Pietermaritzburg shack dwellers have been relocated to flats. But some can’t afford the rent

And some residents expressed joy at living in a brick and mortar home

By Tsoanelo Sefoloko

27 November 2023

The Msunduzi municipality demolished more than 70 informal structures at Jika Joe informal settlement near the N3 in Pietermaritzburg. This comes after they relocated most of the residents who qualified to alternative housing. Photos: Tsoanelo Sefoloko

More than 70 informal structures at Jika Joe informal settlement near the N3 in Pietermaritzburg were demolished by the Msunduzi municipality’s Human Settlements department during November.

This comes after the municipality conducted a vetting process of the households and offered to relocate some of the qualifying residents to temporary relocation units nearby and others were allocated rental apartments at the City’s Jika Joe community residential units.

Some of those moved, like Mcebisi Tshapile, said: “The R1,300 rent I pay at the flats is not a problem for me because I am safe. Living in the shack was a challenge because my car used to be parked far away from my shack. My life has changed, no one forced me to stay in the flat.”

But people living in the few shacks that remained at the settlement accuse the municipality of not adequately communicating with them before doing the demolitions.

Resident Mzikayifani Ngcobo, 71, told GroundUp that he moved to the settlement to escape the political conflict at his home in Maqongqo township ahead of the 1994 elections.

“I cleaned this place because when we arrived, there were bushes. Now the municipality wants to force us into rental flats. How will I cope with the little R2,090 grant I’m getting for rent? They have demolished my house in an attempt to force me into the rental flats,” said Ngcobo.

Many qualifying shack dwellers were allocated rental apartments at the City’s Jika Joe community residential units.

Nokuthula Dlamini was relocated to the council-owned rental flats on 31 October. Dlamini said she used to rent a shack before she moved to the two-bedroomed flat.

“I am forced to stay in the flats because I have nowhere else to go. The shack I was renting was demolished. I am earning very little money, so paying R500 rent and R200 for water and R400 electricity is really killing me,” said Dlamini. She earns about R2,500 per month as a domestic worker.

Abahlali Basemjondolo regional chairperson, Zodwa Ngcobo, has a different criticism, saying the residents whose homes were demolished are opposed to moving to the rental flats because they want freestanding houses. “We were told that we would get proper houses, not a flat.”

Social housing: Flats or houses? Rent or own?

Most government-subsidised housing that has been built since 1994 has been free-standing houses. But apartment blocks, or flats, may be more affordable, scalable and sustainable. Another key question is whether to encourage rent or ownership models of social housing. Here is further reading on these subjects:

Ward 33 councillor Suraya Reddy (DA) said the municipality extensively communicated ahead of the demolitions. She said some people who are refusing relocation, were using their shacks as a source of income.

“Most of the people staying in those shacks were undocumented, mostly from Lesotho. Most of the South African and [documented immigrants] have been assisted with accommodation in the transit camp,” said Reddy.

Nontobeko Mkhize, spokesperson for Msunduzi municipality, said that “shack lords” were deterring the municipality from its plan and that people who qualified were relocated. “We are monitoring the site very closely to prevent any further invasion. Those who did not qualify for rental units are being relocated to temporary structures,” said Mkhize.