Can Dunoon overcome its housing problems?
In a dimly-lit room, about 50 people, some of them in wheelchairs, wait to have proof-of-residence documents authorised by Dunoon ward councillor Lubabalo Makeleni.
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Adjacent to the waiting area, in a much smaller drab room measuring about 2.5m x 2.5m, Makeleni undertakes the authorisations his electorate needs to open and operate bank accounts, register their children at school, obtain cellphones, and a myriad other tasks necessary to function in modern society which require FICA documentation.
With only a small window set high in the wall behind his chair and a bare tungsten bulb in the ceiling, Makeleni says he spends every weekday morning in the yellowish gloom assisting his electorate.
Dealing with about 100 proof-of-residence requests between 8am and 12pm every day is not the work he is supposed to be doing, says Makeleni. But then neither is there supposed to be a situation where two-thirds of all the approximately 14,400 households in the ward exist in backyard shacks or informal settlements, or a dysfunctional Post Office that fails to deliver utility bills providing proof of address.
Normal working conditions do not apply in an abnormal situation and being an effective councillor in a densely packed, mostly informally-housed ward such as Dunoon requires adaptability, tenacity, patience, diplomacy, flexibility, insight and empathy.
Ward 104 covers a long thin area from Dunoon in the south to the Botterberg Road turnoff on the N7 in the north, with the N7 and Cape Town – Atlantis railway line forming the east and west boundaries respectively. The vast majority of the area is rural, but it is the teeming overflow of Dunoon township that demands almost all the councillor’s attention.
Given that it is dominated by informal settlements and backyard shacks, housing is the predominant issue.
Makeleni estimates that 20,000 houses need to be built in Dunoon to accommodate everyone currently living in shacks, but he says he doesn’t know of any government department ever having built so many houses in one ward over the past 20 years. [Editor’s note: by our estimate 10,000 houses are currently needed.]
Ward 104 Housing
- Formal houses: 3,765
- Shacks: 9,177
- Backyard shacks: 636
- Apartments: 345
- Other: 462
Population of ward 104: 36,973 (2011 census)
After Makeleni was elected as councillor during by-elections in December 2010, the City purchased the land on which Doornbach informal settlement had become established. Once the land was transferred to the City, it was able to provide infrastructure and electricity which was not possible while the land was privately owned. The price of shacks in Doornbach shot up almost overnight when the sale was announced as people knew the delivery of services was imminent.
Besides the problems of providing basic services and sanitation to informal settlements, there is the ever-present danger of shack fires. On the morning GroundUp went to interview Makeleni there had been a shack fire in Doornbach which left 200 people homeless. Fortunately no-one was injured, which is not often the case.
Tension among tenants
The existence of a minority of proper houses in an area where housing is in such huge demand creates a particular set of problems. Based on census data, the online tool Wazimap indicates there are 3,765 formal houses in the ward, with Makeleni stating there are about 2,600 formal houses in Dunoon.
However, he says most houses are rented out by owners and most of these landlords live in the Eastern Cape or elsewhere. Absent landlords creates challenges. For example, if a wheelie bin gets stolen, Makeleni says in order for a new one to be provided, the municipality wants the owner to “come do that”. “But the owner is not going to come all the way from the Eastern Cape to sign for a new bin. So what happens is so many houses don’t have wheelie bins and thus people just put their rubbish in a plastic bag and throw it on a corner.”
There is a lot of dissatisfaction between tenants and landlords.
“The people who are residing in this yard are not happy about paying rent because there’s no fence in this yard, there’s no toilet, no-one reports anything. All they do is put the money by the month end and the owner, if the money’s late, gets angry and chucks them out of the yard,” says Makeleni.
“Now what they do if they don’t have a toilet? They use buckets and then throw that in the nearest drain or if the drain is far they throw it onto the pavement.”
This causes disputes with neighbours who complain about the smell and the flies and Makeleni then has to mediate.
“So there’s constantly a problem I must go and resolve.”
Another serious problem is that houses are bought and sold informally and the correct legal processes are often not followed which means title deeds are not changed, but are merely handed over with the original owner’s name remaining on the deed. Then, says Makeleni, when the original owner dies, the children come to Dunoon to claim what they believe is still their parent’s house and the new owner has no documentation to prove they now own the house. As councillor he then has to get involved in mediating between two angry families.
Dealing with these and other issues around housing, service delivery, social services and unemployment leaves very little time for the councillor to evaluate the municipality’s programmes and policies and make recommendations to improve these programmes and policies, nor to plan and implement the ward allocation budget to best effect.
On Makeleni’s desk is a two-inch thick agenda from the monthly subcouncil meeting. “It takes two days to read and understand [the document] in order to contribute and make necessary interventions,” he says.
Thus it is not unusual to find Makeleni working on the necessary paperwork in his small, cramped office until 10 or 11 at night.
Just under half (48.4%) of the approximately 40,000 people (36,973 at 2011 census) living in the ward are employed. Of these, 71% were employed in the formal sector, in line with percentages in the province and the country. Also in line with provincial and national statistics was the percentage of the population employed in the informal economy (11%), although the percentage of people employed in private households was at 15%, which is almost double the percentage for the Western Cape as a whole.
This indicates that a disproportionate percentage of Dunoon residents are employed as domestic workers in surrounding suburbs and further afield in Cape Town. Employment under the category ‘Don’t Know’ was listed by 3% of the Dunoon working population.
Among these workers, the average monthly income was R2400, which is about the same as the average amount earned by workers in the province and the country.
Dunoon was established as a township after the farm Dunoon was bought by the City in the 1990s for a low-income housing development to accommodate the informal settlement that had been expanding at neighbouring Marconi Beam. The first erf was apparently surveyed in 1996.
The Marconi Beam informal settlement, according to information supplied by the Affordable Land and Housing Data Centre (ALHDC), began in the 1970s, housing grooms, predominantly from the Eastern Cape, who were employed at the Milnerton Racecourse. It was one of the first low-income housing developments established in the Western Cape in line with South Africa’s National Housing Subsidy Scheme.
Makeleni said one of the first things he did after being elected in the December 2010 by-elections was push for the City to purchase land on which Dunoon’s Doornbach informal settlement was built. The move was already in progress so that by May 2011 the City purchased the land for R9 million, allowing it to supply water, sanitation and electricity to the approximately 3,500 shacks. He also established his office in Dunoon, refusing the City’s attempts to keep him at the old offices at Tableview. He insisted the ward councillor needed to be among the electorate and set up what remains his current office in what was the changing rooms outside the multi-purpose centre.
He says he also advocated for a new clinic, and the new R72 million Dunoon Community Health Clinic became operational in December 2014 and was officially opened in August this year, replacing the overcrowded and badly ventilated clinic which previously served residents.
Additionally, a new primary school has been built and another is under construction.
Makeleni cites numerous youth projects in his ward, claiming more than 70% of his ward allocation budget goes to youth development, including nurturing boxing talent, for which he organised the purchase of a R60,000 boxing ring.
Ward allocation expenditure
The ward receives approximately R700,000 from the City. How this is spent, Makeleni says, is always a debate at subcouncil.
Some of the expenditure items include R80,000 on a Christmas lunch for the elderly; R140,000 for a talent show; R70,000 to coordinate a soccer tournament; and R80,000 to plant trees and green the ward.
“Some councillors want to know from me why am I doing a Christmas lunch for the elderly. Why can’t I do Christmas lunch for the elderly? Because the municipality doesn’t do that. Why must I put money for speed humps, the government should be doing that, not (the) local (municipality),” says Makeleni.
Another expenditure in this financial year is the provision of gym equipment at the cost of R150,000, which is situated in the multi-purpose hall and is in daily use. Makeleni claims there are residents who have cancelled their Virgin Active membership as they are now able to use the local gym equipment free of charge.
The fact that Dunoon has so few trees and greenery upsets Makeleni and he has got buy-in from street and area committees to focus on cul-de-sacs in the ward where he aims to plant trees where residents will take care of them, place benches underneath the trees and mark out netball and five-a-side soccer fields so that people can rest in the shade and watch children play. He says he has sourced more than 60 trees which are 2.5m high, rather than saplings, so that residents will see an immediate difference in the area.
“That’s what we want to do, that’s my plan,” he says.
Dunoon is a safe ANC ward. In the 2006 municipal elections, the ANC candidate won with 57.69% against the DA’s 35.97%, with the ACDP candidate trailing in third place with 2.27%.
Following ANC ward councillor Peace Stemela’s death in 2010, Makeleni was voted in at the December 2010 by elections with 80.16% of votes although only 10% of voters cast a vote.
In the 2011 Local Government Elections, Makeleni increased his majority to 83.83%, with an independent candidate gaining 6.15% of votes, and the DA candidate receiving 5.15%.
- “Let us eat airtime”: youth identity and ‘xenophobic’ violence in a low-income neighbourhood in Cape Town, by Adam Cooper
- Affordable Land & Housing Data Centre
- Cape Town Budget Project
Correction: The number of households was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.
© 2016 GroundUp.
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