Six houses in Alexandra which were intended for Gauteng Department of Social Development facilities have been standing vacant for at least two years.
Chief Director of Non-Profit Organisations and Development at the department Solly Ndweni confirmed this at the inquiry into Alexandra by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Public Protector’s office on Thursday. This week is the fourth and last sitting of the inquiry.
The inquiry follows a spate of protests in Alexandra in April. Its purpose is to consider some of the issues raised by the protesters, which included overcrowding, housing, water and sanitation. It is also looking into allegations of corruption in the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) – a project initially worth R1.3 billion, launched in 2001 to develop Alexandra.
The houses are situated near the Marlboro Gautrain station and are currently being protected by security guards. Ndweni said the houses were built by the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements on a piece of land that was owned by the City of Johannesburg.
He was unable to confirm when the houses were built but he said the department found out about them “by accident” about two years ago. Department officials were on an outreach in Alexandra when one of the residents alerted them to the vacant houses, he said.
“Indeed when we got there, we saw the vacant houses and confirmed that they were meant for [Social Development] … We immediately expressed interest in using the buildings and did an assessment on them,” he told the panel.
He said the department was about to start renovating when it was advised that it needed to transfer the City’s land to the province first. “If we continued, we would be investing money in a facility that technically did not belong to us,” Ndweni said.
He said there is a delay in transferring the land from the City to the Province which is why the houses are currently not in use.
“It worries us because we want to access those houses because they were built a long time ago and they were built for our department … Given that we have no [offices] in Alexandra, the matter is receiving maximum attention,” he told the panel.
These offices provide social services like child care for orphans, registration of early childhood development centres, community development programmes, court work and others. There is currently no social development office in Alexandra.
Ndweni said the department used to have an office on 8th Street in Alexandra but in 2011, Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) wanted to develop the area so it relocated all the tenants. “JPC said it would be in touch with us once the development was done but that never happened,” he said.
Vusi Dlamini, one of the panelists from the Public Protector’s office, said Alexandra has been an area of focus for over 20 years, yet there was no social development offices for residents.
“Unemployment is among the biggest challenges in Alexandra so how do you expect the poorest of the poor to travel to [the social development offices in central Johannesburg] to access these services?” Dlamini asked.
Head of Gauteng Social Development Department, Thembeni Mhlongo, responded: “The department acknowledges the fact that the unavailability of office is a challenge to the people of Alexandra because they should get access to services within their area and due to their socio-economic status, they may not be in a position to come to [central Johannesburg].”
But she said the department was partnering with and funding NPOs to ensure that services are provided to the community. Social Development officials also conduct home visits in the area but Mhlongo said it was not at the level that it should be.
Ideally, the department would want to have offices in Alexandra so that services are easily accessible, she said. But finding land to build offices in Alexandra was a challenge for the department, according to Ndweni. He said the department aimed to make use of at least one of the six houses by the next financial year.
The inquiry continues on Friday.