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Western Cape Govt refuses access to crucial documents

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Plumstead tenants facing eviction need the documents to exercise their rights

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Karen Saligee has been living in Plumstead for 22 years. The province has proposed to move residents to Pelican Park. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana
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Tenants in Naruna Estate, Plumstead, some of whom have been living there for over 20 years, have been told by the Western Cape provincial department of human settlements that those with an income below R3,500 per month would be relocated to Pelican Park, about seven kilometres away.

Karen Saligee, a member of the Plumstead Residents Committee, has been living in Naruna Estate for 22 years. The estate, which consists of 164 units, was created for low-cost rental housing and most people living there do not have an income over R3,500 per month. “Which means the majority of the people have to move to Pelican Park,” says Saligee.

But MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela, says there is no intention to evict anyone in good standing with their lease agreements, but defaulters risk having their leases terminated.

The tenants aided by Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) put in a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for documents relating to the relocation proposal. They wanted to know what rental policy determined the R3,500 limit and the minutes of any meetings related to the proposal. Meetings were held with tenants and councillors in September last year. Saligee says MEC for human settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela committed himself to a public participation process.

The PAIA request was flatly refused. NU researcher Shaun Russell says it “makes absolutely no sense, because it’s a policy document; it’s a document that tells government officials how they can act. This is our policy, this is what we can do; the old one is out, it is a public document; the new one should be a public document [too]. All we did is that we asked, what are you basing your decision to kick these people out on? And they said, no, we can’t give you that.”

The letter received by Russell states that the reason for refusal was “mandatory protection of certain confidential information and protection of certain other confidential information of third party.”

When asked about this by GroundUp, Human Settlements spokesperson Zalisile Mbali replied, “This is a legal matter. I am therefore unable to respond to your question.”

The letter to Russell goes on to say that the department was under no obligation to present the documents as they were classified as “internal operational tools”, but the rental policy and maintenance plan could be made available just for viewing and no copies could be made. As for the minutes between the province and the Naruna Estate tenant ad-hoc committee, “the department is also in need of those minutes for verification and record purposes.”

However, Russell said, “There were some promises made in an email [to get the information we requested] which came directly from the MEC. Then we phoned spokesperson Zalisile Mbali, and we got confirmation from him.”

Last week, the Province promised to provide the information by Tuesday 15 March. That deadline has now passed and nothing has been forthcoming.

Russell says, “Looking at it from a broad scope of Reclaim the City, the City and the Province have very little affordable rental housing, and they are trying to get rid of it … Making it impossible for low income families to live in areas where there are jobs, schools.”

For more background see: After the De Waal Drive threats, tenants in Plumstead fear for the future

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TOPICS:  Housing