NELSON Mandela Bay’s impoverished suburb of Helenvale is a ticking time bomb due to overcrowding, as the area now houses five times the number of people it was initially built to cater for.
The suburb’s 24m² two- roomed units are so congested that there are often 20 people living in one house, all sharing one outside tap and toilet.
According to councillor Nico du Plessis, the area which was initially built to cater for 6000 people who were moved during apartheid’s Group Areas Act now houses in excess of 32000.
The majority of the residents are known as backyard dwellers, who have erected shacks on the space that is supposed to form the backyards of houses.
According to Du Plessis, the high density in the area has also led to the dilapidation of the area’s modest infrastructure, including sewerage, plumbing and electricity cables.
“The situation is really out of control. There are already larger-than-normal families but here we also have children having children, which adds to the problem. We have an average of 17 people living in the house and the yard of a two-roomed house,” he said.
Du Plessis said prior to 2008 there was only one outside toilet and one tap to cater for four units. Later another toilet was installed so that two units shared a toilet, but no additional pipelines or plumbing were installed. “The result is that there are constant blockages and burst pipes. There are also electricity cables that burn out because of the oversupply.
“There is also a problem with illegal dumping because waste is only removed every alternate week, and because of the size of the families here it has become a health hazard,” he said.
Du Plessis said there was no additional land in Helenvale to build more houses and that the only possible solution was to relocate people.
“The only possible area is Greenfields [near Booysen Park] but there are no schools, clinics, shops or police stations near there so the people here are hesitant to move to the area.”
Du Plessis said although Helenvale backyard dwellers were on waiting lists to receive houses, people who lived on flood plains and in other areas where houses were being built were prioritised.
“There are people here who are keen to move to an area where they will receive a house but people who live in the township areas are usually prioritised,” he said.
“Some residents are also having children just to obtain grants, and this makes the problem worse,” Du Plessis said.
Sarah Alexander, 51, said there were 20 people living in her two-roomed unit, nine adults and 11 children. All 11 children had to sleep on the floor.
“For the past month our toilet has been blocked up and broken. Our tap is also broken and we are forced to go to neighbours across the street if we need to use the toilet. The water from the toilet is flooding our yard and it stinks. These are not proper conditions for our children,” she said.
With only two beds in the house, Alexander said her children, her sister’s children and her daughter’s children all slept on the floor.
With only one member of the family doing occasional domestic work, she said they were struggling financially.
Neighbours Carmen Jonas and Mercy Campbell said the two families were forced to share one outside tap and one faulty outside toilet.
“The pipe gets blocked all the time and then it overflows in the yard. It does not help to complain because complaining does not work. We have just learnt to try to survive with what we have,” Jonas said.
Una Kholisa, 26, said she and her family had erected a six- roomed shack structure behind their unit to house their family of six adults and two children. She said she would gladly move away from Helenvale if she was offered a house elsewhere.
The shack structure does not have windows and therefore has no proper ventilation.
Municipal spokesman Marthie Nel was unable to respond to media questions about the housing backlog yesterday.