Emergency housing building materials provided to Bitou Municipality & related matters; Conventional and alternate building methods

Human Settlements (WCPP)

03 March 2021
Chairperson: Ms M Maseko (DA)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Standing Committee on Human Settlements, 3 March 2021, 09:00

The Standing Committee on Human Settlement met on a virtual platform for a briefing by the National Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, the Bitou Municipality and the Knysna Municipality on the emergency housing building materials provided to the Bitou Municipality, national government funding for the acquisition of emergency housing building materials, and the white location project in Knysna.

Members questioned why it took so long for land intended for housing to transfer from national to provincial and local governments           . They also questioned where the initial beneficiaries of the Bitou emergency housing grant were at present. The Bitou Municipality said a lesson it had learned going forward was to conduct a thorough public participation process from the onset as beneficiaries were not happy with the size of the transitional residential units. Communities also rejected the land they were to be relocated to as it lacked infrastructure and basic services.  In addition, as a result of not acquiring an EIA permit, Bitou Municipality could not build houses on all the land it acquired and was limited to make use of only one hectare of land. Bitou Municipality also explained how the building materials ended up at the airport and explained that the communities rejected the building materials. The municipality subsequently decided to store the material in KwaNokuthula where it was also rejected because the community felt its presence would deny them housing. The decision was then taken to remove the material from the communities and to transport it to a place where it would be safe. When Members probed the municipality on why it had deviated the procurement process which worked out to be more expensive, Bitou Municipality explained that it decided that the only way to expedite the funds was to deviate which was supported by the Finance Department with a procurement order having been issued to the service provider that had been acquired. Members also probed the municipality about why the contractor had been paid for labour costs before the work had been completed. The Bitou Municipality explained that due to miscommunication between the finance and user department, the order had been raised as a total and had not been properly itemised on the supply chain system.

In a presentation by Knysna Municipality Members heard about the white location project that dealt with alternative building materials. Some of the biggest challenges faced by Knysna Municipality were the acceptability by the local community, contractors struggling with the implementation of alternate building technology systems and the fact that some technologies approved on the NHBRC system could not be replicated for subsidised housing. It was confirmed however, that the fireproof materials did work as was tested in Bitou Municipality when the community petrol bombed one of the structures. Members were concerned about the cost of the alternative building materials and felt they were too expensive. Knysna Municipality explained that the unit cost for the ABT was R55 000 per unit which was inclusive of the concrete slab. It worked out to be R2 750 per square metre thus the durability and cost of the units compared to the TRA’s was much more cost effective. The ABT products should be quicker to assemble and build which also needed to be considered as a cost saver resultant from the ABT methodology.

There was a further concern from Members that it would cost the poor beneficiaries too much to not only maintain the houses when the tiled roofs blew off in the harsh wind for example but also that additional costs would be incurred should the beneficiaries wish to extend the structures one day. The Western Cape DHS said beneficiaries were informed through housing consumer education that they were responsible for the maintenance of the structures once they had been handed over but admitted that the associated costs had not been communicated which would be done going forward. The Chairperson said Members would go to the airport to view the materials first then would proceed to Knysna thereafter.

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson

The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting and expressed her appreciation for their attendance. She reminded Members about the rules of engagement for virtual meetings.

Briefing by the Bitou Municipality on the fact finding visit

Mr Matthews Sompani, Director: Community Services, Bitou Municipality, gave the presentation.  Explaining the background, he said that during the month of May and July 2018 Bitou Municipality experienced an outbreak of protests that began in Kurland and spread to Qolweni / Bossiesgif, KwaNokuthula, Harkerville and Kranshoek. It appeared that the protests were about a demand for housing.

He said that fires broke out. Informal shacks were situated in the informal settlements known as Zawa Zawa, KwaNokuthula, Qolweni /Bossiesgif. 71 shacks burned down which were suspected to have been caused by over-population in areas where fires start with a small spark turning into an inferno that destroyed several houses placing the affected people in devastating situations. The areas affected were prone to fire infernos especially during certain seasons, festive and public holidays.

As a result, the Bitou Municipality Council at a meeting held on 19 May 2018, supported and approved item C/4/51/05/19 which requested permission to submit a business plan and application to the National DHS for the EHG for financial assistance to help the 71 fire victims from Qolweni / Bossiesgif; Kwanokhuthula and Kurland. Mr Matthews Sompani said the cost of the Transitional Residential Area units (TRA’s) was R57 000 and the total costs requested which included the relocation costs was R3 988 200.

Mr Sompani said that on 3 October 2018 a letter was received from the National Treasury which confirmed the approval of the application for the municipal EHG. In addition, the Minister of National Department of Human Settlements; Deputy Minister of Rural Development & Agrarian Department and MEC of the Western Cape Provincial Government: Human Settlement visited the affected areas, thereafter, the Deputy Minister pronounced the donation of Erf 562 to the communities of Kurland for development.

The municipality had received the power of attorney for ERF 562 on 05 February 2021 that would assist in the relocation of the affected households from Zawa Zawa. The municipality currently awaited an EIA approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The biggest challenge was funding for the infrastructure development.

Mr Sompani explained the developments that led to the abandonment of the emergency housing material.  After negotiations commenced with the contractor for the completion of the project, communities refused to accept the emergency housing structures and as a result Bitou Municipality decided to store the housing structure materials. A recent survey conducted had revealed that Zawa / Ezihagwini had 728 shacks in an area that was meant to accommodate 74 services units. Because the fire proof emergency housing structures were 36m² they would take up more space filling a space previously occupied by three to four shacks. That infuriated people who rejected the structures.

There were multiple challenges related to the project. These included a lack of land which meant that privately owned land purchased by the municipality took long to transfer to the municipality. The feasibility study of Erf 562 delayed the development of the TRA’s. Ezihagwini / Zawa Zawa was over populated with 728 informal shacks but could only accommodate 74 service sites. Bridging finance was a challenge due to financial constraints.  COVID-19 delayed the implementation of the Housing Projects. There was also a Human Settlement and Housing backlog of 15 000 Units.

Moving forward, Council approved a redirecting of materials to needy communities in the following manner as per the report submitted to council:

  • Kurland (Ward 1) would receive 17 units,
  • Green Valley (Ward 7) would receive 26 units.
  • New Horizon (Ward 4) would receive 9 units.
  • Kranshoek (Ward 7) would receive 16 units.
  • Kwanokhuthula (Ward 6), for Murray High School, would receive 3 units.

Briefing on the Emergency Housing Grant Bitou Intervention by the National DHS

Mr Joseph Leshabane, Deputy Director: Programme and Project Management Unit, Department of Human Settlement (DHS), gave a presentation on the purpose of the emergency housing grant.

Mr Leshabane said the municipal or Provincial Emergency Housing Grant (EHG) became operational from 01 April 2018. The purpose of the EHG was to provide funding to provinces and municipalities for the provision of temporary shelters (TRAs and or TRUs), the relocation of affected households and repairs to damaged houses due to disaster incidents caused by natural or human circumstances such as storms, floods, fires etc.  

He explained the applicable norms and standards of the shelter. The floor area of a shelter had to be between at least 24 and 30 square metres depending on the need and funding limits. It had to be appropriate for the specific environment and as far as possible be acceptable to the beneficiaries.

Bitou Municipality reported a disaster incident in May 2018. Fires gutted through two informal settlements and a township in Plettenberg Bay:

  • Kurland (39 households affected)
  • Qolweni (26 households affected)
  • KwaNokuthula (4 households affected)

Mr Leshabane explained that the National DHS received an application from Bitou Municipality on 22 June 2018 and approved R3 988 200 EHG for the 69 affected households. The National DHS undertook periodic and prescribed monitoring verification of implementation.

Bitou Municipality reported multiple challenges. These included resistance from the community. In addition, the decanting sites were also no longer available. There were also delays in land parcel transfers.

Discussion

The Chairperson said Members could pose questions to both the National DHS and to Bitou Municipality.

Mr B Herron (GOOD) asked Bitou about the allocation of the R3.9 million as emergency grant funding. Was there a tender in place to procure the material or did the municipality have to go out? How did the material get procured so quickly? Mr Herron noticed the allocation had been R57 000 per unit and asked if that was the emergency funding grant allocation per unit or whether it was a special arrangement for that event. That was because in a later slide there were temporary relocation units at R45 000 per unit so why was there a difference in value of the units?

On the ERF that had been donated, Mr Herron asked how much relocation to that ERF had been intended.

Mr Herron asked the Bitou Municipality what had happened to the initial beneficiaries that required the emergency accommodation as the material had now been reallocated to other families. Where were the initial beneficiary families?

Referring to the emergency grant allocated in 2018, Mr Herron asked the National DHS whether that had been the first introduction of any circumstance. He asked what the current position was with regard to emergency funding. Was it allocated when there was an emergency or as part of the Division of Revenue Act (DORA). That was because in The City of Cape Town Municipality it had been advertised in the media that it could no longer provide emergency solutions as the funding had been cut. Mr Herron therefore wanted a general understanding on how emergency funding worked as The City of Cape Town Municipality said it could no longer respond to incidents likes’ fires etcetera.

Mr D America (DA) did not fully understand the status of the project. He latched onto what Mr Herron had said and asked about the status of the families initially identified as beneficiaries. Where were they and had any meaningful engagement taken place with them? Mr America understood that the initial objection was that fewer families would benefit, so he asked for the status on that as he had not received a clear indication of where things stood with the initial families who were the victims of recurring fires in their environment. Had alternative land been identified to relocate the families?

Mr P Marran (ANC) picked up where Mr America left off. He referred to the fires in Knysna and the specific area where forty something shacks had burnt down and said the present conversation was about that particular issue. Mr Marran said that the Deputy Minister had developed the Land Reform Bill and it was that piece of land that belonged to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR). Mr Marran said that part of the discussion that took place at that point in time determined that the space had not been enough to build structures for affected families hence the request for the land that belonged to the DRDLR. Mr Marran said it took long for the land to be transferred to Bitou Municipality and families were not happy with the sizes of the homes. The municipality had taken Members to see the new piece of land which had not been serviced yet so the families could not be relocated to that land. Mr Marran therefore wanted to know whether the land had been successfully transferred from the DRDLR to Bitou Municipality and whether Bitou Municipality could make sure the initial affected families were catered for.

He also asked the municipality if it had made its own budgetary contribution to make sure the promises made to the families will be fulfilled.

The Chairperson directed a question to the National DHS.  She believed the allocation of emergency grants was not the norm. She therefore wanted to know what piece of land that could have been used by the municipality to extend the structures and why they had not ensured the transfer happened quickly so the municipality could use the material. Had the municipality requested it at the same time or not? If they had requested it, then what where the challenges related to the transfer of the piece of land to the municipality? The Chairperson said it was recurrent theme that transfer of land from national government to municipalities took longer than anticipated. That often derailed projects and the municipalities on the ground often got blamed. The Chairperson asked how the national government handled emergencies within the different spheres of government.

Mr Msimboti Peter Lobese, Mayor of Bitou Municipality, said the matter was an unplanned incident and the fires should not be confused with the big fires that took place in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. The fires referred to had taken place in the informal area. That area had burnt three times. The first time 15 shacks had burnt, the second time thirty something shacks had burnt, and the third fire had been the biggest one. Mr Lobese said it had been during a period of unrest and he suspected a third force was at play. While the municipality attended to the aforementioned fires, the area in Qolweni had also burnt down which had also burnt multiple times before with the third being the most recent. The municipality had a policy to assist people in informal areas if their housing had burnt down. That had been budgeted for. During the year in question there had been so many fires and there was a backlog, so the municipal budget got slightly depleted. He said ministers reached out as the damage had been too much for the municipality to handle. The municipality was informed about the available emergency funding. The municipality gladly welcomed it. The municipality submitted its application in May of that year, and it was approved in October. Arrangements had to be made for the affected persons to occupy property in the period between the shacks burning down and the approval of the municipality’s emergency funding application. Mr Lobese said the only thing about the matter he wanted to highlight was the issue of public participation. He said public participation was very important for the municipality. No matter how small or good a project had been there would always be objections if there was no prior public participation. He said the funding had unfortunately been allocated during a volatile period because of the riots. 18 kilometres which covered almost the entire township had been shut down. That was the period the emergency grant had been allocated.

On the location of the beneficiaries, he said that between the application for the emergency funding the municipality looked for funding and had to speak to service providers with some employers who contributed towards building materials for their employees. When the municipality wanted to build structures with the fireproof material they could not because the houses were too big. Mr Lobese said the municipality should have engaged in a public participation process to ascertain what size the homes should have been since the one-size-fits-all approach was inappropriate.

With regard to the proposal about a second piece of land, the municipality thought the emergency homes would be built on the same land where the shacks had burnt. However, there had been a proposal to build them on another piece of land. He said infills were much costlier. Mr Mcebisi Skwatsha (ANC), Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development had been informed that there was land that had been earmarked for that community from 2007 and was asked to speed up the process. A verbal go-ahead was given for the land to be used while the paperwork was processed. Mr Lobese said indeed the paperwork took long and he had been informed that the land could only be transferred on 21 February 2021. The municipality was told they could not build houses without first completing its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The community had also complained about the lack of infrastructure. The municipality was informed about a piece of legislation that would allow it to build the houses without the EIA but that it would be restricted to only one hectare. If they used more than a hectare the project would be compromised and would not get approval from the relevant departments as the municipality would have impacted negatively on the environment. The use of only one hectare would not have that negative impact. Mr Lobese explained that the municipality had considered the use of the one hectare, but it required infrastructure and since the land did not belong to the municipality the outcome was uncertain. He said that now that the land had been acquired there was a budget for infrastructure development which amounted to R1.5 million. Unfortunately, the municipality would not be able to spend the money because it had not received approval. He said the material was at the airport and the beneficiaries had been provided with material but that had been the old way of doing things as he thought beneficiates would receive a nice home with the emergency grant. The ones provided by the municipality could not compare to the material at the airport. He said the truth of the matter was that some of the materials had been rejected by the community. The municipality decided the material should be taken to a safe place rather than for it to be rejected by the community. The material had first been stored in KwaNokuthula, but the community felt its presence would deny them housing and also rejected it. That was why the material taken away from the communities to a place where it would be safe. Ward counsellors were asked to survey how many families in their communities had need for the material which would be provided. That was how the council resolution resulted. He said the municipality had also contributed a portion of money towards the funding of the emergency houses.

This might be Mr Ntho Maredi, Acting Director: Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Bitou Municipality, said the supply chain occurred during the festive season. When the finance department received the application for the deviation it considered all the aspects around going to the market. However, in terms of the section 36(1) (5) of the Supply Chain Policy it allowed deviation when it was impractical for the normal tender process. It was impractical to find bidders around that time. The nature of the funding and the situation the municipality was in caused the finance department to advise the user department that the only way to expedite the funds was to deviate. That was the deviation process that had been considered. The suppliers were chosen carefully, and the deviation was supported by the finance department with a procurement order having been issued to the service provider that had been acquired.

Mr Herron said his question about the pricing of the units had not been answered. Was R57 000 the amount allocated and why were some units R45 000?

Mayor Lobese said it was R57 000 per unit but was unsure about the breakdown.

The Chairperson asked Mr Herron to ask the question again so it could be better understood.

Mr Herron asked for clarity. He said the amount allocated per unit had been R57 000 per unit but later on Mr Lobese  showed slides of other projects where emergency accommodation had been provided and there were TRA’s were the amount allocated was R45 000. Mr Herron therefore wanted to know why there was a difference in the amounts allocated. Was there a fixed amount or was there a reason behind the difference in the amounts?

Mr Leshabane interjected because there were some parts of the question that related to the national policy. He referred the first question Mr Herron asked about the quantum of the subsidy allowable for temporary emergency housing units. Mr Leshabane said depending on the technology used, its performance in line with the technical norms and standards as well as the specifications, then the maximum amount allowable was R64 000. He said that the municipality sought R57 000 informed by what they intended to procure which was better than the wooden units which would have been previously used. The national DHS approved the R57 000 as sought by the municipality. Secondly, he said that within the national subsidy policy there was the emergency housing assistance programme that was available to all provinces. It dealt with wide ranging emergency housing related issues. Annually, within their allocated grants provinces would make provision for that programme and it was usually made in response to known cases where there a need for emergency housing assistance. Those were historical cases. However, a decision was taken to expand the policy to introduce a dedicated emergency housing grant which stood unallocated. That meant that whenever an incident occurred a province or municipality could apply to access that grant which was what the Bitou Municipality did.

Mr Leshabane then turned to Mr Herron’s second question which indicated The City of Cape Town reporting its inability to respond to emergencies because budgets had been cut. Mr Leshabane submitted that the assertions by The City of Cape Town ought to be understood in the context that all budgets and grants had been cut including the USDG that the City received. The HSDG that the province received had also been reduced so it had not been an isolated matter as budgets had been reprioritised at a national level in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant that only certain interventions could be achieved within the available resources.

Mr David Swart, Bitou Municipality Ward Councillor said the supplier had been paid in full but had only delivered the building materials and he did not know if there was any recourse to claim back the labour and relocation costs as those services had not been rendered, yet the constructor had been paid for these. The municipality now faced additional costs for erecting the units for the identified beneficiaries.

The Chairperson asked why the contractor had been paid before the work had been completed.

Mr Maredi said the total cost of the material had been paid. There had been miscommunication between the finance and user departments because the entire amount had been inclusive of the labour component, but the order had not been itemised as such. That is where the misunderstanding had occurred. Once discovered, the user department had been alerted to raise it with the contractor. The assurance given was that the contractor was on site working. Unfortunately, the community did not welcome the contractor who halted the project. Mr Maredi said there were current communications with the contractor to continue the work. The office of Adv. LMR Ngoqo, Bitou Municipality Municipal Manager had signed a letter addressed to the service provider that instructed him to be on site. The order had been raised as a total and had not been itemised on the supply chain system.

Someone said what had not been included in the business plan was the work of excavating and clearing of the site completed by the service provider. That was when the communities began to protest. The cost of the service provider excavating and clearing the sites was not a part of the R57 000. It was an additional cost.

The Chairperson said she understood but referred to the breakdown of costs in the business plan and asked where the miscommunication took place. She said there could be costs for the materials paid beforehand but the labour costs would ordinarily be paid once the job had been completed and once inspections had been conducted. She asked why the labour costs had been paid before the structures had been completed. Who paid the contractor?

Mr Maredi explained that if the order had not been itemised on the system to reflect the specific breakdown of costs like for example the cost of excavation or labour then there could have been a misunderstanding as to who was supposed to itemise the costs in the supply chain. Mr Maredi said it could have been loaded by someone who had not communicated with the entire management of Community Services and when the order had been signed off by the supply chain the itemising was not there. If the finance department received something listed broadly as ‘material’ or ‘Qolweni project’ then it would not know how much the specific costs were, and such errors would occur. He said they managed to pick up the error and it was raised with the user department who said the contractor was on site working. That reassured the finance department but once they learned the community had protested the project then it was declared as irregular expenditure since the money had already been paid. That was the only thing that could be done where overpayment took place. The municipality had requested the service provider to report to site to commence the work.

The Chairperson asked which year the contractor had been paid and the problem picked up.

Mr Maredi said the entire incident occurred in 2019.

Mayor Lobese referred to the ‘HOD’, about the material that had first been stored in KwaNokuthula before it had been stored at the airport. Mr Lobese said the company explained that the municipality would have to pay additional costs to transport the material to the airport. The service provider still wanted payment for the work he had done as it was not his fault the community objected to the building. There had been a lot of arguments about that with the contractor. Mr Lobese said he was grateful the issue had been raised by Mr Swart so the Committee could advise them

The Chairperson said she would return to the issue but wanted the National DHS to answer the questions it had received.

Mr Leshabane said he thought the question that related the national DHS had already been answered. It was the question about the land that had been donated. He recognised the concern about the time it took for the land to be availed to the municipality. Mr Leshabane said the DRDLR and the municipality could have agreed to a power of attorney that could have allowed the municipality to proceed but Mr Leshabane was not privy to those discussions as they involved another department. He said however, it was a matter that would be taken up going forward to strengthen the emergency response because it cannot take a year to avail housing to people who have had their homes burnt down.

The Chairperson referred to the monitoring and verification implementation that Mr Leshabane mentioned in his presentation.  She asked why the municipality had not been told to use the power of attorney to get the land transferred faster.

Mr Leshabane said there were several options available to the municipality in the context of the apprehensive community. He said the transaction between the municipality and the National Department was outside the National DHS’s domain so the solution of the power of attorney was the wisdom of hindsight.

The Ward Councillor of Ward One said it was one of the affected areas with identified beneficiaries. She said the issue of ERF 562 was separate from the issue of emergency housing. ERF 526 had been earmarked for future development. She said the beneficiaries currently resided within Zawa-Zawa which was an informal settlement that had about 500 people that stayed there. If a certain section of that community were to be separated and relocated onto a vacant piece of land where there were no services like water and sewage services available, then problems would arise. She said it would have been simpler to relocate beneficiaries within the communities they already resided in. Some of the beneficiaries had already received emergency kits from the municipality so there was a lot of confusion about moving them to ERF 562 and relocating them within where they currently resided.

Mayor Lobese said there were fully fledged houses at the airport. They consisted of four structures which included the sides, roof and ceiling which simply needed to be assembled into a proper house. Those had been dismantled for storage purposes and where easily assembled once delivered.

Mr Maredi said the labour component of the total cost was immaterial as it did not make up a significant portion of the total cost.

The Chairperson said Members understood that and the most important thing was that there were families who ought to have benefited from the emergency grant but did not due to the community dynamics and other issues. However, there were some families who were accepting, and the municipality had paid for labour which had not been completed so Members wanted to know if those families who accepted the housing received what they had accepted.

Mr Herron asked Mr Leshabane about the grant funding cuts and said he understood there were cuts across government but said in an emergency situation it was not up to choice, just as there was no choice but to fund the response to COVID-19. Mr Herron said a community could not be told there was no money to help them. It was currently fire season in the Western Cape. Mr Herron asked what Mr Leshabane meant when he said there could only be assistance within the available resources. He said the choice could be made to move money to assist communities in emergency situations.

Mr Herron referred to Mr Lobese’s statement that there was a policy to assist families in emergency displacement. He said it would make sense and was in the spirit of good governance to put a term tender in place to avoid rushing around to acquire a deviation every time there was an emergency. He felt the pricing would be better and the municipality wouldn’t have to follow a deviation process.

Mr Marran said as he understood it, the piece of land was given for the communities because where they currently resided was too small. He asked about the size of the land that had been received from DRDLR. He asked if it would only be one hectare once it had been rezoned. Mr Marran said the issue had been raised before because prime agricultural land had to be preserved. But in areas like the Cape Winelands the size of land that had been approved for housing was far beyond one hectare. He therefore asked why the municipality was limited to only one hectare.

Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) said where informal areas had been devastated by fire the best the people could hope were fire kits which consisted of a few pieced of corrugated iron, poles etc. He asked how one qualified for a 36 square metre structure which seemed to be a fully-fledged house albeit of different construction material. What criteria were used to allocate various forms of support to local governments?

Secondly, he asked both the National DHS and Bitou Municipality what lessons had been learnt and what they would do differently in future should similar circumstances occur.

The Chairperson asked to what extent the community had been involved from the onset since their buy-in had not been sought. At what stage had they been consulted?

Mayor Lobese said the emergency houses had been presented in a community hall which included all the communities and the beneficiaries. He said the only thing that had not been anticipated was the resistance from the community who demanded the new housing be the same 2 metre sizes as their previous shacks. Mr Lobese said their policy provided material for 3 metres which residents opposed as it would have taken up space previously occupied by another person. The area could accommodate 74 RDP houses but currently had 728 shack households. Therefore, 74 versus 728 households were incomparable.  He emphasised that the communities were told in the community hall, but they expected the exact same structures in the exact same spaces with some members demanding to erect the structures themselves. That was one challenge and why he said public participation had not been properly conducted.

On the supply chain of material, Mr Lobese said that was what the municipality followed. It had a three-year tender and a service provider had been appointed to provide the material as it became very expensive to start procuring only once the shacks had burnt down.

One the size of the land, the municipality was told it could only use one hectare of land if it did not have EIA permit and if they used more than one hectare the project would be compromised as the relevant department would not approve it because the environment would have had been tampered with without a permit. Absent a permit, the municipality could only tamper with one hectare. 

On the zoning of the land, Mr Lobese said there had been a condition attached to the donation of the land that at least 15 out of the 87 hectares be reserved for agricultural use as it had been an agricultural community.

Mr Lobese said to the National DHS that the Council had seen shacks burn and they were impressed with the fireproof material. He said the national DHS gave it with good intentions, but he never expected the communities to reject it as was something they should have welcomed. He said however, that their costs involved that concerned him. The costs involved the work that had been done but unfortunately there were still no houses. He said the problem when communities protested was the loss of services, money, and plans. The cost of the riots included the costs in that project. He said Council still had to act and there was money that had been put aside for the transportation and reassembling of the materials for the rightful beneficiaries. Mr Lobese welcomed the financial assistance of the provincial and national DHS if it were offered. He added that he wished the Standing Committee could see the work that already been done in Qolweni where half of the shacks had been eradicated and replaced with TRA’s. Mr Lobese said the EIA took up to a year and a half to approve and that stood in the way of the commencement of the work in Ebenezer.  Mr Lobese said the municipality had a lot of people from the Eastern Cape many of whom were unemployed and so he stressed the urgency for RDP houses.  The RDP houses that were currently built were surrounded by eight shacks each.

Mr Leshabane responded to Mr Herron’s question about the budget cuts and assisting communities. He categorically said that was not the position of the national DHS. What was repeated to provinces and metros was that it was within their hands to reprioritise budgets to respond to emergencies. The national DHS had the emergency grant it made available even though it was finite. He repeated the need for provinces and metros to reprioritise their funds.

On the lessons learnt he said the big lesson was that it was pointless to replace a burnt informal settlement with the same setup after the fire or storms. It was always better to build better structures after those incidents. That was the reason municipalities were encouraged to have in place Disaster Risk Reduction Plan’s because informal settlements were high risk. That was the big lesson for the national DHS.

On what would be done differently, Mr Leshabane said he agreed with what Mr Lobese had said. The Bitou Municipality served as good practice save for the challenges that unfolded. Next time the public participation would be incorporated to be sure that the solutions delivered would be well received.

Briefing by the Knysna Municipality

Mr Elrick van Aswegen, Knysna Municipality Executive Mayor greeted everyone on the platform and introduced his team.

Mr Lindile Petuna, Acting Director Integrated Human Settlements, Knysna Municipality, gave the presentation about the white location project. The project dealt with alternative building technologies which were utilised. The project consisted of conventional and alternative building technologies.

He said the project was in partnership between the provincial DHS and the Knysna Municipality and had been funded by the provincial DHS with contributions from the municipality.

The project had been implemented over a period of three years when the fires started in 2017 and finished in the 2020/21 financial year. The last beneficiaries received their houses in December 2020.

Mr Petuna gave a background and explained that fires burnt down 150 informal structures in 2017 and 45 houses in White Location were damaged. The provincial DHS allocated R40.5 million which was sub-divided into three portions for the serving of the 120 sites which included an access road, works required for the top structures and for site and service. It also included the repair of the 45 units which cost R9.9 million. R5.8 million was spent on formalisation.

On the approved beneficiaries, he said that 107 of the approved households were approved in terms of the Human Subjects System (HSS). The Western Cape implemented the age policy and 57 of those beneficiaries qualified based on the age policy.

The implementation of the project involved two communities both of whom did not want to be relocated to another area. Structures had to be built in those communities with top structures and 66 service sites being provided in those areas. In Large Corner there were 22 service sites and 28 double storey units. The service sites were constructed on platforms because of the terrain in Knysna. In New Rest there were 28 plus one single storey unit.

Mr Petuna said all the units in blue, white, and yellow were constructed with alternative building technologies.  The units were Apex units with 18-millimetre-thick slab, and it was 20 square metres. The walls were 15 millimetres thick and consisted of polystyrene covered in corrugated iron on both sides. The windows were 900 by 900. It took five days to construct the unit which did not include the earth works. The cost of the unit was R55 000.

Mr Petuna highlighted some lessons learnt. Some revealed that the community preference was still for conventional building technologies as the alternative technologies were seen as a temporary solution.  There required a mind-set change to achieve community acceptance. The new technology units had improved the quality of life of the new owners with some of them extending the unit. The assembly time of the units was a great advantage but there were not many people trained to assemble the unit within the municipality. The cost of the unit being slightly less than conventional building technologies allowed for an increase in of the size of the unit which benefited the beneficiaries. That could be used to get the buy-in of more community members. A challenge posed was accessibility from the general suppliers within the areas. It was also hard for the materials to be accessed should beneficiaries wish to extend the unit. Another good thing was that the units proved to be fireproof which was important in Knysna where many fires broke out.

Ms Phila Mayisela, Chief Director: Human Settlement Implementation, Western Cape Department of Human Settlement (WCDHS), said one of the challenges experienced was acceptability by the local community. The second challenge was notwithstanding that NHBRC had a list of alternative building technology systems that were approved, some of the mainstream contractors struggled with the implementation of those systems because they were owned and patented by different entities. That meant the contractors had to first understand the system and then implement it. They had not developed an understanding that enabled them to implement those technologies which resulted in delays. That was the case in Trans Hex where the contractor that was awarded the job was struggling with the implementation which caused significant delays with the project. Thus, the issue was not with the technologies but with the contractors that had to work with the technologies. She also added that some technologies approved on the NHBRC system over sold them because a particular technology could work for a single building, social facilities, schools, and hospitals but it could not be replicated for subsidised housing. That was discovered during the level 4 hard lockdown where there were delays experienced and upon investigation it was discovered that the moulds were imported from China and the hard lockdown meant they could not be transported into the country. She confirmed that the fireproof materials did work as was tested in Bitou Municipality when the community petrol bombed one of the structures. 

Mr A van der Westhuizen welcomed the consideration of alternative building methods because there was no choice in the circumstances. He said that quite often people were used to certain aspects of conventional building material such as the ability to drill a hole into a brick wall to be able to install a plastic plug or put up a shelf. He asked what adjustments people would have to make in terms of their expectations of the alternative building materials to do mundane things like installing a shelf on the wall. Could the alternate building materials allow for conventional fixtures like cupboards and shelves?

Secondly, he referred to the picture and pointed out that it had been photo-shopped as the dimensions were distorted. He mentioned the long term maintenance, finishes and wear and tear and said that should any damage occur it would be far more noticeable than on conventional building materials where the surfaces were not as smooth.

In terms of the windows, Mr van der Westhuizen said in some of the low cost housing the window frames and hinges did not fare well against wear and tear and their replacement was not that easy for the occupants of the structures. He asked how easily an occupant could replace or fix something in the structures.

Mr America asked about the budget of the whole project. He asked what the square meter per unit was.

Secondly, he said the unit cost per top structure worked out to be over R166 000 per unit. He said the repair costs per unit was R100 000. He asked if the repairs were because of the top structures. What were the costs for? He welcomed alternate building materials, but they were quite expensive. He admitted that the houses built for people were not big which needed to accommodate big families which caused a desire for expansion of structures, so he asked to what extent it lent itself to expansion at a later stage and what the costs were thereof. What were the costs of future repairs on the structures?

Mr Herron asked about the connection between the use of ABT’s and non-qualifiers. He said the report indicated that the alternate building materials were provided for non-qualifiers. They were non-qualifiers but still received something while on the other had been restricted to ABT solutions. Was there a connection between the ABT and the non-qualifier? How come some people did not qualify but were assisted to qualify? Mr Herron wanted to understand the connection.

Mr Marran said he had similar concerns and echoed the issue rose about Trans Hex and the slow delivery of the houses which seemed to be caused by the new technology and building contractors that could not keep up with the changes. Mr Marran said the houses had been built by government and were supposed to be starter houses where a family could expand the house at a later stage. The beneficiary would have to go through the concrete to put in a door when they wished to expand and in doing so would weaken the whole structure. It seemed to Mr Marran that whoever came up with the new technologies did not consider the long-term problems the beneficiaries would encounter. He said that in Sunnyside Orchard there were the only houses with red tile roofs. However, the occupants could not afford to replace the titles every winter when the winds came as they were too expensive. They bought zinc titles as the new technologies were hard to keep up with for the average person. Turning to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, he asked what it would cost a normal beneficiary who received a house. They would have qualified because they earned less than R3 500 so if they had to replace a window when they wanted to expand what would it cost them? Mr Marran understood that the latest technologies had to be kept up with, but the people also had to be considered because conditions don’t stay the same and they might want to expand in future but would not afford it. If it were already difficult for a contractor to keep up with these new technologies, then how much more difficult would be for ordinary people?

The Chairperson highlighted Mr America’s calculation of the alternate building to be R166 000. She said that mortar and brick cost R162 000 thus how had it been accepted because she believed that the alternate building had to save costs. She asked for a breakdown of the R166 000 and for an explanation as to why it was so expensive.

 A speaker said the unit cost for the ABT was R55 000 per unit which was inclusive of the concrete slab. It worked out to R2 750 per square metre. He said the durability of the unit and the cost compared to the TRA’s was much more cost effective.  They were durable and also had toilets inside the structure. He said it was not right to compare the units to a normal BMG house. 

On cost, he said there were benefits but they did not always come cheap. He said there had been engagements in the industry so the limitation of the subsidy quantum would be communicated. The ABT products should be quicker to assemble and build which needed to be considered as a cost saver resultant from the ABT methodology.

On the maintenance of the units, he said most of the units used polystyrene blocks which was strong enough at seven mpa compared to brick blocks which were at three and a half mpa. He added however, that concrete structure posed a challenge in terms of extensions. He said all the structures would have similar maintenance problems so whether conventional or ABT there would be wear and tear.  He said these structures took longer to wear and tear as compared to conventional brick and mortar structures. Additionally, extending the units would only be a problem because of space.

Ms Mayisela answered Mr America’s question about the cost of the repairs which seemed quite high. She said the reference to the R9.9 million repairs was for the current BMG units which had to be repaired as part of the rebuilding process. It was not necessary linked to the ABT project.

In response to Mr Herron’s question about the connection between the ABT and non-qualifiers, Ms Mayisela said the reference to non-qualifiers pertained to the age. She said the age prioritisation system was introduced in the Western Cape which required the elderly to be prioritised but only 57 met the criteria of having been on the waiting list and other criteria while the rest met the criteria of age but were not priority citizens. As a result, they were offered the units as the final products and their homes which they accepted. They would not be assisted by government in the future because those were their ultimate homes. That was the reference to non-qualifiers in that context.

She addressed Mr Marran’s point about the tiled roofs and said the communities unfortunately demanded tiled roofs. They were presented with other roofing systems, but they demanded titled roofs which were seen as superior products. Ms Mayisela said it was a work in progress to move them away from those products as it posed a challenge when the roofs were blown away. The contractor also could not fix them as it would have been passed the defects liability period. Once the unit had been handed over it sadly became the responsibility of the owner to maintain it. That was communicated in the housing consumer education. The housing consumer education unfortunately did not quantify the costs involved with such maintenance. There was also a chapter on how to maintain the ABT technology.

Mr Marran said their problem was how the poor communities would afford the issues around the maintenance of the units. He also said he wanted to test out how hot or cold the structures got inside as the units were often unbearable in extreme weather conditions. Mr Marran could afford an air conditioner to cool or heat the air in summer and winter so he would like to experience this fourth industrial revolution, new technology structures to see how it affected ordinary persons who could not afford things that would make them comfortable. He wanted the people to explain their experiences of the houses and asked that Mr van Aswegen not contest their feedback as there were elections coming later in the year and he could get punished.

Mr A van der Westhuizen asked for clarification of one aspect. He said in Knysna there were steep slopes, and it was referred to that the building method was suitable for Knysna, yet the presentation said the units were built on an 18-millimetre slab. He said in many instances particularly close to the coastlines when people built against dunes and terrain not suitable for normal excavations and foundations, poles needed to be made use of. He asked to what extent alternate building concepts would allow residential areas on steep slopping land.

Ms Mayisela referenced the non-qualifiers, and said the Department needed to densify and use double storeys as were provided for the non-qualifiers.  She said the reality was that the market only had the ABT’s available for the non-qualifiers. She said had they been able to provide double storey units they would have been used but those would be utilised in future.

On the title deeds, she said the intention was to transfer the sites to the beneficiaries.

In response to Mr Marran’s question about the thermo properties of the unit, Ms Mayisela said it was designed to regulate itself throughout the different external temperatures. She said she had experienced that, and Members were welcome to engage the beneficiaries to confirm that.

Mr Petuna said the cost of the 20 square meter unit was R55 000 and a 40 square meter was R110 000.  He said what increased the costs were the earth works which were required in Knysna because of the steep slopes which required preparation on the land. However, the cost of the unit was below the cost of conventional houses. He said the service providers were asked to draw up building plans for 40 square metre houses. They wanted to test if the building plans could be used on steep slopes where it was currently impossible to build. The service providers had shown it was possible to build on those steep slopes where the structures would be supported by poles. The biggest issue was the availability of that material openly in the market. He said the community were happy about their units.

On the 30% demanded by small local sub-contractors, he said it was an issue in Knysna and the supply chain threshold had to be explained. The small contractors had accepted it threshold but there were certain works still to be completed by small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMME’s) who played a role in the slabs, plumbing and electrification.

Mr Aswegen said he was an old-fashioned person who believed in conventional methods with his own being built from wood and stone. Being a resident in that town for close to 60 years he understood the challenges around housing in Knysna which Members would see when they visited later that day. It was a difficult place to build houses because of the slopes. He said he inherited the project of alternative building as the Mayor and the rationale behind the alternative building was threefold. The first was about safety after a fire had occurred in 2017 and the need to build safer houses arose. The slopes also posed a safety hazard. The second rationale was cost related as it was expensive to build houses in Knysna especially conventional houses in the contours and slopes. He said the one fundamental issue that was never addressed seriously was that the land availability would dictate what types of houses could be built. There was a serious challenge in Knysna when it came to the availability of land for building houses. Thus although he had not initially embraced the idea of alternative housing be conceded that they would need to be led by technology to address those housing concerns.

Mr America said his question had been answered but asked where the cost of the Wendy houses had been reflected. Was it the R2800 as there had been no separate indication as to where that cost had been incorporated?

Ms Mayisela said the 55 Wendy houses did not form part of the R57 000 they were over and above the ABT’s. She said when the area had been formalised there were more people that what could be placed. Some had been in the area reserved for roads and alternative area had to be sourced thus the Wendy houses were provided. She explained that the area could not be formalised because it had been demarcated for a church site. She said the department had to work closely with Knysna municipality to identify alternative land to assist them in a new project. The Wendy houses were provided instead of the zinc fire kits and the Wendy houses could be used later and relocated.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Aswegen and looked forward to meeting him and the Municipality later that day.

Mr Aswegen said he looked forward to meeting Members later that day.

The Chairperson said Members would go to the airport to view the materials first then would proceed to Knysna thereafter.

The meeting was adjourned.

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