Council bungle angers Zosa Street residents

Lee-Anne Butler

A COMMUNICATION bungle by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality had Zosa Street residents in Port Elizabeth hopping mad after they were invited to receive the keys to their long-awaited homes from the mayor yesterday and then sent back empty- handed.

Before the “handover”, one woman led the excited Korsten residents in prayer as they thanked God for the homes they were finally receiving. Some of them said tearfully they were packed up and ready to move in.

But the elation quickly died down when housing portfolio chairman Fikile Desi told them they were there merely to witness the contractor handing over the keys to municipal officials.

He said the mayor would only hand the keys to the 34 newly built houses to the beneficiaries on Friday. “You might be wondering where the mayor is,” he said. “But the truth is that we need to follow the proper protocol.

“This means the mayor, who has been the champion of this project, will hand over the keys on Friday.”

While a small number of the residents nodded and applauded, most of them walked out angrily, hurling comments at Desi.

The Korsten housing project, first mooted 16 years ago, has been marred by construction delays and problems with the beneficiary lists.

The residents and municipal and provincial government officials gathered in Zosa Street yesterday morning supposedly to witness mayor Zanoxolo Wayile handing over the keys.

Human settlements acting executive director Kosalin Naicker was also present.

“Why should we wait again? We were told we would receive keys today and we have stayed out of work and our children have stayed out of school. Why have we been made fools again?” one furious woman shouted.

Desi called for calm and said residents should be patient until the official hand- over on Friday. “This occasion is for the contractor to hand over the keys to us. We will keep them in a safe place until Friday when you receive them,” he said.

Anne Valentine and her husband, John, said they had lived in Zosa Street since 1975 and had been waiting for their home since 1995.

Before Desi’s announcement, John said: “Today is a very proud day for us. We have lived here for all these years and our children were raised here. When I have my key I will give thanks to God.”

Anne said: “We are thankful to the mayor who has made this day a reality. We are so excited to move in.”

However, after residents were told they would have to wait, Anne said: “I do not understand why this is happening. We were told we would receive our keys today. We have packed all our belongings and many of us have stayed out of work. We have been made monkeys again.”

She said after years of delays, they had been told they would move into their homes in December, then it had been moved to March, then July and finally they had been told to come yesterday.

Community representative Mathilda Kombela said she had received a telephone call from ward councillor Isaac Adams and from the architect responsible for the project, telling her to mobilise the residents as they would be receiving their keys at yesterday’s gathering.

“Everyone packed up their belongings in Kamma Street where we have been living in containers. The community has cleaned up the rubble left by the construction workers. We do not understand why we must wait,” she said.

But Desi said: “This is a misunderstanding. Bring me the person who said residents would receive keys today. I will tell you that person is wrong.” Adams said after talking to officials “a political game is being played” and that the beneficiary lists were different from those put forward by the community.

“What was supposed to be a joyous and emotional occasion was ruined. Residents were supposed to get their keys today, but when they [the officials] realised the lists were different, they said the handover would take place on Friday to appease the crowd,” Adams said.

“If they had told the people the real reason – about the lists being different – I think there would have been a bloodbath.” He said the beneficiary list had been changed from the one put forward and “names of people who have nothing to do with Zosa Street are now back on”.

Municipal spokesman Ongama Mtimka said the communication bungle had been “somewhere between the municipality, the project manager and the residents”. A wrong impression had been created in the buildup because residents were only meant to get the keys on Friday, he said.

“There must have been some breakdown in communication between all the parties involved internally.”

He said the mayor had also wanted to do preliminary checks on the units before the handover.

 Contractor Samoo Chetty said he did not know when the keys would be handed over, but he had been told by assistant housing director Tony Anthony that Wayile would be at yesterday’s event.

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