Briefing the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) delegation in the Western Cape during Provincial Week, the acting Head of the provincial Department of Human Settlement, Ms Phila Mayisela, raised concerns about poor capacity to deliver services to disadvantaged communities, writes Abel Mputing.

One such capacity problem lies in the implementation of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant, which is supposed to supply bulk infrastructure. These projects are often hampered by procurement delays due to a lack of capacity and poor planning, Ms Mayisela said.

However, the provincial department told the NCOP delegation that it has provided municipalities with technical assistance and training in these areas and they expect a marked improvement in the next reporting circle.

Ms Mayisela went on to say that the department is also hampered by widespread vandalism, protests, theft, land invasion and construction cartels. “Recently, a site manager was shot in Gugulethu on site by this cartel. They demand work by force. They pose a real and deadly danger and they are a hindrance to some of our township development projects. To address these ills, the department has encouraged communities to protect and take ownership of their development projects.”

Following the presentation, NCOP delegate Mr Mbulelo Sileku asked about progress in the provision of housing to military veterans in the province. Ms Mayisela responded by saying that military veterans are catered for in some of the province’s flagship housing programmes. “We have to date allocated 100 housing units to military veterans in our Highbury housing projects.”

The Leader of the NCOP Provincial Week in the Western Cape, Ms Cathlene Labuschagne, wanted to know if the province has a housing needs register and whether it is aligned to a centralised national register to avoid the illegal selling of government houses.

The Deputy Director-General on Research, Policy, Strategy and Planning in the National Department of Human Settlement, Mr Neville Chainee, replied that there is now a national database to address the current weaknesses in the housing register. There is also an effort to devise a draft policy that will ensure fairness and transparency in how waiting lists for housing are managed.

Ms Labuschagne also asked about interventions to combat the proliferation of informal settlements. According to the Director of Housing Development in the Western Cape, Mr Rayan Rughubar, informal settlements are linked to land invasions, which often target land earmarked for development. This leads to many provincial housing development projects being cancelled, he said.

He added: “These developments often take place in inhospitable lands that are difficult to upgrade. But where an upgrade can take place, we do so in a phase-in approach.”

 Ms Labuschagne further asked what is done with unspent municipal grants. The Minister of Human Settlement in the Province, Mr Tertius Simmers, replied that municipalities are provided with support to ensure that they spend their grants within the given timeframes. “If we realise that they will not, we move these grants to other municipalities that have the capacity to absorb them into their infrastructure plans.”

The delegation visited to the Conradie Integrated Housing Development Project in Pinelands, which is one of the Western Cape Government’s flagship human settlements. Ms Labuschagne was impressed with its integrated approach to mixed use and mixed income housing development. “This development has a well thought out plan that integrates parks, medical centres, sports facilities, retails and schools seamlessly,” she said.

“We are all captivated by what this project has turned out to be. It’s a model for future mixed use and mixed income integrated human settlement of social houses and Financially Linked Individual Subsidy Programme.” The design and planning restores the dignity of many families who will now live in a safe-gated community, she went on to say. “This project lives up to its motto: Live. Connect. Inspire. It’s, by all means, set to achieve that.”

Nonetheless, she pointed out that many housing projects are situated in metropolitan areas, rather than in rural areas where developments are most needed. “That is the case because many municipalities lack the capacity to plan and execute such projects. This must be addressed urgently,” Ms Labuschagne said.