Children are dying from izinyoka electricity while Tongaat families wait to be housed

Four years after construction started, not a single house has been completed in R120-million Umbhayi project

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik and Tsoanelo Sefoloko

6 April 2023

Families moved to a transit camp in Tongaat four years ago to make way for a huge housing development are still waiting for their houses. Photos: Manqulo Nyakombi

In 2019, more than 200 families from Umbhayi informal settlement in Tongaat, north of Durban, were moved to a transit camp to make way for an RDP housing project about half a km away. Four years later, not a single house has been finished. Meanwhile the families live in zinc houses, with broken communal toilets. Many houses do not have electricity and izinyoka connections have caused many deaths.

The unfinished houses are now used by criminals to hide.

Ward councillor Dolly Munien (DA) said since 2021, when the construction company left the site, she had been trying to get answers from eThekwini Municipality without much luck.

EThekwini Municipality Head of Communications, Lindiwe Khuzwayo, told GroundUp a tender process was underway and a contractor would be appointed ”anytime from August 2023 to October 2023”. She did not explain why nothing had been done since 2021.

Khuzwayo said the transit camp had five ablution blocks which were “regularly maintained”, though there were issues with vandalism. “We ask that residents adopt such facilities and use them with care,” she said.

But Munien said only two toilets were working and that for two years she’d been following up to have them fixed.

Most of the toilets in the camp are not working. Some households have built their own pit toilets as a result.

Some houses have electricity but in 75 houses there is no electricity, said Munien. She said the municipality has been promising to install electricity since 2019 but has not done so.

“This is very frustrating because people have voted for us to bring service delivery to them. Illegal connections are a big problem. People are dying,” she said.

Munien said since she started as a ward councillor five years ago about 15 people had been electrocuted from illegal electricity connections.

“This is the 15 that I’m aware of and there’s a possibility that there are cases that were not reported to me. The sad thing about illegal connections is that they dig deep into the pockets of those who are paying for the services. And the challenge we are currently facing now is that no one wants to pay and some have decided to also have illegal connections,” she said.

Asked about this, Khuzwayo said the transit camp had been electrified. “However, we are still confronted by the ever-growing migration of people from rural areas to urban areas. This has led to an increasing number of dwellings and illegal connections.”

We spoke with two families who lost their children due to illegal connections.

Akhona Mpheshwa, a grade 12 learner, died last year, a day before she finished her last exam.

“It still pains me to talk about it,” said her mother Nonkululeko Peshwa. “Maybe if we had been moved in 2021, as promised, just maybe my daughter would be still alive.”

The most recent victim of izinyoka was five-year-old Lizalise Ntombela who died on 16 February this year. His mother Nondumiso said Lizalise had been following his grandfather when he was electrocuted.

“My father didn’t see that he was following him. He only saw him when Lizalise cried out. Unfortunately it was already too late,” she said.

Khuzwayo did not reply to GroundUp’s questions on the budget for the Umbhayi development. But according to Zamani Khuzwayo, human settlements spokesperson for the DA in the municipality, nearly 800 houses are to be built with a budget of R120-million.

When GroundUp visited the project last week Wednesday and again on Monday, we found that streets had been built, but only two rows of houses had been built and all were unfinished. The houses have roofs and windows but these are broken. There are no doors. Most houses already have cracks in the walls.

There has been no progress on the housing development since the construction company left the site in 2021.

Khuzwayo said the houses had been like that since 2021 when the construction company left.

He said he enquired about the project to eThekwini housing officials last year and was promised that the houses would be finished this March. “I informed the ward councillor to tell the beneficiaries that their homes will be ready this year. People are now waiting and their homes are not done,” he said.

Nandipha Mzekeli, who lives in the transit camp, said the unfinished houses are now used by criminals. “They stay upstairs and wait when we pass to rob us,” she said.

In two flats we saw blankets in the corner. Some people use the flats to relieve themselves.

Lucky Mzizi said he is slowly losing hope of getting the RDP house he was promised.

“All those transit camps have leaks. When it rains, water comes in. We didn’t have a problem at first since we were told that we will only live there for two years. This is the fourth year, and as you can see nothing is happening. Maybe they are waiting for elections so we can vote for them,” he said.

Another beneficiary, 60-year-old Fungiwe Shezi, said she missed her old shack. “I’m sharing this one room with my two grandchildren. The floor is always wet - I believe they built it on top of a wetland. I have been living in this area since 1986. I vote here but the government is failing me. Some of us will die waiting,” she said.