31 March 2015
Manenberg residents who have been living in containers for the last five months while their City Council flats are renovated have been left in limbo yet again. The subcontractors responsible for the renovations packed up all their equipment and abandoned the site last week.
The subcontractors, Good Hope Construction, say they left the site because the main contractor, Aecom, owed them more than R9m for work they have already done.
But community members told GroundUp the subcontractors were leaving because of a spike in gang activity after some gangs had not been paid “protection money” by the construction companies. Good Hope Construction denied this. Director Raziek Rajah said Good Hope Construction had been approached by gangs in the area in the past for payments, but had chosen not to engage with the gangs.
He said the company had been forced to withdraw after receiving an email from Aecom saying there were no funds to pay.
Aecom has not responded to emails and telephone calls from GroundUp.
Dozens of families were moved from their council-owned flats in Eva Court last year so that the flats could be renovated. The families were relocated to six metre long containers about four streets away, off Duinefontein Road in Manenberg.
Last week City officials said they were aware of a funding problem. They said that additional funding for the repairs was in the process of being approved, and that residents were expected to move back to their homes in May.
The City said it had spent about R1,25 billion for the refurbishment of hundreds of flats in different areas since 2008, with most renovations nearing completion.
But when GroundUp returned to the area on Thursday, more than 150 workers and administrative staff were being dismissed and were removing equipment from the site.
A group of residents were shouting at the team, some pleading for them to continue work on the flats.
Resident Riedwaan Hazel, 65, said he believed that besides the problem of funds, subcontractors had been forced to withdraw from the area because of tensions between rival gangs.
He and other residents claimed that contractors had paid one gang money in order to secure the safety of their sites.
“The problem started a few weeks ago when they started hiring gangsters”, said Hazel. “I went to report a problem with my container one day and I recognised one of the security guards at the gate, a gang member,” he said.
“A few days ago there was an incident at Eva Court where members of the Americans gang were involved. They were angry that members of the other gang were being employed by the company on their turf. The shootings started after that,” he said.
Rajah said employees were chosen from a list supplied by the City which did not list people according to their gang affiliations. “So if we happen to employ a group of people where most belong to a particular group, it is by default,” he said.
He said the company was in an awkward position. “We only received our pay for January in March. We were told again this month that we would not be paid, hence our right to stop work immediately. We have always had the community at heart and these stoppages are not acceptable,” he said.
Rajah said the contractors owed R9.5 million for the work already done.
“Our workers will be paid, but it puts us under so much pressure,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hazel said, living conditions in the containers were deteriorating fast.
“It’s getting worse every day, especially with winter coming. We are not used to living like this. There are no lights here, so at night all we can do is lock our doors for safety. If we complain, we are told that we should just be grateful for the free water and electricity,” he said.