently obvious that this project was shoddy and that much of the R48 million that was meant to build it had been embezzled.
When they complained to council they were met with platitudes such as; ‘This is to be expected in a new development’ or blaming them for vandalism. Not once was an inspector sent to check up on their complaints and all reporting was done through the project manager who was a private consultant. The community accused him of being a liar and have no faith in him as he continues to get away with his cover ups.
Two months later, after much pressure from the community and exposure of the shoddy workmanship on the Media for Justice url site, City informed them that they will send in the contractors to fix the problems.
Seven months later, after many patch and paste jobs, the flats continue to fall apart. After much pressure from the community – the MEC’s office eventually went to do an inspection of the problems. They agreed that there was a major health and safety problem for the community – but informed them that because this is a Mayoral project and that none of the money came through Province – they have no jurisdiction over the project. They assured the community though, that a full report was being put to the MEC and that action will be decided upon from there. The community is still waiting.
In the meantime eThekwini City Housing Department continues to ignore the issue of the faulty development and the community are unable to find any recourse from any government department as both province and local housing have not taken responsibility for the project. It seems that the project manager and the developers are not accountable to anyone.
Debbie Peters explains exactly how the relocation of the Barracks community took place. It left many of the tenants in a state of post traumatic stress and depression after their possessions were thrown out and their homes of 36 years were bulldozed.
In the meantime there is pressure being put on the community to take title deeds on the flats. They say they do not want the title deeds until the flats have been sorted out completely – if this is not possible then they need to be relocated to improved housing.
The Barracks community has now had enough. Based on the fact that there is no accountability from government, Engen or the developers they have decided to take them all to the Supreme Court and have found an advocate who will take on the case.
Media for Justice has been following this story from its inception. We have recorded the struggle from the Barracks Tara Road days (over 10 years) to the recent removal and relocation. We have recorded the rapid degradation and obvious shoddiness of the new development. We work closely with the community structure and they inform us of events that need to be recorded. We now have a camera person situated in Durban who is on hand when there is a need to record an event in Wentworth.
The media for justice website has been effectively used as a community tool to put stakeholders under pressure as proof of their transgressions. It alerts stakeholder to the fact that video evidence of their trangressions has now been put out on the www in live footage. www.mediaforjustice.net
This is a community tool which assures that all stakeholders feel the pressure of exposure from the media. This has helped in that certain results have happened after stakeholders have seen and heard the voices of the community.
Engen and eThekwini housing department claim that the Barracks community were moved out of a major industrial hazardous area because of their close proximity to Engen oil refinery. But they have been moved adjacent to a busy highway with high levels of lead and benzenes from the constant stream of heavy traffic. Around them are paint factories which also emit fumes. This area may be even worse for their health than where they once lived. Why did it take 36 years to move this community from a major hazardous industrial zone?
HOUSING DEPARTMENT RESPONSES
We write to the housing department to find out why the Barracks tenants were forcibly removed from their houses and why their previous dwellings were destroyed and not upgraded as they had requested.
Yunus Sacoor, Deputy Head of Housing, eThekwini Municipality, responds that; the Housing Department assisted all tenants in the relocation process to ensure that the movement process took place in an orderly fashion. They were moved because the Tara Road complex was located within the Major Hazardous Industrial (MHI) zone, and therefore alternative accommodation was made available for the tenants. According to him all tenants agreed in writing to the relocation to the new complex.
When asked about the issue of overcrowding and whether a proper headcount was done of the members of the community, many of whom lived in overcrowded homes, he responded; when families are relocated to other projects, it is done on the basis of one flat per family. Family units are not constructed taking into account existing over-crowding per unit because this should not happen.
When asked to clarify overcrowding and extended families, he responded that; extended families are additional family living with the legal tenant/owner. They can be married children, uncles, nephews etc. At the time of allocation, they were not declared as inhabitants of the dwelling by the legal tenant. The size of the dwelling therefore commensurate with the family requirements as the Housing Act does not encourage overcrowding.
When asked whether more space or housing will be allocated to the members of the Barracks community, who have forcibly occupied the existing ten empty flats because they have now been rendered homeless, he responded; they would have to seek accommodation elsewhere.
When asked why the community were allocated less space than they enjoyed in their previous dwellings, he responded that; the only suitable land in Wentworth was located in Lansdowne Road and the size of land and funding available was not conducive to construct more or larger units. The units constructed were in accordance with existing Social Housing Standards.
When asked what the Housing Department was planning to do about the many flaws in the new flats, he responded that; any new development is subject to problems with regard to usage and whatever defects are being discovered, are being repaired accordingly by the Contractor.
When asked about the allocation of flats to the elderly, which had no wheelchair access, he responded that; the CLO assisted with the allocation of flats for the elderly and we are under the impression that these issues were addressed accordingly.
When asked about what safety measures were being put in place to remedy the dangerous gaps beneath the blocks of flats, which poses a danger to the children, he responded that; they are currently investigating this issue.
When asked whether they intend to build a park for the children where the parents could watch them play, he responded that; there is ample space in between the units for children to play.
When asked who the 10 flats that have been occupied by Barracks residents, had been allocated to, he responded that; they were allocated to indigent and homeless families who are resident in Wentworth area.
Finally when asked what the Housing Department intends to do concerning the residents who have invaded those flats, he responded that; the matter has been handed over to the Council’s Legal Section for appropriate action in terms of the law.
A community member,who asked not be named, has informed us that to date no one from the municipality has been to see them regarding the defects in the flats.
She also says that a proper headcount was never done in the community to establish how many extra flats they required because of overcrowding, and that the issue was simply ignored by the developers and the municipality.
She said that they suspect that flats have been allocated to people with strong ties to the ANC and that they have not been allocated to indigent and homeless people, but in fact sold to friends, girlfriends and family members of the ANC.
She informed us that the community members who invaded the empty flats are seeking legal representation from the Legal Resource Center. (LRC).