A Community's Journey to Housing and Independence

NGO housing sustainability project management financial management
Wednesday, 24 May, 2006 - 07:00

Story from the Ground: The Vosloorus CommunityAccess to shelter is a major concern for poor South Africans. Statistics of the national housing backlog abound, including the high number of people living

Access to shelter is a major concern for poor South Africans. Statistics of the national housing backlog abound, including the high number of people living in informal settlements in rudimentary and dangerous structures.

Though they represent the lucky few, members of the Vosloorus community received 650 houses after nine years of involvement in a government housing programme.

The Vosloorus community has no direct access to educational facilities such as schools or community infrastructures.  Generally, most community members support themselves through informal means such as “spaza” shops and hawking activities like selling fruit and vegetables, selling scrap metal and so on.

Community member, Joyce Mlangeni says, "The People’s Housing Process (PHP) was introduced to the community by the Gauteng Government. The community approached local NGO, PLANACT in 1997 because it was a requirement to work with an NGO that could facilitate, administer and provide management support for the PHP project”.

Slow Passage to Delivery:

Becky Hadebe, one of the beneficiaries of the PHP project in Vosloorus and ex-member of the Housing Steering Committee (HSC), who participated in the whole process from planning to implementation, contends “I still remember, it took some time for the PHP to be implemented, but we finally got it to start with the construction of about first 40 units in 2003”.

The HSC was formed to represent the community’s interests in the PHP. Its main purpose is to work on strategies for the upgrading of the community. Mlangeni, who is currently serving on the committee, says “the committee comprises of 10 members, two from each sub-section (i.e.18, 47, 48, 49 and 25) within Vosloorus’ Section 28, each of whom serves for a maximum of 12 months”. Committee members are elected through a transparent and community driven process with limited support from the NGO partner.

Financial Management Comes under Community Scrutiny:

In order for the houses to be built, the provincial government provides subsidies, which are channelled to the community through a special account arranged by PLANACT for the PHP. While the community depends strongly on its NGO partner for support, sometimes there still are a few misunderstandings. According to Gladys Macala, office administrator and member of the current HSC, “Initially, the subsidy was R10, 900 for each unit but the amount has increased to R18, 000. “Our biggest problem is that we do not know what happens to the balance after the completion of each unit”.

Responding to the community’s concerns, Mike Makwela, PLANACT’s senior project officer who has worked with the community of Vosloorus since the start of the project, says his organisation has no direct access to the funds”. He says they only submit invoices to the local municipality after the completion of each house so that payment can be made to everyone who took part in the building process”

Moreover, the creation by the provincial government of a structure called XHASA – Account and Technical Administrator (XHASA – ATC), a body tasked to administer funds for all the PHPs in the province, created some delays for the Vosloorus PHP. Makwela explains, “the project ceased for a period of six weeks because XHASA -ATC could not release funds to pay labourers, construction workers and suppliers for reasons only known to it” PLANACT is engaging the Ekurhuleni Mayor Duma Nkosi on the matter with the hope that a solution can be found.

Newly Acquired Skills Bolster Community Pride:

Concerns aside, the PHP has provided the community with the opportunity to learn valuable skills that can also help them to continue with the project on their own.

Macala says “the project taught both HSC members and the community at large valuable skills required to take the project to another level”. She says, to date, the community has acquired the skills to build houses, create foundations, and do carpentry and plumbing”.
Petrus Khuzwayo works as a site foreman, and Matthews Ntshangase oversees the creation of good quality foundations for the houses while Macala oversees administration in the site office.

“A better house starts with a good foundation, I always make sure we create quality foundation for every house we build”, says Ntshangase. In general, community members describe their 650 houses as more durable, weather resistant and fire resistant than the shacks). A further 200 more subsidised houses have been approved for construction by provincial government.

Positive Chain Reaction: Fighting Hunger & HIV/AIDS:

According to Hadebe, “the PHP provides the community as well as local contractors and labourers with the opportunity to generate some income for the work they do on site”.

As a result, the community initiated the formation of an AIDS group called “Masizakhe Home Care”. According to Euginia Bamba, a beneficiary of the PHP and a volunteer within the group, “The group provides counselling to people living with HIV/AIDS, helps HIV–positive patients to take medication, and also cares for AIDS orphans”. She says, “PLANACT also helped them to find land that community members can use to grow vegetables to avert hunger”

Ending the NGO/Community Dependency:

This community has grown from strength to strength since the PHP was initiated in 1997 and its NGO partner believes that it is ready to drive its own destiny. PLANACT officially pulled out of the Vooslorus PHP at the end of March 2006 to give the community an opportunity to continue on its own (with minimal support).

However, community members are sceptical about PLANACT’s retreat from the project. Fearing that PLANACT is completely pulling out, many community members feel that they are not 100% ready to continue on their own. Khuzwayo argues that the project exposed them to various things they did not know before, but they still need help from their NGO partner.  “We are empowered to take the project forward but we still need PLANACT to give direction, support and play a watchdog role”, adds Macala.

Be that as it may, there may yet be a silver lining to this dark cloud that hangs over the relationship of this partnership,  Hadebe says “the community is looking forward to working with PLANACT in future to convert the Housing Support Centre, which was established to host the HSC, Masizakhe Home Care and other activities of the PHP, into a multi-purpose community centre (MPCC)”.

- Butjwana Seokoma, Information Coordinator, SANGONeT

Picture Acknowledgement: PLANACT

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