It’s Back to Shacks for New Home Owners

Siyabonga Kalipa, IOL (Cape Town), November 18, 2007

Imizamo Yethu residents who have been provided with brick houses by Irish billionaire Niall Mellon are letting the houses for up to R2 000 a month and moving into shacks in their own backyards.

In 2003, Mellon, who has an apartment in central Cape Town, arranged for Irish volunteer builders to come to Hout Bay to build houses for the poor in a week-long blitz.

Over the next two years, in a number of lightning-quick visits they built a total of 448 brick houses for people who had lived in shacks.

‘I chose to rent out my house’

But their good intentions are coming up against the reality of poverty in South Africa. Many of the brick houses have disappeared behind a screen of corrugated iron as owners move into shacks in their own back yards.

A house owned by Imizamo Yethu resident Thuletu Jwara is now a clothing shop rented by Chinese, while she lives in a shack behind the house.

Jwara said: “I chose to rent out my house because I am unemployed and need the money to pay the bond and help my family. The bond is R300 every month and my tenants are paying me R1 500 a month. When I’ve finished paying the bond I would love to move back to my house but it will depend on whether I can feed my family.”

Another house in the area, complete with lounge, three bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, has been divided into six bedrooms with each accommodating a rent-paying tenant.

It is now difficult to move around in the house because of the many partitions, and there is nowhere to put appliances like the fridge.

‘We do understand that it is a survival mechanism’

One of the tenants of this house, Lisa Makoma of Malawi, said the rooms were very small and the rent was high—she paid a total of R1 200 a month for one of the larger rooms. “The owners are now divorced and living separately so when it is the end of the month they come one by one to collect the rent money. So we pay twice—I pay R600 to her and R600 to him.”

Deirdre Grant, spokesperson for the Niall Mellon Township Trust, said: “Legislation on housing bars the owners from selling the house within five years but it doesn’t prevent them from renting it out, or letting a room and the backyard.”

She said the trust was disappointed that the beneficiaries were renting out the houses and moving back to shacks. “But we do understand that it is a survival mechanism.”

The trust has so far built a total of 5 000 brick houses between Johannesburg and Cape Town, the last being 200 in Freedom Park in Mitchells Plain earlier this month.

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