OPINION

What we're doing to assist backyarders - Patricia de Lille

Cape Town mayor calls for a meaningful partnership to address problems

SPEECH BY THE EXECUTIVE MAYOR ALDERMAN PATRICIA DE LILLE ON THE OCCASION OF THE BACKYARDERS' INFORMATION SESSION

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon, goeiedag, molweni.

We know that, nationally, there are millions of people waiting for houses, whether they live in local, district or metro municipalities. Most of these people have borne the brunt of a history that sought to discriminate against them.

Many of them were forcibly removed from their homes for political reasons. Some were evicted because of financial reasons. But most were the products of a system that actively denied opportunities. They were products of a system that did not respect them as human beings and thought nothing of their dignity.

Most were products of structural inequality that denied them access to the means to provide for themselves and others. While we achieved political freedom, many still wait for economic freedom.

They wait for a system that can deliver to them and help them reach their full potential. Most of those people have never owned a home. Many of them have waited patiently on the housing waiting list, sometimes for decades. They are still waiting.

But there is another untold story of neglect when it comes to housing issues in South Africa. It is the neglect suffered by those who have waited for so long and have sought alternatives until they get their turn. It is the story of neglect that is the constant theme of backyarders in our country. It is backyarders who have waited. It is backyarders who have built their own homes, often without services, because they need a place to live.

I know this story. Anyone who cares about this country and this city knows it. It is a story that I want to start rewriting. When I campaigned to be mayor, I said that I would make delivering services to backyarders a priority of my administration.

Since being sworn in, we have worked tirelessly to formulate a plan to give meaning to that priority. That is why I have called you all here today, to discuss it with you.

Let this be the beginning of a new chapter of relations between city government and backyarder communities. I know that some of you have come here today to find out when you are receiving a house. For many, you feel that you have engaged enough and you want results.

I don't believe in making false promises. Some people will say anything to get elected. The unfortunate consequences are opportunities lost. In the end, when someone promises you something that they cannot give you, they deceive you, they deceive themselves and they deceive the spirit of open engagement.

When you mix hollow words and empty promises, you get nothing more than the bitter taste of utter disappointment. I believe in open engagement. So let us engage honestly as partners.

As Cape Town's government, we have constraints as to how many housing opportunities we can deliver in one year. Housing funds are largely determined by grants from the national government.

Those grants are determined by formulas from the national department of human settlements and the national treasury. The city does not decide on the final sum. Last year, we had just over R700 million for housing.

Other city revenues are used to keep basic services running. That is about R700 million for everyone in the whole city who needs a house. We use our money allocated to maximum effect and work to deliver on all projects.

We do so on the understanding that a housing project we start today will only be completed in about 3 or 4 years' time. Using it to maximum effect, that money is used to deliver, on average, just under 7000 new housing opportunities per year.

Not everyone is registered on the Housing Waiting List. But there are 450 000 households on the housing backlog. Due to urbanisation, every year, on average, 16 000 households are added to that figure by people who move to Cape Town.

The housing list is long. It is growing. We have limited resources. We are reliant on money from national government. We are doing the best we can. But the simple truth is that many people will wait years to get a house. Most of them wait in backyards.

We may not be able to change the waiting list. That is a reality we must face and accept. But, with your consent, we can start to change how you live while you wait.

I don't want to say that if you put your name on the list you must wait 10 years and get nothing in the meantime. We are all citizens of this city. We all deserve dignity. And the truth is that we can do something to help you.

It will take time. It will take community involvement. It will take more patience. But if we do it together, we can change the lives of people in this city, the lives of the people you represent.

Together, we can start to roll-out services to backyarder communities. We have already engaged on a project in three pilot sites in Langa, Hanover Park and Factreton to assess the scale of services needed by backyarders.

These are engineering surveys. They have been conducted to see what structures there are in an area. How many people live in those structures? What kind of land are they on? How close are they to water and electricity mains? What would it take to connect them? Where is the space to put services that can have the greatest impact?

Those surveys are well under way and area committees with stakeholders have already been established. These pilot projects allow us to assess the scale of services needed.

This administration was not involved in the formulation of the budget for this year until a very late stage. As such, more resources still need to be allocated to these surveys so that they can roll-out to all communities. That roll-out will take several years. We must remember, there are no easy fixes here.

We will soon be undertaking the new budget process. Informed by the IDP, it will prioritise services to backyarder communities. In the meantime, I have allocated an additional R10 million to this project for this year.

I am pleased to say that we shall implement our first pilot of service sites, including an enclosed toilet with sink, with the whole structure linked externally to electricity points in Factreton in October this year. To families, it will mean their own toilet, washing facilities and electricity connection for the first time.

It is a model that will be used for all backyarder communities in the long-term while people wait. At the moment, the scope of our ambition focuses on backyarder communities on council-owned stock. There are 41 000 such households.

The reason for this is simple. In terms of national legislation, we cannot install services on privately owned land. We are working on this. But in the meantime, we will begin with the council-owned stock.

Over time, and during the course of this administration, this will affect most of the backyarder communities in the city. But remember: it is not a substitute for formal housing.

By engaging with us on this process, you do not remove yourself from the waiting list. Your status waiting for a formal housing opportunity will not be affected. Indeed, this programme is part of a broader strategy to address urbanisation.

It is part of our broader housing strategy. It is part of our service-delivery strategy. It is part of our land use planning and split zoning strategies. And it is also part of our broader strategy to identify land and plan for full housing sites.

I said this process will take time. I am being open and honest. But to be fully honest, it will also take partnership. We want to provide these services to you. We want to help you and provide opportunities and dignity. But in order to do that, you have to make the choice to accept these opportunities.

We will need communities on the ground to make this programme work. If it is blocked by members of your communities, it will fail and people will get nothing and we will be at the same place where we started. If you make the choice to accept this opportunity, then you must also make the choice to help us on the ground. Engagement must work two ways and we must make this relationship a meaningful one.

It is true that backyarders have been neglected. We can spend endless hours discussing that and the injustice of it. It is good to deal with issues. But it is not good to vent frustrations without thinking of solutions. There is now a new programme, a programme that addresses neglect.

We can make neglect a thing of the past, alive only in those endless discussions. To do that, we need everyone to be involved. I don't offer you empty promises. I offer realistic prospects. It will be difficult, but if we are to build a caring city, we need to do it together, with openness, trust and partnership.

Issued by the Communication Department, City of Cape Town, September 6 2011

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