The Witness: Over 300 shack-dwellers homeless again

As in New Orleans a flood becomes the excuse to expel the poor from the city…[_id]=2369

Over 300 shack-dwellers homeless again
16 Jan 2008

The urgent need to once again relocate Jika Joe shack-dwellers was highlighted yesterday when the informal settlement was wrecked by floods on Monday night.

Some 40 shacks were washed down the Dorpspruit River, displacing about 300 people, including children.

Yesterday morning, hundreds were left homeless after a sleepless night during which they helplessly stood by and watched their homes and possessions being washed away in the deluge.

Most of them could not go to work yesterday due to the havoc caused by the flash flood. Some shacks had been badly battered and occupants were using the readily available mud to rebuild and repair the damage. Some were emptying out bucketfulls of ankle-deep water from their shacks.

Msunduzi Municipality will find alternative accommodation for the Jika Joe shack-dwellers, Msunduzi Municipality deputy mayor and chairman of the infrastructure, services and facilities committee, Mervyn Dirks said.

“We will start engaging seriously with the people and council about finding an alternative accommodation,” he said.

He said that deliberations on where the Jika Joe residents will be relocated to will start at the end of January.

Dirks said a decision on the relocation will be taken after consultation with residents and the ward councillor.

“We will consult with the people but the leadership have to make a decision in the end. We have to lead and take decisions in the interest of the people [and] they have to move.”

Some of the people are paying R100 and more for a shack, and yet they are under siege in all seasons.

On rainy days, shacks are flooded and washed down the Dorpspruit River and during winter, fires break out and can burn down many shacks. In the process, the inhabitants’ lives are endangered and their possessions damaged.

According to DA and Ward 33 councillor Peter Green, the shack-dwellers were previously relocated away from the settlement, but have slowly returned.

“People were relocated to France where they were given low-cost houses, but some returned and are renting their houses out. Most people here have informal businesses in town, others work in surrounding companies.”

Green said Jika Joe residents can afford to pay rent on subsidised rental houses. “I have a vision to relocate them to rental accommodation because they can afford it,” he said. He proposes that accommodation be found in the city to avoid relocating people far from the city.

Dirks and Green were at the informal settlement to assess the dire situation yesterday morning.

John Gutridge of the Msunduzi disaster management provided temporary shelter, mattresses and blankets for the destitute residents. Tents were erected at the nearby sports ground for the homeless.

Click here for pictures by Mark Butler.