About 150 residents of Makhaza marched to Parliament last month. Some called for the asbestos in their homes to be replaced; others want title deeds for the houses they have lived in for years. Photo: Vincent Lali
fFamilies living in houses built in the 1990s in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, are demanding that the National Housing Authority remove the asbestos roofs and replace them with safer materials.
Last month some 150 residents of Makhaza, Khayelitsha marched to Parliament to insist that the ministry give them title deeds to their homes and restart a project to replace their old asbestos roofs with zinc sheets or tiles.
Some of the residents have lived in houses that are not registered in their names for more than three decades. Some, like community leader Nolitha Nyoka, moved into vacant houses intended for people who were evicted from nearby Mandela Park in the 1990s.
When some of the families for whom the houses were intended turned them down, the buildings were quickly occupied by backyard residents from Makhaza with the help of local councils at the time.
“The houses are still registered in the names of the residents who rejected them. We never received title deeds,” Nyoka said.
She said previous attempts to obtain title deeds had failed. But some of those who refused the houses returned to claim them as they couldn’t get houses elsewhere because records said they already had houses.
On April 5, Nyoka received an eviction notice from the house’s registered owner.
“I can’t leave the house now because I’ve lived in it for 21 years. I raised my children in this house, renovated and expanded it and fenced in the yard.”
The improvements cost her about R100,000, she said.
Muneera Allie, spokeswoman for the Western Cape Department of Infrastructure, said it and the City of Cape Town “would approach the National Department of Settlements for a policy change” to resolve the title deed issue.
“The biggest challenge is that the properties were transferred in the early 1990s and the consent of the registered owners of the title deed is required to make the transfer to current residents,” she said. “In the absence of such consent, the matter is subject to either court approval of the transfer or a possible amendment to the Housing Act.”
Another area of contention in the community is that many families in Makhaza live in houses whose roofs are covered in old, damaged asbestos, ANC local councilor Lucky Mbiza said.
The government had launched a project to replace asbestos with tiles and sheet zinc in 2018, but this was scrapped when Covid-19 regulations came into force in 2020.
“We want the government to restore the project,” he said.
Siyabulela Phezi said the house he and his wife moved into in 1992 needed repairs. The asbestos roof was damaged and the rain got in and soaked his furniture, he said.
“I want the government to replace the old asbestos with zinc because I don’t have the money to buy material to re-roof my house,” the retiree said.
Allie said the provincial authority “did not have a specific asbestos abatement project in Makhaza.”
The department had launched the Kuyasa Housing Retrofit Project in 2018 to repair 2,373 homes.
“Repairs included replacing damaged zinc roof structures, installing ceilings, doors and windows, and electrification,” she said.
More than 430 units were repaired in the first phase of the project, but then the project was put on hold as budgets were reallocated due to the pandemic.
Subsequently, “the ministry refocused its budget allocation on providing basic services and upgrading informal settlements,” she said. The ministry would review the matter in light of “the current availability of funds” and “would need to work with the national ministry of settlements”.
Questions to Nozipho Zulu, head of communications at the National Human Settlements Department, were unanswered at the time of publication.
This article was first published on GroundUp