Department of Human Settlements on various matters

Human Settlements (WCPP)

31 July 2019
Chairperson: Ms M Maseko (DA)
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Meeting Summary

The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements (DHS) briefed the Committee on the composition and function of the Rental Housing Tribunal, and provided details of several Departmental projects that were under way.

The members who served on the Tribunal were appointed on a three-year basis. Its purpose was to bring peace and order between landlords and tenants. Since its inception in 2000, it had seen a significant number of high profile cases being resolved. Among the challenges experienced by the DHS was the resistance of beneficiaries to relocate to their newly built houses. It also faced high costs in purchasing land for the erection of houses, as well as vandalism of finished houses. The factors contributing to such issues were thought to be community dynamics, such as protest action, gangsterism and the intimidation of contractors.

The Department said several departmental projects were currently under way through the southern corridor Integrated Human Settlements programme, most of which were located in the City of Cape Town, including Joe Slovo, Boys Town Sheffleld Road, Ithemba Farms and Penhill Farms. The building of houses and bulk services was expected to commence in the current financial year. Relocations would take place in some areas once the housing project was completed.

Members complained that relevant information for the meeting had arrived too late for them to study and make a meaningful contribution to discussion on the issues. They also warned that there seemed to be a tendency to equate the Western Cape province only with the City of Cape Town. They described the departmental report as inadequate, saying that there were no specifications for a clear plan of action, only the 2019/20 budget, and that the housing issue required a rational and necessary plan, and should not be taken lightly.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the main purpose of the meeting was to deliberate on the structure and operation of the Rental Housing Tribunal, with the second item on the agenda addressing the executive appointments at the Tribunal. She suggested that the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) should first provide the Committee with a detailed account on the structure and work of the Tribunal, as there were some new Members.

Mr Tertius Simmers, Minister of Human Settlements, said that his administration would be more responsive and accountable. There was a huge expectation of the performance of the DHS which would inevitably drive it to deliver for the Western Cape community.

Mr Nathan Adriaanse, Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations, presented a report on the Rental Housing Tribunal, and said it had been formed in 2000. The members who served on the Tribunal were appointed on a three-year basis. Its purpose was to bring peace and order between landlords and tenants. Since its conception, it had seen a significant number of high profile cases being resolved.

The Tribunal currently had three committee members. They were Ms Sibongile Morara, the Deputy Chairperson, Mr Noel van Stade and Mr Andre du Plessis. They had all been appointed on 13 March 2017, so their term in office would come to an end on 13 March 2020. Ms Morara was an African, Mr Van Stade was coloured, and Mr Du Plessis was white.

The Tribunal had a fixed complement of five members. The members were appointed by the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) and were deemed fit for the positions. The vacancies had been publicised in the media through the Government Gazette of 10 May, The Argus of 15 May, and Vukani on 16 May, and the closing date for applications was 31 May 2019. The number of forms issued had been 14, and the number completed had been seven.

Innovations had been introduced, including the installation of solar geysers at the Joe Slovo project. The process also included the introduction of water-saving measures at the Forest Village project, and alternative construction methods on Fisantekraal project.

The DHS was consistently monitoring the housing demand database to ensure its effectiveness and accuracy. It was in the processes of establishing an app that would allow the applicants to apply for subsidies, as well as view their application status on the waiting list. This app was also intended for the applicants to be able to insert and change their personal and application details.

Among the challenges experienced by the Department, was the resistance of beneficiaries to relocate to their newly built houses. It also faced high costs in purchasing land for the erection of houses. There was also vandalism of finished houses. The factors contributing to such issues were thought to be community dynamics, such as protest action, gangsterism and intimidation of contractors.

Discussion

Mr D Smith (ANC) complained that the information had been given to the Committee Members only a day before the meeting. He also raised a concern about the remarkably few number of applications received.

The Chairperson replied that the file had been submitted by the Department a while ago. Regarding the few applications received, she said the Committee was not involved in the short-listing and vetting processes.

Mr D America (DA) asked about the criteria for selection.

The Chairperson replied that the MEC was the one who appointed members of the Tribunal.

Mr Smith asked the Chairperson to consider the new Committee Members, and to rule on the matter of the files being received in the morning.

Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) asked the Chairperson to rule on a suggestion to suspend the meeting.  He was also concerned at the lack of advertising the vacancies by the DHS.

Mr B Herron (Good) emphasised that a discussions were meaningful when Members receive the file in due time prior to the meeting. He proposed that the meeting be postponed to next week.

Mr Smith said he was fully aware that he was an alternative Member of the Committee and therefore did not have voting powers, but asked who was responsible of sending out information to the Members.

There was a strong disagreement that manifested itself in the form verbal conflict between the Committee Members and the Chairperson.

The Chairperson replied that only the permanent members of the Committee were to receive the information to be used. An alternate Member who would be attending the meeting was supposed to inform the Chairperson so that they could be given the necessary information.

Mr Smith replied that some permanent Members had not received the document in time, and therefore it was not a matter of being a permanent or alternate Member.

Mr Van der Westhuizen argued that Members should receive the information in time, but also proposed that the Department should go through with the presentation and that no resolutions should be taken. Resolutions should be taken at the next Committee meeting instead.

Mr Herron supported this proposal

The Minister was not impressed by the delay in providing information, and insisted that his Department had sent the information a long time ago.

The Chairperson replied that the procedural officer was off sick, so no one could answer for that matter.  She allowed the Department to resume the presentation, adding her concern about the criteria used when reviewing the applications from people who did not meet any of them.

Current Departmental projects

Mr Adriaanse said there were several departmental projects currently under way through the southern corridor Integrated Human Settlements programme, most of which were located in the City of Cape Town, including Joe Slovo, Boys Town Sheffleld Road, Ithemba Farms and Penhill Farms. The building of houses and bulk services was expected to commence in current financial year. Relocations would take place in some areas once the housing project was completed.

The Chairperson said she was not happy with the report. The DHS should have provided information that would lead to an oversight visit by the Committee Members. She also commented on the lack of in-depth information on current projects, saying that the information was insufficient and therefore not well informed.

Mr A Lili (ANC) added to the concerns over the lack of information, and said that there were no specifications for a clear plan of action, only the 2019/20 budget. He said the housing issue required a rational and necessary plan, and should not be taken lightly.

Mr Van der Westhuizen said that the information provided did not help the Committee to help the Department.

Mr Herron asked for the annual targets for 2019-20, and also asked about the role and involvement of the local authorities.

Mr Smith asked about the unfinished projects which were not listed in the report.

Mr P Maran (ANC) asked about the quality of the houses built by the construction companies.

The Chairperson asked for a standard approach from the Department, and commented that sometimes the municipalities had their own way of doing things.

A DHS official replied that some municipalities, like Knysna, had asked for technical expertise. There were bulk services involved, and the Department was still looking at where people could be accommodated.

The Chairperson asked the Department to respond in writing to some of the Members’ questions.

Regarding the quality of houses, the DHS replied that it had professional measures of quality control in place, and there funds had been allocated for follow-up on houses that had been ruined.

The Chairperson led the Committee through all the sections of the report.

Mr Maran expressed a concern about the rural areas, saying that the Western Cape province was sometimes thought of as Cape Town only.

Mr Smith asked about the price of land to build houses, and also raised a concern about the removal of people from areas where there were job opportunities.

Minister Simmers agreed that the City of Cape Town had become known as the Western Cape, and the Western Cape had to be recognised as being beyond just Cape Town alone. He then indicated that the DHS was in the process of applying an “African solution” to the Western Cape community.

The Chairperson asked if there was anything that the Minister would like to add. The Minister took the opportunity to thank the Committee and said he looked forward to positive engagements in the future.

Mr Smith made the closing remarks, emphasising the importance of good relations between the Department of Human Settlements and the Committee.

Committee resolution

The majority of Committee Members stated that they were not satisfied with the departmental report.

The Chairperson ruled that resolutions would be taken on 14 August 2019.

The meeting was adjourned.

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