By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)
It’s a rainy June afternoon in KwaNonqaba, an area of informal settlements and state-subsidised housing on the outskirts of Mossel Bay. Singing arises from a tent pitched nearby a newly finished house – FEDUP members awaiting the arrival of Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela. Among the group is FEDUP saver, Norman Bles, homeowner of the newly finished house. The day marks the official opening of his house – as well as four additional FEDUP houses. It also marks a breakthrough in the relationship between Mossel Bay municipality and the local groups of FEDUP savers – the beginnings of a partnership after over a decade of negotiations.
Tracing FEDUP’s history in Mossel Bay
Thozama Nomnga, Western Cape coordinator for FEDUP, recounts how in the early 1990s the movement had built 33 houses in partnership with the municipality. After a period of disengagement, FEDUP returned to Mossel Bay in 2006, re-connected with old savings schemes and the municipality, particularly around the KwaNonqaba housing project, which, at the time, was pegged at 110 houses. Due to changes in leadership and member affiliation to savings schemes, the municipality eventually pledged 35 houses in 2013. On 2 June 2015, the completion of the first 5 houses was officially celebrated along with the formal opening of the new house of Norman Bles.
Tracing the story of FEDUP’s Norman Bles
As Norman Bles, reflects on his journey with FEDUP, he explains that he has been waiting for a house since 1993. Originally from Mandela Zone 5, he began saving with (what is now called) FEDUP in 1993. Over the years he left and re-joined the Federation several times – in the early 1990s due to a perceived lack of municipal support for housing and later due to uncertainties in the saving group leadership. During the constant changes in membership and saving participation, Norman speaks about his encounter with a fellow saver, who emphasised the importance of savings. This encouraged him to re-join the movement and eventually form his own savings scheme.
“Because we liked the Federation and understood the rituals of SDI [Shack/Slum Dwellers International], I went back to my house, talked to the people and said, ‘Let’s open a savings group in my house.” Other people joined us and we have been saving until now”
(Norman Bles, FEDUP homeowner, Mossel Bay)
He explains how together with FEDUP he continued negotiating with the municipality for housing.
“We kept negotiating because I wanted a bigger house [than] the small houses the municipality was building. The promise that we would get bigger houses with uTshani Fund [FEDUP] is what gave me hope to continue saving. I have a wife and kids who now have a place to sleep. It is no longer in a small shack. Today there is no rain that will get my children.”
(Norman Bles, FEDUP homeowner)
Launching a house, building a partnership
At the launch itself, Western Cape FEDUP leader, Thozama Nomnga, described the day as “the start of a partnership with Mossel Bay municipality.” Both the minister and Mossel Bay Head of Department (HoD) for Human Settlements echoed this sentiment. In particular, the minister emphasised that the government needed to acknowledge its setbacks and work harder at making [housing opportunities] happen:
“What you are doing [as an Alliance] is directly in line with our strategic objectives in the Western Cape. You have proven that you have the capacity to do this thing [build your own houses]! Why can’t we use the Alliance to do these things in a number of settlements so we can really become partners. It might only be 5 houses but there are more coming. We want to change the landscape.”
(Bonginkosi Madikizela, Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements)
Johan van Zyl, Mossel Bay HoD, speaks of the municipality’s mindset shift that enabled a more people-centred approach. While previous municipal programs and approaches were characterised by little coordination and cooperation between the municipality and communities, a meeting initiated by the provincial minister introduced an alternative view of community engagement. Coupled with a successful Govan Mbeki Award, a national reorientation toward more community support and continuous negotiation, the municipal mindset in Mossel Bay began to change:
“[We] have to have partnerships. Municipalities and government can’t do anything on their own….That is why the minister [indicated] that these initiatives will be supported by government to create more housing opportunities”
What underpins a partnership?
While FEDUP celebrated the completion of 5 houses, the road ahead is a long one. After over a decade of negotiations with Mossel Bay municipality and repeated submissions of project plans, the municipality seems receptive to a community-centred approach and to the People’s Housing Process (PHP). For Thozama, this certainly indicates the potential for partnership. Yet in order to build a strong partnership, the challenges need to be addressed – particularly in terms of delays in implementation. What underpins a people-centred partnership then?
“As FEDUP are are not saying people must grab land. People need to negotiate with government. We respect the government and our councillors. But the government also needs to respect us as communities. Because if we are not there, there will be no government”.
(KZN FEDUP leader, MamKhabela, at the Mossel Bay launch)