Phola Park power struggle
A group of around 30 Phola Park residents set up a barricade of rocks and burning tyres at the north end of Trollope Street, outside Makana’s electricity department around 8.30am on Tuesday 12 June and remained there until late in the afternoon, demanding that Mayor Nomhle Gaga and other senior councillors answer their demand that their area be electrified. The demand is the legacy of a promise made by former Mayor Zamuxolo Peter, although a recent technical assessment has shown that electrifying the are where the informal settlement is built would be impractical and excessively expensive. Adding fuel to the residents’ demand is that some residents in the adjacent informal settlement appear to have received electricity, without going through official channels.
A five-person delegation marched into a meeting at the City Hall this week to find the Mayor and demand that she address the protesters at the site of their burning barricade west of Hoogenoeg, outside the entrance to Makana’s electicity department.
Protesters and residents in the area told Grocott’s Mail on Tuesday that the last Council (Mayor Zamuxolo Peter in particular) had promised Phola Park residents they would get electricity. However, actual investigation by technical team has shown that the area is not suitable for development of low-cost housing because the steep and rocky terrain will result in a high cost for services.
The Phola Park residents’ demand for electrification and Makana’s response is detailed in a report tabled at the Special Council Meeting on 30 May.
It includes a report from Makana’s Town Planning Department, explaining that:
- In 2010 a detailed study was conducted in Makana to identify all informal settlements and to see whether an in-situ upgrade would be possible;
- A total of 21 informal settlements were recorded and five were deemed unsuitable for and upgrade. Instead, two greenfield sites were identified for relocoation – Mayfield 1 and 2 (estimated 4400 units) and East Commonage (estimated 2600).
- Phola Park was one of the five settlements deemed unsuitable for an upgrade. “A topographical assessment done shows that the area was too steep for developing and would be an overexpenditure as per [regulations and guidelines].
The report, compiled by acting municipal manager Ted Pillay begins with a meeting with Phola Park community representatives on 15 March 2018 to avert an imminent service delivery protest and hear their concerns.
After previously accepting the negotiated solution that they would be prioritised for housing at Mayfield Phase 2 when it eventually happens, they have reverted to their demand for electrification now, where they are.
Their renewed demand is prompted by information that some residents in some areas of Ward 10 were getting electricity – allegedly through a direct connection between the councillor for that area and Eskom – who allegedly came and made connections without informing Makana…
Council on 30 May accepted Pillay’s recommendations, which were:
- That since the area of Phola Park cannot be formalised the area must not be electrified by the municipality;
- That the Town Planning section expedite the formalisation of other settlements in and around the Grahamstown area of Makana so that the Phola Park residents can be relocated there as soon as possible;
- That the Housing Section of the municipality immediately facilitates the pre-screening of the 144 residents of the area… so Makana can have a clear picture of their housing requirements;
- That immediately after Phola Park residents are relocated, the area should be alienated for private development “as the municipality will never be able to develop that area for low cost housing due to the high costs of services anticipated due to steep terrain”.
This week, Mayor Nomhle Gaga explained that the protesters were divided into two different groups: “Group 1 wanted to stay and get electricity; Group 2 were prepared to move,” Gaga said.
Speaking to Grocott’s Mail on Wednesday, she said a delegation of five had come and found her in a Council committee meeting.
“I explained that I don’t make decisions as the Mayor alone,” Gaga said. “Decisions must be made by a resolution in a Council meeting. They accepted that.”
Gaga delegated councillor Malibongwe Khubalo to meet the protesters on Tuesday. Both he and ANC Branch chairperson Andile Hoyi explained that there were community meetings planned for all areas including Phola Park, which was scheduled for 19 June and the Mayor would be there.
Protesters blockade upper Trollope Street with rocks and burning tyres in support of their demand for the electrification of Phola Park informal settlement. Photo: Sue Maclennan
Public service watchdog PSAM said it was crucial that the community receive full information. The Public Service Accountability Monitor’s Director Jay Kruuse said what was critical to resolving the concerns of Phola Park Residents was:
- Both the Acting MM and Councillors need to engage meaningfully with the cold hard facts and arrive at a decision that can be justified and supported by the realities on the ground and the budgets that they have or are projected to receive.
- Residents of Phola Park need to be provided with information that clearly explains why the area is not suitable for upgrading;
- Phola Park residents need to understand why the residents of Ward 10 received electricity (as alleged) and why they cannot be placed in a similar position;
- These residents need to then be provided with a solution/way forward that will be properly planned for, budgeted and implemented against clear timeframes – the formalisation of other settlements and an audit and screening of housing requirements are integral in this process and will help move the process along beyond a past tendency to “promise” and then not deliver.
“Councillors should not undermine proposals or decisions taken that are grounded in reasonable and justifiable facts/evidence,” Kruuse said.
“Rather, councillors should support such scenarios and actively explain to their constituencies why a particular demand/course of action cannot be actioned/realised and why an alternative solution or way forward is necessary.
“Often councilors fail to engage with hard facts, especially where the facts do not support their position or interests. In such cases, there is often a tendency to introduce other factors (often light on facts, or designed to confuse) or they develop a counter-narrative with a view to securing a more preferred political outcome.
“Said differently, often administrative and technical decisions (that MMs, engineers, electricians etc are trained to consider and decide upon) are meddled with by politicians without adequate knowledge and regard for evidence, so as to support political interests – this often has very real impacts upon people’s wellbeing.”
Kruuse said it was critical that the Acting MM and Council:
- Explain and justify their decisions in publicly accessible Council meetings where detailed minutes are taken and where these minutes are routinely made publicly available and actioned upon;
- Explain and justify their decisions in regulatory documents (the IDP, Makana Budget; SDBIP, Monthly and Quarterly Reports) submitted in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act.