Bellville South is bursting at the seams
Mercia Kleinsmith has been the councillor of Ward 9, or Bellville South, since 2009. She won a by-election following the death of her husband Glen, the day after the DA won the province in April that year. Glen had been hailed in the press as the city’s “leading drugbuster”.
Glen was found hanged in his bedroom. His death was ruled a suicide but Mercia says she is “not satisfied” with the ruling.
Kleinsmith is the comfortable incumbent, who has increased the DA’s hold on the ward. In the 2011 local government elections the DA got 59% of the vote versus the ANC’s 25%. In third place was the National Independent Civic Organisation with 10%. In the 2006 local government elections the DA achieved 45% versus the ANC’s 38%, and the ID got 10%.
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Ward 9 is a mixture of middle-class freestanding houses, lower-income freestanding homes and council flats. There are no informal settlements but backyard dwellings exist in almost every yard except for the middle-class areas.
According to the 2011 census there were 474 ‘shacks’ and 621 ‘other’ dwellings. On the presumption that some backyarder listed their home as ‘other’ while some listed their home as ‘shack’ or ‘house’, there are about 1,300 backyard dwellings in the ward.
“Backyard dwellings are widespread,” said Kleinsmith. “There are up to four backyard dwellings in a council flat’s backyard, as well as in the yards of private houses as people don’t have a place to stay.”
Hemmed in by industry, there is no land available for new housing, with Kleinsmith claiming houses were built on the last available land 15 years ago.
However, she said she applies to be on the steering committee of housing projects in nearby wards in order to negotiate some of the houses being set aside for Ward 9 residents.
She says she is currently on the Pentech/Belhar project steering committee where 420 RDP houses are being built. While the majority will be made available to Belhar residents, houses have been set aside for people from Bellville South, Elsies River and Ravensmead.
But as soon as someone moves out of a backyard dwelling, someone else moves in, and with the demand for housing as high as it is, there is little hope of eradicating backyard dwellings in favour of proper housing for all.
Thus she said she is pushing for the City to provide water and electricity points for backyarders, as well as toilets, and forwarded a motion to this effect to the housing department two years ago, having already obtained municipal wheelie bins for backyarders “about a year ago”.
Cycle lanes and walking paths
Bright orange cones and reflective signs decorate Kasselsvlei Road, the main road running through Bellville South, as workers in neon vests labour amidst excavators, loaders, graders and compactors while pneumatic drills rend the air with staccatto clatter.
It’s an inconvenience to motorists but the approximately R30 million upgrade set to be complete by July 2016 will see the creation of cycle lanes and walking paths and improve access for pedestrians and particularly blind residents. This is an important factor as the Athlone School for the Blind is situated close to this main thoroughfare in Ward 9.
While the roadworks are a hassle while underway, residents will only benefit from the upgrade once it is completed and 42 Ward 9 residents as well as two local subcontractors are employed to work on the upgrade.
According to Kleinsmith, an additional 33 residents have been employed to work on the current upgrades to four parks in the ward, with the funds for these improvements made available from the R700,000 annual ward allocation budget.
As a result the ward, which has a relatively small residential area of 30,000 people according to the 2011 census, appeared to be a hive of activity.
Kleinsmith is particularly proud of the work being done on the parks, two of which are situated in the more upmarket area of Glenhaven, and two in the poorer residential areas predominantly surrounded by council flats.
One of the parks in the poorer area, Frank Louw Park, is littered with stompies and broken glass, has no trees other than a lone palm, and is illegally used as a dumpsite. Kleinsmith says consultation with the community identified the need to fence part of the park to prevent dumping. R140,000 is being spent from ward allocation funds for fences and gates, as well as the installation of outdoor gym equipment.
Other parks, such as Berama Crescent Park in Glenhaven, which is close to the school for the blind, is being upgraded with pathways, play equipment, a “goal ball court” with rubber matting and trees that will supplement those already growing there.
Designs for the upgrade, as well as that of Lorna Park in Glenhaven, were developed in workshops with residents, says Kleinsmith. A further R100,000 is being spent to fence and improve Industrie Park, situated on the boundary between lower income housing and the industrial area, where scrap collectors were in the habit of burning the insulation off copper wiring. Kleinsmith, who is recognised and greeted by residents as she drives around in her black Toyota Yaris, said neighbouring residents have volunteered to take charge of the parks and ensure the gates are opened early in the morning and closed by 8pm.
While the parks will improve recreational facilities for residents, the major problems in the ward, as in most wards across the city, are housing and unemployment. Gangsterism, said Kleinsmith, is not a big problem, although drug addiction is common.
Just under 40% of residents in Ward 9 are employed, according to 2011 census data, the majority of them working in the formal sector (86%) and earning an average monthly income of R4,800. Despite being surrounded by industry, of the economically active population 10% (just over 2,100 people) were unemployed. A further 350 people had given up looking for work.
The number of unemployed people is evident when driving around the poorer parts of the area during work hours, as scores of adults can be seen at street corners or sitting in their yards. Kleinsmith says some employment is provided by the Expanded Public Works Programme, in which people are contracted to clean the streets or work at some registered creches, as well as on infrastructure projects in the ward.
There are a minimum of four public meetings held in the ward per year, said Kleinsmith. Concerns raised at the public meeting are taken to the subcouncil, which meets every month. However, she said there have been seven public meetings so far this year as the Kasselsvlei roadworks have been an issue.
She said among concerns was the loss of parking space along the thoroughfare due to the upgrades. “The project did start and then I stopped it for a week in order to get community buy-in before going ahead,” she claimed.
She also receives requests and complaints via email and is available to meet people at her office at the municipal buildings on Kasselsvlei Road on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. “We send pamphlets informing residents of meetings. I use my own people in the ward to hand out pamphlets. We also communicate on social media,” said Kleinsmith.
As in all wards, there is a ward committee with representatives from NGOs and community organisations who represent the residents.
Ward 9 is demarcated by Bellville – Kuils River railway line on the north, the R300 on the east, the Sarepta – Belhar railway line on the South and Robert Sobukwe Road on the west. The Bellville campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and University of the Western Cape are included in the ward, which forms part of Subcouncil 6.
- Population: 29,301
- Median age: 25
- Dominant language: Afrikaans
- Households: 6,047
- Access to water provided by municipality: 99% of households
- Access to electricity: 99.2% of households
- Access to flush or chemical toilets: 90.6% (5.5% have no access to toilets)
- Internet access: 41.1% of households
Source: www.wazimap.co.za from 2011 census data.
Asked what her greatest achievements have been during her tenure as ward councillor, Kleinsmith puts the upgrades to council flats at the top of her list.
She said four years ago she budgeted money from the ward allocation funds to build staircase railings to assist the elderly, install lighting in the backyards and replace old steel window frames with aluminium frames.
Additionally, Kleinsmith put aside between R100,000 and R150,000 from ward allocation funds to allow pavements to be built in the Greenlands RDP housing area.
The prevention of drag racing along Robert Sobukwe drive has also been achieved by lobbying the City to place speed cameras along the route.
Ten capital projects are listed for the 2015/16 financial year, which is on the higher end of the scale. Only 23 wards have more capital projects, with the highest number being 19.
However, per capita budget spend for the 2015/16 year is R54, which is on the lower end of the scale. Per capita expenditure in Ward 32, for example, is R2,783 per capita. It is R1 690 in ward 105. And at the highest end of the scale, the CBD (Ward 77) spends R9 774 per capita.
GroundUp is in possession of a string of emails from Godfrey Luyt and Julia Plaatjies-Croskery claiming Kleinsmith does not engage in sufficient consultation with the community, or engages in selective consultation, ignoring those in the ward who do not support her.
Luyt describes himself as a “Development Practitioner/Writer”, writing as “a resident of [the] Ward and on behalf of a few other residents”. He opposed the erection of a fence around Frank Louw Park as he claimed Kleinsmith did not consult with all residents of the ward and believed the fence would be stolen for scrap. Kleinsmith said the type of fencing erected was difficult to steal.
Plaatjies stated she had received “some” notices of concern from residents regarding the construction work on Kasselsvlei Road and Luyt requested a meeting to discuss the matter. He was then invited to a public meeting but complained that he had not received an agenda. Plaatjies wanted to know what public consultation had taken place to decide on the Operating and Capital Expenditures Budget for both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 financial years. It is not clear whether she received a response.
Kleinsmith has also been accused by Plaatjies of violating councillors and municipal officials code of conduct by making disparaging remarks against her detractors on Facebook. Kleinsmith’s Facebook post, which refers to Luyt and Plaatjies, reads: “I am nevertheless convinced that if some people have a mental problem a mental institution is the best place to be and not on Facebook.”
Plaatjies and Luyt have laid official complaints with the Premier and Speaker against Kleinsmith but the Subcouncil Chairperson Sam Pienaar states his invitation to Luyt and Plaatjies to meet and discuss the issues have not been taken up, although Pienaar states his door remains open.
Super Outreach is an organisation based in Bellville South that reached out to communities through sport, prayer, home cells and giving. Established in 2015, our targeted beneficiaries are children, youth and pensioners in the area. We are teaching our youth and children life skills because they are our future leaders. We believe change begins when you reach out:
Counselling & prayer line : 082 546 3647
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