April floods victims still living in a tent say they have been abandoned and harbor no hope

The City of eThekwini has confirmed plans to forge ahead with the construction of a transit camp in the Crossmoor area of Chatsworth. This comes after a number of Easter Weekend flood victims have been living in a tent, donated by the Gift of the Givers, for over four months. Municipal spokesperson, Msawakhe Mayisela, said through donations and sponsors willing to assist in the resettling of those left destitute by the floods, amongst them are Gift of the Givers, who have pledged to construct 50 temporal residential units.

“The eThekwini will be providing ablution blocks and prepaid electricity to ensure that the victims of the flood have access to basic services and can live without the existing health and safety risks associated with living in a tent, or on a floodplain. Council held consultation meetings with the ward councillor, the Crossmoor Civic Association, CPF and other Crossmoor residents on 20 and 26 August 2019. The process of identifying the site for improved temporary accommodation (the same site where the families are currently living in poor conditions under a tent) was explained fully in these meetings,” Mayisela said.

At the site identified, near the Presbyterian Church on Crorossmoor Drive, there are two tents situated at the back of the church. One is for the males and another for females. When The Chatsworth Tabloid visited the camp, there were families inside and the youngest member of the camp is only a month old. He was born into the disaster and is currently residing in a tent behind the local church. 

Sleeping on thin mattresses and blankets, the flood victims and former residents of the Bottlebrush Informal Settlement say they feel like they are “abandoned and dumped, by those who promised them shelter.” Among them, Sindi Mshengu, who was sheltering herself from the cold under a pile of blankets while a young mother of three, Palesa Motaung, sat in the corner breastfeeding her youngest child, the one-month-old Julius with her other two children aged two and four, sticking close to their mother in the billowing tent. 

Mshengu said: “We lost everything in the floods. And then we were dumped here, promised to be relocated and four months later we are still here. We have nowhere to go. The councillor said they were building a transit camp for us, but till today we’ve yet to see or hear anything about that.”

The group consisting of over 80 members of the informal settlement located on Road 1101, were among those displaced in the floods that devastated KwaZulu-Natal in April. Hardest hit eThekwini Municipality residents, were moved to more stable areas amid the collapse of their houses due to heavy rains, which claimed the lives of 33 people throughout the province.

Mayisela said: “Many residents of the Bottlebrush Informal Settlement were affected by the devastating flooding in April 2019. Many informal structures on the floodplain were destroyed. Some of these affected families were initially provided with temporary accommodation in nearby community halls, and then later moved in a tent situated less than 300 meters from their destroyed homes in Bottlebrush Informal Settlement as the hall was required for other social events. Many sponsors offered their gesture to the victims of the disaster and donated various contributions as their pledge. Among these donors, Gift of the Givers, has generously offered to provide temporal accommodations to the victims of the disaster while the formal housing process will still take place within council.”

This was confirmed by Ward 71 Councillor, Previn Vedan, who said: “The number of units to build is confirmed as 54. However, the building of the transit camp has caused controversy and uproar from the community. This has cause some tensions in the area, including a racial divide.” The tensions arose after the residents of Crossmoor objected to the transit camp being built in their backyard. In a joints statement released by the Crossmoor Civic Association and area Community Policing Forum, they argued over the legality and haste of build the transit camp.

Community activist Omi Nair said: “The value of our properties will go down. We need to know how long they are going to be there for.This project has been a noble gesture from the Gift of the Givers, however what it has brought to the community, is disharmony between the formal and informal sectors, the depreciation of property values, the imminent increase in crime and social evils. What is also important is to reflect on the impact a project like this will have on the formal sector where the community of Crossmoor have lived for the past 50 years. They have invested their life savings to upgrade their homes and others have taken out bank loans to support this. Since land invasions in 2017, property values have plummeted by up to 40 percent in Crossmoor.

The building of a transit camp will have a further negative impact with the devaluation of property prices. This area will be red-flagged by banks and insurers where people hoping to upgrade or sell their property, will be hamstrung by the declining of applications for this purpose.”

While PrEng and chairman of the Flat Residents Association, Gino Govender, said: “We were told some two decades ago that the Bottlebrush Informal Settlement was a temporary measure until the dwellers were to be moved to RDP homes being built. This did not happen and as residents we are continually being faced with challenges which is impacting on normal living and our livelihood. The flat residents in Crossmoor have been forced to take ownership of their dilapidated units because they were told that there was no land to develop for alternate housing which they were promised 40 years ago.”

Their views were supported by Crossmoor resident and DA councillor, Tony Govender who said: “This project is being railroaded without protocols being employed with no plans, no public participation and no environmental impact assessment being done. We have the informal settlement of Cashew Avenue on our doorstep who are living under deplorable conditions for the past 13 years. They served a high court interdict opposing their removal by the municipality and they were promised by the municipality that they would be in line for any housing developments. They were also severely affected by the storm and so were residents of Welbedact, Westcliff, Queensburgh, Silverglen and Kharwastan where communities came together to give them relief.”

They concluded in saying: “The community is prepared to employthe services of the courts as this action will have a negative impact on the neighbourhood with the devaluation of properties as per the Constitutional Court ruling of 2018.” The Gift of the Givers had yet to be reached by time of print.