NEWS & ANALYSIS

I was not invited to a meeting with backyarders – Tertuis Simmers

WCape MEC says SAHRC's Chris Nissen is misleading the public

Commissioner Chris Nissen misleads backyarders about inviting Minister Simmers to a meeting

19 November 2019

Western Cape Human Settlements Minister, Tertuis Simmers says he is deeply concerned about reports that he refused to attend an engagement with backyarders, after being invited by Commissioner Chris Nissen of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), to do so on Friday, 15 November 2019.

Minister Simmers said: “This is completely untrue, as no invitation was ever extended to me or my department. Since taking office, I’ve committed myself to addressing the needs of backyard dwellers and it is for this reason that at the end of June 2019, I issued an executive directive to all municipalities that backyarders should be included on the list of criteria for housing opportunities.

In addition, I’m always open to meeting with all communities, including backyarders, as was demonstrated when I was the only executive member in the human settlements sector to attend that engagement. Where my schedule does not allow me to attend community or any other engagement, I deploy a senior departmental official.

To therefore state, I did not attend a meeting which I was never invited to, is irresponsible and deeply worrying, as it misleads the public and projects me in an uncaring manner, while calling my integrity into question. This, I will not stand for.

The facts are, on Friday, 15 November 2019, my Head of Ministry, Ms VuyowethuNjalo received a query from the Premier’s office enquiring whether we will be sending a representative to a meeting with Commissioner Chris Nissen. When Ms Njalo enquired about the details of the meeting, the Premier’s office could not provide any, as they were not fully appraised and requested that we engage Commissioner Nissen directly.

This was immediately done through a telephone call from Ms Njalo to the Commissioner. As Ms Njalo started to probe about the meeting and its details, the Commissioner informed her that the invitation for the meeting was not referred to our office (the Ministry), but had been channelled through the Department. When probed further who exactly from the Department was invited to this meeting, he indicated that he had just stepped into his office and would call me back to advise. This returned call, never materialised.

Today, my Department received communication from the Commisioner, accusing us of denying 124 backyarders from Mfuleni, an opportunity in our Forest Village project. Once again, instead of engaging us to acquire facts around matters, false claims are made. I can safely state that to date, 103 of those beneficiaries have been accommodated in our Forest Village Project. The balance will also be accommodated as the units become available.

The manner in which Mr Nissen conducts his affairs with my department and me, is clearly not as an impartial party. Quite frankly, Mr Nissen’s conduct raises various questions and suspicions about what agenda he might be driving.

t is also important to note that this is the third occasion where we’re accused of not co-operating with the SAHRC. First it was the Backyarders Summit, where he was punting in the media that I never confirmed my attendance and all the while the invitation was never dispatched and he was fully aware of this. The second incident is the Qolweni/New Horizons meeting in Bitou, which they never attended, even though it was called by them, and now this. 

The SAHRC has a critical role to play in our democratic discourse and we cannot allow the actions of Mr Nissen to bring this Chapter 9 Institution’s integrity into question.

As the Western Cape Government, we remain committed to working with and engaging all relevant stakeholders, as the acceleration of human settlement delivery, while promoting social inclusion through the development of integrated, resilient and sustainable human settlements in an open opportunity society, is vital to us.”

Issued by Marcellino Martin, Spokesperson for Minister Tertuis Simmers, 19 November 2019