Housing project in Mandela Park stokes tension between backyarders and shack dwellers

The preparation of land has started in some of the land pockets earmarked for infill housing project in Mandela Park. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Mandela Park Backyarders are adamant that the housing project should benefit their community while the City of Cape Town insists units will be allocated according to the housing waiting list.

Mandela Park Backyarders and informal settlement residents remain at loggerheads over who should be the beneficiaries of a housing project that is set to begin in Mandela Park. The Mahama housing project – an acronym for Mandela Park, Harare and Makhaza – was set to start in 2020, but due to Covid-19 and the land occupations that followed, it was put on hold.

“During the national Covid-19 hard lockdown in 2020, the city lost a number of erven earmarked for the Mahama infill housing project. More than 1,906 opportunities were lost due to unlawful occupation,” said City of Cape Town (CoCT) councillor, Carl Pophaim, mayoral committee member for human settlements.

The CoCT’s Human Settlements Implementation Department had reserved 15 pockets of land around Khayelitsha with the aim of building housing. Last month, Groundup, reported that tensions between Mandela Park Backyarders and people living in the nearby informal settlements of Siyakhana and Siyahlala had turned violent last month when shack dwellers were allegedly attacked and their shacks burned and demolished as an attempt to clear the land for construction.

“I reported the Mandela Park issue to the City of Cape Town, and I told them that the two sites were earmarked for development of housing, and early this year, the residents were told to move when the project starts,” said Ryder Mkutswana, ward 97 councillor. “I reported to the community saying that if the informal settlement dwellers don’t move, then the money will be diverted elsewhere.”

“Whenever there is a
project in an area,
a certain percentage of
the people of that area
have to benefit”

Mandela Park Backyarders
member, Khaya Xintolo

Having vowed that informal settlements will be moved off the land, Mandela Park Backyarders are adamant that the housing project must benefit them. “We believe that whenever there is a project in an area, a certain percentage of the people of that area have to benefit, but because we did not benefit in the previous housing project, former MECs for Human Settlements, Whitey Jacobs and Bonginkosi Madikizela said the next project would solely be for backyarders,” said Khaya Xintolo, member of Mandela Park Backyarders.

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According to Xintolo, some of the informal settlement residents relocated ahead of the grading of the land, and others stayed. “They have been living there for three years so we suggested that they too can benefit from this project; we just need a list with their names so we can verify if they qualify. That’s when the problem started and they marched out of the meeting we had,” added Xintolo.

Siyakhana shackdwellers accuse Mandela Park residents of knocking down their shacks to force them to move. Photo: Vincent Lali/Groundup

“Mandela Parkism”

Intlungu yaseMatyotyombeni social movement (IYM) deputy chair, Mabhelandile Twani, described the issue at hand as a case of “Mandela Parkism”. “Mandela Parkism is the mindset that any local opportunities should benefit the residents of Mandela Park. Our occupations have been welcoming everyone, but Mandela Park residents are clearly being used by tenderpreneurs and councillors for political gain.”

The understanding that the project would benefit Mandela Park Backyarders was allegedly reiterated by Councillor Mkutswana, to the backyarders, according to Xintolo. “I dispute those claims, because everyone knows that when there is a housing project, the beneficiaries are selected according to the city’s housing allocation policy. It cannot be that the project will only benefit those backyarders,” said Mkutswana.

The ward councillor was accused of not being honest to both sides, as it had become apparent that the two groups were told different explanations as to how the project would unfold. “Ryder is not honest to the backyarders. He did not explain to them, but instead driving on the backyarders’ attitude, because there is a political gain for him. He wants to be councillor again, so he is looking for a constituency to gain power through them,” argued Twani.

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Feziwe Ngquba, Mahama housing project manager, affirmed that the project will benefit people as per the housing allocation policy. “We can only know the beneficiaries of the project once the ARF has been approved, we are still in the process of engaging residents. Once that is done, we will know where the beneficiaries will come from,” said Ngquba.

Each housing project invites applicants in order of the date on which they applied from the following three categories:

  • applicants who reside within the target area,
  • applicants who have been registered on the Housing Needs Register the longest, but who live outside of the target area, and
  • applicants in specialised categories such as the elderly and people with permanent disability.

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