By Shakirah Thebus
Last week Thursday residents from the Gatesville community protested in Wale Street and handed over a memorandum of demands to the MEC of Housing and Settlements Tertius Simmers. The memorandum prepared and pushed by the Gatesville Tenants Association called for no rent for seniors living in the flats; structural damage to be repaired; mould infestation and other health concerns to be acknowledged; no recreational activities for communities especially seniors; and cases of intimidation by city officials towards residents to be addressed. The council flats, a total of 18 blocks totally 156 flats have been in existence for nearly 50 years with mostly seniors and low-income earners inhabiting the space.
Fowzia Veerasamy, the spokesperson for the association said many of the residents’ health has deteriorated due to the lack of ventilation and insulation systems in the block of flats. With mostly seniors residing in the flats, their health has shown a sharp decline due to the mould infestation, lack of ventilation and other structural damage on the property making movement challenging.
During a site visit in 2017, Mayor Dan Plato, previously the MEC for Community Safety, the then-MEC of Social Development Albert Fritz along with the then-Minister of Housing and Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela, found residents scrubbing their walls with bleach due to the mould outbreak.
The Minister of Housing and Settlements Tertius Simmers met with the residents of Rylands for a meeting and dialogue session on Wednesday evening to address the tenant’s concerns. Minister Simmers acknowledged the handover of the memorandum by the senior tenants and stated that all rental arrears of senior tenants will be scrapped.
Veerasamy said that although the seniors are responsible for making rental payments, the onus falls on the City officials to communicate any rise in rental tariffs. Veerasamy also mentioned that tenants were not informed of any rental arrears or the yearly increase in rental. This led to a backlog in arrears.
Veerasamy said that there had been a trend where as soon as the seniors receive a SASSA increase, a rental increase soon follows. This she found to be counteractive as the SASSA payments are not much to begin with to sustain the seniors and their families.
Although fairly new, the Gatesville Tenants association has been active since its inception and deals with social issues affecting their tenants such as unemployment, need for food, housing issues, education, legal advice and assistance etc. “Whatever the tenant has a need for, we will go and find the assistance and give it.”
The odd thing that Veerasamy notes is that although the seniors receive the same amount of SASSA payment every month, and live in the same block of flats, their rental is not the same. There is a lack of consistency where the administration is concerned notes Veersamy. “Some residents pay a water utility bill and others do not.”
“Government departments need to be held accountable. The reason why people protest is because there is no service delivery. If you are a service provider, we are the clients, provide the service that is adequate for us… That’s the reason why communities do uprising protest.”
One of the concerns which Veerasamy raises is the plight of the elderly who are wheelchair-bound or those with physical disabilities in general and their lack of accessibility to and from the flats. Veerasamy who herself was wheelchair-bound during her school years, feels strongly that this should be urgently addressed, calling it inhumane. The space is not fully inclusive as it does not allow for the free and easy movement of those with physical disabilities.
Residents who are wheelchair-bound are forced to get out of their chairs and with the assistance of a family member or another tenant, will attempt to walk down the flight of stairs, sometimes as many as three or two flights. Veersamy said that many of the wheelchairs bound residents remain indoors until a relative comes home from work as it is difficult to leave the flat without assistance due to the lack of ramps. Veersamy likens this to being in a prison.
There have been instances of intimidation by City officials when visiting residents at their flats requesting documentation or access to their flats. These officials do not inform the tenants of their arrival and in one case, an official knocked on a tenant’s door at 10pm, demanding paperwork and if they do not adhere, they are threatened with verbal evictions.
“If you don’t comply, you stand to be evicted, that is victimisation. That is bullying. Its predominantly seniors who are residing in these flats and its unfair that they tremor when they see a housing official or housing official’s vehicle here.”
“The seniors lock their doors and turn everything off because they don’t want to engage with housing officials.”
The association will conduct a workshop on sectional title ownership on the 4th September. The aim of the workshop is to educate the tenants on what it means to be title deed owners and what their duties are as a private owner. On the 27th of February, previous MEC for Housing a Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela said that 69 pensioners would be getting obtaining ownership of their units but did not inform them of what it would entail.