Tenants say they’ve been abandoned in Benoni’s crumbling apartheid-era municipal flats

80-year-old Sarah Govender has lived in the Actonville flats since the 1980s

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Rubbish piles up at Primrose Court municipal flats in Actonville, Benoni. Photos: Kimberly Mutandiro

  • Tenants of municipal flats in the former Indian township of Actonville in Benoni say they’ve been abandoned by the City of Ekurhuleni.
  • Some have lived for decades in the flats, which were built in the apartheid era.
  • The municipality says it does maintain the flats.
  • But taps and toilets are broken, rubbish has piled up and the place stinks of excrement and urine.
  • Tenants say they would like the City to fix the flats and give them title deeds.

Just off Soma Street in the former mostly Indian township of Actonville in Benoni are three old blocks of municipal flats, now ruined. Tenants, some of whom have been living there since apartheid years, say the municipality has turned its back on them.

The stink of urine and excrement greets visitors to Primrose Court, Flora Court, and Azalea Court. Sewer pipes are broken and rubbish has piled up in heaps. Unoccupied flats have become havens for drug users, some of whom have set up beds. Residents say their washing is stolen from the line, even in broad daylight.

But they say, they have nowhere else to go. They want the municipality to maintain the flats and give them title deeds.

Some of the tenants are pensioners and most others are unemployed, battling to afford rents which were raised in 2023. Community representatives say the municipality assessed each family and families are supposed to pay rentals related to household income. But many are in arrears.

Sixty-year-old Saras Nayagar and her husband moved into her in-laws’ one bedroom flat on the fourth floor of Primrose Court in 1998. Her husband has since died and left the flat to her and their son.

She has set up a washing line just off the verandah so that she can guard her clothing against thieves whom she claims are wreaking havoc in the building, stealing anything they can find, from metal to shoes and clothes. She says the flat is in a mess; taps, pipes, toilets, and the ceiling have worn out.

At first, the monthly rental was R290. Then it was raised to R375, and then, in 2023, the rent increased to R1,000 a month, which she cannot afford. When she asked for her rent to be reduced, she says, municipal officials told her to move to a pensioner’s flat and leave the place for people who could afford it. But she does not want to leave her home. Now the rental account is over R3,000 in arrears, and her lease has not been renewed.

“The government must just make everything right and lower the rent because these are the only homes we have,” says Nayagar.

Saras Nayagar hangs her washing where she can watch over it to prevent it being stolen.

A few doors away, Rubina Cassim lives with her two children. She is unemployed. She says her rent has been set at R750 monthly, and she struggles to pay it. The ceiling on her verandah is damaged, and water floods into her home whenever it rains. The municipality never came to fix it.

“I love my flat and would not dream of going anywhere else. I would like to own it so that I can leave it to my youngest son one day,” said Cassim.

Godfrey Lewis, 59, lives in the block opposite and is unemployed. He runs a small tuckshop in his home, which helps him pay half of his R1,000 rent, and his sister helps him pay the other half. He has lived in the flat for 18 years and wants the municipality to allocate it to him permanently.

“Our needs are being neglected. Nyaope addicts do as they please because there is no order. We repair our flats from our own pockets because we love our homes. The government should cater for our needs by renovating the flats and giving us a chance to own them.

At Flora and Azalea Courts, residents complain of the same issues. Children play next to burst pipes. The children’s park nearby has become a gathering spot for homeless people.

Residents say a fire broke out last year after some nyaope users lit a fire inside one of the flats.

Every month, they raise funds to hire someone to clean the outside of the complex.

“We have heard rumours that the flats have been sold to a private owner, which is why they are bothering us about rentals,” says 67-year-old Shirley Seejeram, who has lived in the flat for 54 years. Her rentals are also in arrears, and she has often had to go without electricity.

She too says she was told to move to a pensioner’s flat because she struggled to pay rent.

“With each election, we were promised title deeds that never materialised. Our community has never benefited from RDP houses; the government must remember our people and provide us with flats,” she said.

Shirley Seejeram has lived in her flat for decades.

Just up the road is Aloe Court, which is in a similar state. Up the stairs on the fourth floor, GroundUp met 80-year-old Saras Govender, who moved into the flat in the 1980s. She lives alone in a one-bedroom flat and pays R1,000 a month from her pension. She occasionally has to buy insulin and she can barely afford to buy electricity and food. She currently owes R600 in rent.

Govender has approached the municipality to ask for her rent to be reduced, but says nothing has ever been resolved.

Her toilet is broken, and she has to fill her bathtub with water and use a bucket to scoop up water to flush the toilet. This problem has gone on for years, and no one has come to fix her toilet.

“Much as the rental amount is too much, I would rather go hungry, as long as the rent is paid. This is my home, and I can go nowhere else,” she said. Govender wants the municipality to start maintaining the flat again and to fix her toilet.

80-year-old Saras Govender has to fill a bucket with water from the bath to flush her toilet, which has been broken for years.

Magdalena Erasmus, 58, moved into her flat with her family in 1995. Water taps are broken and the family currently has no electricity because the rental arrears are over R15,000. Erasmus claims that her husband has been paying rent into an old municipal account that has not yet been updated. They have approached the municipality, but nothing has been resolved.

“The municipality is charging too much money, which we cannot afford. These are the only houses we have; therefore, rentals must be lowered, and we should be given title deeds, Erasmus said.

Thuli Nxumalo, her husband, and two children remained in their flat after their lease expired in 2015. The family has been battling eviction since 2017 and has been living without electricity after it was cut off.

Nxumalo’s late mother left a debt of over R90,000, and the family has accumulated an extra R14,000. They made an arrangement through the court to pay whatever they can afford, but have been unable to keep up.

“The government never considered our application for an RDP house, and life has been hard. Being evicted would be the worst thing because we have nowhere else to go,” said Nxumalo. She wants her debt to be scrapped and to be allocated a title deed for the house.

The municipality says it does maintain the flats. But tenants say otherwise.

Community representative Brenda Jacobs says people were evicted from the same flat in 2023, and people living in ten or more flats are also facing eviction.

“Because people are unemployed, they cannot afford to rent, and the flats are dilapidated. We are attempting to consult with the municipality on what can be done,” Jacobs said.

The City of Ekurhuleni’s human settlements department confirmed that Actonville Flats “form part of council owned rental stock.” Asked why the flats were not being maintained, the department said: “The Council repairs and maintains all service breakdowns.”

Tenants who could not afford rent should submit proof of household income so that the rent could be adjusted, the department said. Asked if there were plans to give tenants title deeds, the department said: “Yes, as soon as all administrative processes are observed.”

TOPICS:  Housing

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I used to live in one of these flats 20 years ago. There was little to no maintenance then either. It's sad to see it's still going on. The whole of Benoni is suffering with a non-existent municipality - yet we pay our rates and taxes every month!

Dear Editor

While I can understand the tenants' frustration and inability to pay the rent, I cannot understand two things: firstly, why can't the tenants clean up the rubbish in the yards and passageways? Secondly, why are the police not arresting and jailing the drug dealers for unlawful occupation and drug dealing?

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