| PIETERMARITZBURG

Pietermaritzburg residents say mayor came to promise them housing before the elections - but he says he can’t remember going there

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“They use us for votes and leave us with our problems” says resident

Photo of Queens Street, Pietermaritzburg
Resident Thembelihle Ngcobo empties a bucket in the drain used to throw waste in. Photo: Nompendulo Ngubane
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Residents of a derelict municipal building in Queens Street, Pietermaritzburg, say Msunduzi mayor Themba Njilo visited them just before the elections and promised to fix their houses, but Njilo says he can’t remember going there.

About 400 people live in a row of 50 houses with no toilet.

The residents say Njilo visited the area while the ANC was campaigning for the May elections.

“We still have ink on our thumbs,” said resident Thembelihle Ngcobo. “When they have their campaigns they came here. They make promises. We fill up their halls and City Hall. They give us T-shirts. Food parcels and t-shirts won’t give us better living conditions. They use us for votes and leave us with our problems. We are voters, but we don’t have toilets or a better roof over our heads,” said Ngcobo.

The residents claim they were told years ago by a municipal official to occupy the row of houses and promised that it would be renovated.

But though Msunduzi municipality spokesperson Ntobe Ngcobo confirmed that the building belongs to the municipality she said she could not confirm that the residents had been promised houses and toilets.

“Our Human Settlements Unit has never had an engagement with the residents nor the respective ward councillor pertaining to a housing project for these residents.”

She said the unit would visit the settlement and it would be “placed on the list of many other informal settlements needing … intervention”.

“We advise the residents to get in touch with their ward councillor in relation to how they can be assisted with interim basic services,” said Ntobe.

Mayor Njilo told GroundUp he could not recall visiting the area in May. He said he would investigate the residents’ concern. He however said the municipality would have to find out if the residents had invaded the building. “We cannot offer services without getting information on how the residents got there. A team will go and have a look. We will take it from there.”

Thembelihle Ngcobo says she moved in 25 years ago.

“We are tired of living like animals,” she said. Residents have been using one toilet at a nearby house but the owner of the house has now stopped them from using the toilet. They now use buckets and throw the contents into a drain they dug themselves between the houses.

“We have been breathing the dirty smell for years,” said Ngcobo.

“The rubbish has been piling up for years. We are currently sharing one tap. The municipality installed that tap after we fought for it. There is no electricity or toilets. We made the municipality aware of the state of the life we are living.”

Some parts of the building have no windows. Some of the rooms have no doors. They are covered with black plastic.

Resident Themba Mngadi said the building conditions were making residents ill.

“Almost everyone is coughing here,” said Mngadi.

“Conditions are very bad. We had hope when the mayor came. He told us they would look for a better place for us. After that he was nowhere to be seen. He knows about residents in Queens Street,” said Mngadi.

A day after GroundUp called Njilo’s office last week, the municipal waste team had come to collect rubbish for the first time in years, Thembelihle Ngcobo said. She said officials were also taking out the electricity cables that have been connected illegally.

Ward councillor for ward 32 Shaun Atkins said the housing situation at Queen Street was “dire”. “It appears that residents were given permission to occupy this land some years ago with a promise of development. These promises have not been met,” he said.

Njilo visited the area on Tuesday, and residents told him they were surprised he did not remember coming before the elections.

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