Twitter war between activists and City over Wolwerivier

| Barbara Maregele
Vacant dwellings at the Wolwerivier development. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

A spat erupted on Twitter this week when Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) director Zackie Achmat accused City of Cape Town’s Benedicta van Minnen of being ‘a liar’ and ‘one who holds black people in contempt’.

Van Minnen, mayoral committee member for human settlements, denied the accusations. She has likened the comment directed at her on Twitter to ‘internet trolling’. On Thursday, she told GroundUp that she was considering legal action against Achmat over his tweet.

At dispute is the City’s involvement in a social audit of the low-cost housing development Wolwerivier, 30km north of the CBD. The audit was conducted by NU, Social Justice Coalition and the residents of Wolwerivier, and the results presented at a meeting on 21 November. Van Minnen was invited to attend the meeting, but declined.

In a joint email to GroundUp earlier this week, Van Minnen, and Mayco Member for Social Development Suzette Little said that as the City was not included in the auditing process, they did not attend the public hearing.

“The accepted methodology for a social audit is a collaborative process. The City was not afforded the opportunity to take part in this process,” they said. They said they had informed NU that they would not attend via email last week.

However, Achmat along with several NU members challenged Van Minnen on her response. They published, on Twitter, a letter that NU’s Hopolang Selebalo had sent to Van Minnen on 27 October in which they requested an opportunity to discuss the social audit’s principles, method and objectives. The letter also asks for discussion on “Further opportunities for the City of Cape Town to participate in the social audit process. For example, this could include formal presentations or observing parts of the process.”

And in a separate email, Selebo mentioned a meeting scheduled for 9 September with Van Minnen’s office to discuss Wolwerivier residents’ concerns, that the City cancelled.

On Wednesday evening, NU employee Mandisa Shandu tweeted: ‘Social audit was initiated after you cancelled meetings. Residents still invited you. And you responded with a lie.’

Jared Rossouw, also with NU, tweeted: ‘Wolwerivier residents have tried again and again to engage you. You were invited and you lied. Will u apologise?’

In response to a query from GroundUp, Van Minnen clarified that the meeting for 9 September was intended to be held with Wolwerivier’s residents, and not third-parties such as NU. This appears to be the reason why the City cancelled the meeting, and subsequently refused to participate in the social audit process. Van Minnen wrote, ‘it is reiterated … that meeting was set up with the community leaders and that NU was not part of the setting up of the meeting.’

However NU has provided GroundUp with letters from the community leadership asking that NU represent the community in its dealings with the City.

Van Minnen said that the City has consulted with the community, including an unannounced visit on 22 October. ‘The visit was unannounced so as to allow residents to speak openly and frankly to the City and to prevent other agendas from taking away from the direct communication between the City and the residents,’ Van Minnen wrote.

She said, ‘There have been, and continue to be, numerous engagements with the residents of Wolwerivier … including from the Human Settlement Directorate and Social Development Directorate, amongst others’.

TOPICS:  Civil Society Housing Local government

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