The Standing Committee on Human Settlements of the Western Cape Legislature was briefed by the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements (DHS) on the Fourth Quarterly Report for the period January 2021 to March 2021.
A current land invasion on the District Six restitution site was of concern to the Committee. Members were told that attempts to engage on the matter with the relevant role players at both the provincial and national level had been unsuccessful. The Committee resolved to continue its efforts to seek engagements with the entities responsible for the project.
The Committee sought clarity on the circumstances leading to the vandalising of houses and land invasions across the province. The Committee was told that municipalities had difficulty in concluding the process of handing over houses when the identified beneficiaries failed to come forward to sign documents that were required to conclude the process. Vacant homes were then vandalised. Reluctance by some communities to allow the decanting of land, which was a requirement for installing infrastructure, was problematic. The community dynamics in informal settlements proved to be difficult. The Department relied on the assistance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to engage with the communities in resolving the challenges.
The Committee was dissatisfied about the poor deliverables in terms of the transfer of deeds, specifically in respect of the pre-1994 backlog, and did not accept the closure of the deeds office as a reason for the weak performance. The Committee was informed that the problem was exacerbated by the lack of capacity at municipalities, the difficulty of the beneficiary verification process and the limitation on personal contact and door-to-door visits during the Covid-19 hard lockdown period. An improvement in the situation was noted after the hard lockdown period.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr Tertius Simmers, Western Cape Minister of Human Settlements (DHS), and the officials. She asked whether anyone representing the City of Cape Town (CCT) was present.
Ms Caroline Knott, a CCT official, said she was in attendance to monitor if any issues needed to be referred. She apologised on behalf of the officials who were not available.
The Chairperson said the Committee was supposed to be briefed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development on the background of the District Six project. To date, no communication had been received about the matter. She explained that the District Six community was concerned that the housing part of the land restitution project was being delayed. Most beneficiaries passed on without being able to return to the area. The Committee had engaged the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development which was supposed to have implemented phases one to three at this stage so that some of the community could return to the area. The Committee had requested that the Department send officials to update members about the concerns that the community had about their return to District Six. The Chairperson and staff of the Committee had made numerous attempts, without success, to secure a date with the Department for an update about the status and the challenges of the project. The Minister had sent a presentation for the meeting scheduled for 28 April 2021 but, unfortunately, the presentation had been withdrawn and since then both the Minister and Deputy Minister had been busy and not available. Subsequently, a request had been made for any official from the Department to brief the Committee but since 12 May 2021, no communication was forthcoming. The challenge was that the current land invasion on the District Six restitution site was the responsibility of the CCT. It was unclear whether the Department would be taking responsibility. The Chairperson requested input from members on how to proceed with the matter.
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) said the Department did not express its unwillingness to brief the Committee and communication with the Department should continue. The Committee should monitor whether communication between the CCT and the National Department was adequate and determine what role the province could play to bring the project to fruition. He proposed that the Committee continue to engage with the Department to understand what the challenges were.
Mr B Herron (GOOD) agreed that the Committee should keep trying to engage the Department. District Six was an unusual restitution case in so far as the government decided not only to return but also to develop the land. It involved a lot of history and there was unhappiness amongst some of the community who had returned. Some paid for the units while others got them for free. The Committee needed to engage with the Department on how the issue was going to be resolved.
The Chairperson asked the Procedural Officer to note the comments made and to secure another date with the Department. She thanked Ms Knott for her attendance and indicated that she might be excused at this stage.
Ms Knott reminded the Chairperson about the invitation that she had sent regarding spatial planning for District Six.
The Chairperson said the members would honour the invitation. She invited the Minister to make his opening remarks.
The Minister said he was pleased to deliver the quarter four performance of the Department which was detailed in the presentation. The second and third quarter deliverables had been impacted by factors beyond the control of the Department.
Ms Phila Mayisela, Acting Head of Department (HOD), DHS, remarked that she was on her way to a meeting. The quarter four report would highlight the overall performance for the year. The year had been a difficult one and the Department had not managed to achieve all its targets due to challenges of the Covide-19 pandemic. The Department had done quite well in terms of indicators and mitigation measures to ensure recovery during the current financial year.
Mr Francois de Wet, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DHS, presented the fourth quarter report on the performance of the Department. The report represented unaudited figures for the 2020/21 financial period. He agreed that it had been a challenging year, but the Department had performed well under difficult circumstances.
The target of 98 percent of invoices paid within 30 days was achieved, although it had been challenging considering the lock down period. The evaluation study on the impact of informal settlement projects planned for the previous financial year, was postponed to the current year as face-to-face interaction was not possible during the previous year. Four ICT solutions were planned but six were implemented. Changes in the operations were necessitated by the pandemic. As part of the Business Continuity Plan, four interventions were executed to deal with the Department’s response to Covid-19 challenges, instead of the two planned interventions.
Research in respect of sustainable building technology was done and the policy focusing on sustainability guidelines was approved and implemented. The compliance issue on Part D of the Annual Performance linked to the Business Plan was approved. The number of implementation plans for the Priority Housing Development Areas were implemented. The target in respect of the approval of Housing Developments contained in the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) Chapter was exceeded; eight instead of three approvals were granted in the fourth quarter. The annual target of ten approvals was achieved. The Department assisted all 25 municipalities with technical support, including the transfer of skills enabling them to do Human Settlement Development Plans.
The target to develop a research report by 31 March 2021 was achieved. The project in respect of Township Establishment processes in Priority Housing Development Areas did not happen. The funds were reprioritised to other implementation-ready projects.
The number of housing subsidies provided to beneficiaries with earnings below R3 500 totalled 40 in the fourth quarter. The total for the year was 285 subsidies, which exceeded the target of 130. The number of beneficiaries with earnings between R3 501 and R22 000 who were provided with housing subsidies in the fourth quarter totalled 350, which exceed the target of 175 subsidies. In terms of the target of 1 143 subsidies, only 915 were granted for this income bracket. The problem occurred in quarter one during the hard lockdown when units could not be transferred and instead were invaded and vandalised.
The Department planned to connect 761 sites to basic services through the Integrated Residential Development Programme but managed to connect 2 351 sites in quarter four. In terms of the annual target, 4 783 instead of the planned 4 164 connections were achieved. Upgrading of the Masakhane informal settlement in Gansbaai was achieved on time. The target of delivering 1 420 units as part of the Peoples Housing Process was not achieved. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only 1 148 units were delivered.
The Department paid 67,53 percent of the Housing Development Grant to contractors in the designated groups, thereby exceeding the annual target of 50 percent. A total of 926 against a target of 800 job opportunities were facilitated through the training of young people. In the fourth quarter, 1 937 title deeds were handed over instead of the 2 200 that were planned. Due to the good work of the CCT, 3 598 title deeds in respect of the pre-1994 backlog were delivered against the target of 1 000.
The target of building 1 000 houses using sustainable resources was exceeded as the Department managed to deliver 1 035 units. The planned transfer of 34 flats, or retail units, in terms of the Enhanced Extended Benefit Solutions did not happen as the assessments were still in progress.
The Chairperson expressed her appreciation for the presentation. She opened the meeting for engagement.
Mr Van der Westhuizen agreed that it had been a difficult year. He suggested that a review be done of comparative figures of the previous year. He noted that the DHS had a number of problems with the deeds office and questioned why the City of Cape Town (CCT) was able to over-achieve on this deliverable when both entities were working with the same deeds office. He hoped that the DHS would pay urgent attention to areas where the under-performance was quite dismal. He had recently viewed a report of outstanding deed transfers dating back to pre-1994. Two of the municipalities, in which he had personal interest - Drakenstein and Stellenbosch - had enormous pre-1994 backlogs. He was concerned that the situation might become more complicated with time and wanted to know what was being done about the backlog.
Mr Herron questioned the adjustment of the target for the establishment of townships. The project involved a number of processes of which the deeds office was only one component. He asked which townships were planned to be established and why this was removed from the objectives. He had bought a property during this period with minimal delay from the deeds office and therefore doubted the excuse about the deeds office. The number of families assisted was disappointing, given the housing crisis. He acknowledged that the pandemic played some role in service delivery but it was not as devastating as was being presented by the DHS. The number of informal settlements and sites that were upgraded was shockingly low. It was a weak excuse to blame the poor performance in every deliverable, in terms of the numbers, on the deeds office.
Mr D America (DA) noted the significant under-performance in the transfer of title deeds. He wanted to know how the DHS was planning to deal with the issue since the budget associated with transfer of deeds had been significantly reduced and some grants had been cancelled by the National Department. He asked for more detail about the research report in terms of what the research topic was, how accessible it was and how it would inform decision making. The challenge of gangsterism in terms of land invasion had an impact on service delivery. He wanted to know whether it concerned a metropolitan area or if it also contributed to the delay in service delivery in other areas.
The CFO indicated that officials would respond to questions related to their areas of responsibility. In response to the title deed questions, he said the CCT was able to achieve its target as it had a dedicated team focussing on title deeds. Although the grant was stopped, a significant amount of money had been allocated to municipalities and was available to address the backlog.
Mr Roy Stewart, Acting Director: Planning, said the CCT had capacity to achieve the deliverables in terms of title deeds. It was well-known that the deeds office had been closed eight times after the hard lock-down period. The National Minister had to intervene as the closure affected conveyance matters, also in the private sector. When the deeds office reopened, most of the CCT transactions were processed as applications were already at the deeds office. Other municipalities lacked the capacity or had difficulty with the beneficiary verification process. Municipalities had available funds but had to apply to use the funds for the verification of beneficiaries. The process had been difficult due to the limitation on personal contact and door-to-door visits. An uptick in verifications was noted after the second wave of the pandemic.
Mr Stewart said the pre-1994 beneficiaries were difficult to track as the Department was working from outdated records. Some of the beneficiaries had passed on or had moved out. It was very difficult to transfer title deeds in cases where the dwellings were occupied by people who were not beneficiaries. The Department had consulted legal services on the issue of title deed restoration and was in the process of crafting options in consultation with the SA Local Government Association (SALGA) to facilitate the transfer of pre-1994 title deeds.
He said the research report was available. The research was in respect of the expansion of the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP) by linking it to non-loan types.
Mr Preshane Chandaka, Acting Director: Strategic Support, said the Committee should appreciate that the township establishment deliverable was a new indicator. The National Department was trying to give it impetus in terms of the 14 projects in the Housing Development areas in the province. In addition to the closure of the deeds office in September and October 2020, the public participation process was negatively affected as it could only occur once the deeds office reopened. The National Department agreed to change the indicator and moved it to the following year. Areas targeted were Kayamandi in Stellenbosch, Destiny Farms in Theewaterskloof, Saldanha-Vredenburg-Louisville and Mount Pleasant in the Overstrand area. The DHS did establish the four projects but in terms of the formal process, it could not be accounted for in the 2020/21 financial year once the indicator had been moved to the following year.
Mr Brian Denton, Acting Director: Implementation, said gangsterism had an impact on flagship projects. In Drakenstein, for example, work was stopped due to gangsterism. Land invasion and illegal occupying of units cost the Department dearly. Speaking under correction, he said more than R70 million was spent on security at the 400-plus sites in the Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme (UISP).
The Acting HOD, Ms Mayisela, said another challenge with the implementation of the USIP projects was that communities were often reluctant to cooperate when contractors were on site, although they would indicate their willingness to do so at the stage of signing the social compact. Communities would make new demands on the contractors and would refuse relocation to temporary areas as was the case in the Joe Slovo settlement, where the project was halted. Land earmarked for housing needed to be decanted in order to put infrastructure in place but communities then invaded these sites. Although the Department offered scholar transport and transport for working people, communities refused to relocate to an area more than five kilometres away from their existing locations. The Department engaged NGOs to assist in getting the communities to cooperate but the community dynamics in informal settlements were problematic.
Mr Herron said that in her response, the Acting HOD was mixing the issues and was talking interchangeably about two programmes. He needed clarity on whether the upgrade of a settlement and the establishment of 421 sites both referred to the same informal settlement.
The Acting HOD said the indicator referred to the items as two different components within the same programme. It was also funded by the same programme.
Mr Herron asked whether the 421 sites and the one informal settlement were linked or whether it involved two separate communities.
The HOD replied that it was two different projects, i.e. the upgrade of one informal settlement up to stage three and the 421 sites which involved various projects. Details were available and would be provided.
Mr America said it was understandable that the target in terms of the youth empowerment project could not be achieved as face-to-face interaction was not possible. He asked whether both the budget and target deficit in the youth development programme would be incorporated in the new financial year.
The CFO replied that when it became clear that the target for youth development was not going to be achieved, the money for training programmes was reallocated to subsidies in respect of services and top structures.
Mr America asked whether this implied that the youth development opportunities would not be recreated in the new financial year as the budget had been transferred to different areas of expenditure.
The CFO replied that money was available to cover the deficit of the previous year. In Mossel Bay, for example, 45 interventions involving bricklaying, plastering and painting were planned. The project was delayed but would be done during the current year. The Department would make money available for interventions as skills development was regarded as a high priority.
The Chairperson said her understanding was that houses were built per demand. She asked under what circumstances could houses be invaded and vandalised before identified persons were able to receive the houses.
The Acting HOD replied that the problem was linked to the beneficiary administration process in municipalities. In Bredasdorp and Forest Village, for example, there were delays in people signing up to finalise the process. Municipalities sent multiple notices but as the beneficiaries were not coming forward to sign the documents, the process could not be concluded.
The Chairperson said the Minister had excused himself to attend to an issue in which the Acting HOD was also participating. The pre-1994 title deed backlog was a concern that needed follow up. Funds for the backlog must be prioritised across the board and not to the CCT only.
The CFO thanked the Committee for the opportunity and said that the Department would further engage the Committee to arrange a dedicated session on title deeds in order to get guidance on the issue.
Mr America requested that a copy of the research report be made available as the objective and outcomes of the research conducted were unclear.
The Procedural Officer replied that the report had been circulated to members during the meeting.
Mr Van der Westhuizen added the following resolutions:
- The Department be requested to provide the performance figures of the last five years to get an overview or comparison of the targets. It would help to see if progress had been made and where the challenges were.
- The Committee should take up the Department’s offer of a dedicated session on title deeds and the backlog in terms of transfer of properties. The problem would worsen over time and could lead to municipalities being made responsible for repairs if houses were damaged or burnt. It should be prioritised and an adequate budget should be allocated.
- Engagement with the Department of Rural Development on the issue of District Six should continue.
- Information on the planning process for the subdivision of the De Novo Housing Project for future housing needs should be requested from the Department. The response in the Tracking Document only referred to upgrading of existing houses on the property.
The Chairperson proposed that Mr Van der Westhuizen submit the De Novo query in writing to the Department as it would speed up the response. She noted that the response had already been delayed due to misinterpretation of the question. Mr Van der Westhuizen agreed to submit the question in writing.
The Committee adopted the minutes for previous meetings as well as reports on its activities.
Members agreed with a proposal by the Chairperson that the Committee’s programme should include a joint oversight visit with the Local Government Committee to Langeberg to establish what the housing project and infrastructure issues were in that area. Local Government and Human Settlement issues were intertwined but municipalities, especially in rural areas, only provided for people earning below R3 500 and did not cater for people earning between R3 501 and R22 000. She believed this was where the outcry about corruption came from. The Chairperson proposed a date in July for the visit but said she needed to consider the impact of the third wave of Covid-19 and the availability of the Local Government Chairperson, whom she noted was present in the meeting.
The Chairperson thanked the members for their presence and for performing their oversight roles. She especially thanked Mr Herron for attending the meeting in light of the fact that he was still recovering from illness
The meeting was adjourned.
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