Shack flames highlight Makause's deadly combo of lies and local politics
If you thought the road to Mangaung was paved with obfuscation and complexity, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Dig into a local municipality and you’ll find the politics there just as confounding. If not more so. By MANDY DE WAAL.
This is a story of three protagonists – all with divergent versions of what happened. First up is General Alfred Moyo, who is unemployed and lives in Makause, an informal settlement in Primrose, a suburb of Germiston on Gauteng’s East Rand. He’s an activist and, from what this journalist can see (admittedly after just two visits to Makause), he’s fairly highly regarded in the community because he helps people stand up to power and he fixes problems. Makause is a socialist and well-versed in issues of constitutional and land rights, which doesn’t make him popular with the authorities in the area.
Tania Lynette Campbell is the councillor for ward 21 (Primrose) which belongs (politically) to the DA. Campbell took the ward in both the 2006 and 2011 elections and, judging by the election results, it was a good race in an ANC-owned metro.
The other character in this drama is Aubrey Mokgosi, who’s the director of Human Settlements Property & Institutional Support in the Department: Human Settlements in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council.
The story goes like this. On Saturday 13 October 2012, a woman allegedly commited suicide by taking petrol from a generator, pouring it over herself and setting herself alight after her man walked out on her. Makause is an incredibly dense informal settlement; the shacks are wedged well up against each other, and for the most part made of highly flammable materials. Within a short space of time, 18 shacks were consumed.
On Monday 15 October, after many of the 18 families slept out in the rain, Daily Maverick heard about the story from Moyo, the activist. One of the first calls was, of course, to Campbell, the ward councillor, to find out what was going on. Campbell was unaware of the fire in the informal settlement.
“I am surprised I haven’t been notified, because the community development worker has not contacted me. She normally phones me. I haven’t been notified whatsoever,” Campbell said.
“I will have to follow up, I don’t even have knowledge of that whatsoever,” she added.
The community development worker referred to by Campbell, Moyo alleges, doesn’t even live in Makause, but stays some 30km away near Vosloosrus. Community development workers, or CDWs, are an invention of the Mbeki era and, during his tenure as president, The Aloof One said these “multi-skilled community development workers’’ would be government’s direct link to communities. The idea was to “bring government nearer to people and to enable it to respond to community needs”, as expressed at the time.
Ekurhuleni’s Human Settlement man, Aubrey Mokgosi, heard of the incident late on Sunday night, and on Monday morning got the wheels of bureaucracy churning. He effected a survey of the site, and got a quote for disaster relief management from the local government’s official supplier, the Red Ants. When the official supplier was still not on site on Tuesday 16 October, after families had spent four nights out in the rain, he put in the official phone calls to give bureaucracy a little shove.
The Makause shack dwellers affected by the fire did, however, received one common or garden Pep Stores-type blanket per familial unit, and a fair-sized bag of mealie meal. Mokgosi got a quote for R93,879,00 from the Red Ants to supply building materials, reconstruct the shacks and to provide food parcels and blankets.
By Wednesday morning the hammers were hammering, but the materials being used to rebuild the shacks weren’t exactly new. The Red Ants, by Mokgosi’s own admission, are Ekurhuleni’s “official service provider appointed through council supply chain management policy. They both assist council to demolish, relocated (sic), construct shacks as well as to monitor land invasion as and when requested,” Mokgosi wrote in response to the Daily Maverick’s questions.
The next question Daily Maverick asked was whether it was true that “[i]n this instance the Red Ants demolished shacks in a nearby area, and used that material to rebuild the shacks in Makause.” Mokgosi’s response was a challenge to the Daily Maverick to prove the allegation, which was made by the local community.
He added: “Red Ants are allowed to reconstruct shacks with used material.”
Nonetheless, it is not difficult to raise ethical queries around a supplier that’s ruthlessly evicting people, knocking down shacks and carting off the building materials. Who then restores shacks or builds shacks, and can use “recycled” material. But then, Google the word Ekurhuleni and you’ll hit a number of links claiming ethics aren’t enshrined on the metro’s mantle.
Furthermore, members of the Red Ants where arrested for theft late last year during evictions in Germiston for-theft and were alleged to have attacked residents with crow bars.
But let’s get back to why Campbell, the ward councillor for Makause, was the last to know about the fire. Moyo’s story is that this is because she (together with the ANC-led metro) wants to evict people off Makause so that a mall can be built on the site.
“The last time Tania was in Makause was when she came to assert her working relationship with a mob group who endorse and support the relocation of the community. But this land can’t be developed because there’s a legal case,” says Moyo. “She is not even aware of the litigation, nor is she in possession of all the documents in this regard. She knows nothing. The ANC wants her to push for the evictions to go through, so people will see they are evicted by the DA, that it was her ward, the DA that evicted them.”
In her response, Campbell says: “Every month I hold a ward committee meeting, on which there are two representatives from Makauwse (sic). They regularly update me on this area of the ward and highlight any problems that residents in the informal settlement experience.”
Campbell says she visited the informal settlement in June, July and August. “There are also regular meetings with the Customer Care Centre Officials, myself and leaders of the community. Obviously I am kept abreast of any volatile situations that may arise by the EMPD (Ekurhuleni Metro police department) and Primrose SAPS.”
“On 17 April, before the State of the City address by the Mayor, the DA Caucus leader, Shelley Loe, and I visited residents in Makause so that Loe could tell the Mayor exactly what residents in the worst affected informal settlements wanted to see happen in their community this year. These concerns were related in detail in Loe’s speech to the Mayor later that month,” Campbell says.
The DA ward councillor says Moyo is “a leader who was banished” from Makause. Moyo says that Campbell’s view has been tainted by the ANC and the police, both of whom don’t look very kindly on him because he’s non-partisan and won’t support either party.
“We are a non-political structure, but the DA has turned against us. The ANC has turned against us. It is because we refused to partner or be inspired by them. We refused to work with either,” explains Moyo, who is part of the Makause Community Development Forum (MDF) which is the organisation opposing the eviction of people at the informal settlement.
“The ANC says [the] MDF is working with the DA. But the DA says the MDF is working for the ANC. But both the ANC and DA are supporting the evictions of our community. These allegations are being used to divide and confuse the community,” he says, adding: “We are resisting so we are being labelled, and they want us to be overthrown and not to be supported by the community.”
Campbell and Mokgosi respond individually to these allegations of in-fighting between the DA and ANC, but the answer’s remarkably similar. They both claim that there’s no such thing as political in-fighting in Germiston.
Moyo has been threatened by the police, meanwhile, who have locked his community offices. The threat is that if he doesn’t desist from “running to the media” or making allegations of police brutality against the SAPS, Makause will be another Marikana. (Read DM’s story: Police to people of Makause: 'March and there'll be another Marikana'.)
Moyo and members of the community will be marching to the Germiston police station on Thursday 18 October at 12h00 after weeks of trying to get approval for this march. Meanwhile, Campbell is requisitioning reports from all and sundry to get to the bottom of why she wasn’t informed of the fire and why the emergency response from the municipality was so inadequate. Mokgosi’s waiting for Daily Maverick to prove community allegations against the Red Ants, and requisitioning a further quote from them because there was another fire.
And Moyo? Well, he’s sorting out the march, trying to get the media there so no one gets hurt. Mostly he’s phoning aid organisations to bring blankets, clothes and food to supplement the appalling municipal response, so that another lot of families won’t be left out in the rain and cold.
So, dear reader, you tell us who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys. Who’s telling the gospel and who’s telling lies. Whatever your answer, the reality is that in Makause politics, like greater South African affairs of state, the truth is exceedingly hard to find.