A zinc war has broken out in Phola Park with residents moving to new RDP houses refusing to part with the precious metal sheets which clad their shacks for years.
Attwell Masupha – a community leader, long-distance runner and Almighty Clay band leader – said there had been treacherous turns in their 17-year struggle and every niggle with Buffalo City Metro (BCM) had been met with antagonism.
Yesterday he and 60 shack owners, mainly single mothers, expressed anger over BCM’s alleged withholding of house keys and house numbers in the Ndacama RDP housing project.
Officials had told the shack owners to allow them to cart their zinc to Roundhill waste site near Berlin.
Masupha said people in Phola Park informal settlements had lived in Ndacama many years ago but were persuaded by a councillor to move to make way for the new housing project with the promise that they would return to new homes.
But it never happened like that, Masupha said. “We have struggled every inch of the way.”
He said his community did not believe in violent protest and was committed to negotiating solutions.
He and the shack owners said they had spent up to R2250 each for their zinc and they were going to “donate” it to whomever they wished.
Based on Masupha’s figure of 209 shacks in Phola Park, the zinc in the area is worth about R470000. Of the 209, 75 shacks worth up to R170000 had to be removed.
BCM spokesman Sibusiso Cindi said beneficiaries were breaking their agreement to demolish their shacks as they got their new homes.
They were selling their shacks to newcomers, especially illegal immigrants or scrap metal dealers, which created new problems.
“The government wants to build houses and eradicate shacks but the target for new houses keeps moving and the number of shacks remains the same,” he said.
Cindi said he would check what was happening in the area, but that any action taken by BCM, such as demolition, had to be carried out in a “humane” manner.
The zinc was precious to shack owners, many of whom had lived in their shacks for 20 years, he said.
Masupha said BCM was creating tension by leaving behind 134 families “yet they have a surplus of 154 houses [in Ndacama]”.
Cindi said the RDP process was beset by problems.
“We are faced with manipulation. Councillors will remove people and put a girlfriend on the list. It is common in BCM, but it is a challenge we are dealing with,” he said.
Resident Monica Yinda, an unemployed single mom, wanted her sons, aged 30 and 35, to stay in her shack, while three grandchildren would move with her to the new RDP home.
“In 2011 BCM said they would upgrade this area,” she said, pointing to filthy, wet streets and illegal electricity wires.
Single mom of three Patricia Zathu, 37, said her 16 zinc sheets were worth R2000. “I bought it. It’s mine. I want to sell it and buy a carpet and food.”
Miki Mange, 54, said she was HIV-positive and needed to move out of her soaked shack now. — firstname.lastname@example.org