Gatesville flats tenants welcomed the announcement by MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela, that many of them will become owners of these flats within one year.
Mr Madikizela made the announcement at a public meeting at the Rylands civic centre on Wednesday February 27.
This announcement came as a major relief for all of the tenants, as some have been waiting for up to 38 years to become homeowners. This will be made a reality by March next year, Mr Madikizela said.
The flats are in need of an upgrade, however, and R7.5 million have been set aside by the provincial government to do this, before title deeds will be handed over.
Resident Pepe Hendricks said taking ownership of the flats has been “a constant battle over the years”.
Mr Hendricks added: “As early as 2005, the Thornhill Residents’ Association with Saliem Patel, as the then housing consultant, and former ward councillor, Saleem Mowzer, arranged with former premier, Ebrahim Rasool to write off all outstanding rental arrears so that tenants could start with a ‘clean slate’. It was also resolved by the then Provincial Housing Development Board and the previous Minister of Human Settlements that the Gatesville rental units would be sold to tenants and that maintenance would be done. To this day all those repairs and maintenance that were promised were not completed. Later in 2009, residents were provided with offers to purchase the units at a historic cost of about R7 230, for those who occupied the units before 1994. Others were offered to purchase the units at the market-related value. This meant that everyone would be granted these as sectional title units and those who decided not to own the property were offered to continue their rental agreements. However, this did not materialise at that time. Tenants are now waiting in anticipation to become property owners.”
Zainab Kolbee, the former chairperson of the Gatesville Tenants Committee, said the tenants were promised they would get the flats for free from former president, Thabo Mbeki, but that it never happened.
“Many of our tenants are from District Six, and have been waiting a long time. We must stand together to achieve the best results for all,” she said.
When resident Badrunisa Bhawoodien asked about how this would affect those with rental arrears, Mr Madikizela pointed out that “a lot of discussion still needs to take place”, but he assured the residents that no human rights will be violated in the process.
Chairperson of the current Gatesville Tenants Committee, Sayed Naeem Mubarak, said matters such as the sectional titles, water meters and transfer fees subsidies, must be discussed at length. He also requested details of how exactly the
R7.5 million will be used for the repairs and maintenance of the flats.
“We don’t want outside contractors to be used. We want the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) from the Gatesville area. We have the artisans, like electricians and builders in the area. They are unemployed because we are not given opportunities,” Mr Mubarak added.
Mr Hendricks also pointed out that it “is necessary to verify a structural engineer’s report about some of the blocks being declared unsafe, and possibly needing to be demolished”. There are also concerns about asbestos roofing, soft soil, structural damages, cracks, and no ventilation in some of the blocks.
Fowzia Veerasamy, founder of the Gatesville Neighbourhood Watch and a tenant who has been instrumental in providing recent community dialogue with the department, said everyone was happy that they will receive title deeds.
“Well done to Gatesville tenants reaching the dream that looked unreachable,” she said.
She also urged the tenants to be united and not to allow division and conflict.
Mayor Dan Plato, who also attended the meeting, said this process was long overdue.
“I want to caution you, however, that there is always someone that plays the devil’s advocate. Ownership is a different kettle of fish, specifically if the unit is not freestanding. It is a different kind of responsibility and challenge, and you need to transform your mindset,” he said.