Sunday Tribune: Matchbox mess – Residents riled as eThekwini-built homes crumble

THE matchbox houses built less than 10 years ago by the eThekwini Municipality for Amaoti, north of Durban, residents are already falling apart.

And with politicians reluctant to help, residents have gone back to living in shacks.

Happiness Muntu, her eight children and an 84-year-old woman have been living in a one-room house and she says she has been forced to build a shack to accommodate them properly.

“How can anyone live in these conditions?” Muntu said. “The walls are cracking, there are holes in the roof and there is no space for us to move around.

“I built umjondolo (shack) outside which is much stronger than my house and I use it as my kitchen. I have to keep some clothes there, too, because there is no space in the house, and it’s much safer,” Muntu said.

She said while her house was in poor condition, some of her neighbours were in a worse situation. “My neighbours don’t even have a wall to separate their toilet and bathroom from the rest of the house.

“The children are having sex, because they say they can see what their parents are doing. You cannot blame them.

“We have complained to the councillors and nobody wants to do anything. They tell us there is no money. All they can say to us is sorry.

“Sorry is not enough, we cannot do anything with sorry. We need help, or we are all going to die in these houses,” Muntu said.

“We didn’t mind the house being small, but we expected it to be in a livable condition. We expected it to be strong enough to protect us from the rain, wind and sun. It’s winter and it is so cold, and when it rains all our things get damaged.

“We don’t have money to keep buying things. Some of us have to beg.

“Even the blocks are falling off the wall. We don’t know what was used to build this house and nobody even bothered to come back and check up on it. Dogs have better houses than us,” Muntu said.

The squalid conditions Muntu and her neighbours live in have attracted the attention of the provincial legislature’s health portfolio committee.

MPL Loretta Rajkumar said, “These houses are in a terrible condition. Even birds build stronger homes for their children. The housing department has to take responsibility and check if contractors are building livable homes before giving them to families.

“We cannot fight disease and poverty if we allow people to live in such deplorable conditions. This is exactly how sicknesses spread,” Rajkumar said.

Muntu’s neighbour, Margaret Hlanti, said everyone living in the area was unhappy.

“When it rains we cannot hide in our houses, because they are worse. We have to stay up all night, just to make sure that if there is an emergency we can run out of the house.

“Some houses have about 12 people living in them, yet they are the size of a matchbox.

“Some people have built shacks next to their homes because their houses are not strong enough or big enough for their family to live in,” Hlanti said.

She said the government did not care about people like her.

“We were better off before 1994. I feel like there is no me in this new South Africa. I will not vote again. It doesn’t help. It’s going from bad to worse,” Hlanti said.

Many of the 457 houses that were part of this low-cost housing project are dilapidated.

Couglan Pather, the Head of eThekwini’s Housing Department, said according to their files the houses were part of a project started in 1998.

“The houses were inspected and passed by Department of Housing inspectors.

“We are arranging an investigation to inspect the condition of the houses.

“Upon completion of the investigation, an application will be made to the Department of Housing in terms of the rectification policy. Once funding is approved, the affected houses will be repaired,” Pather said.