Wednesday, July 3, 2013

‘Communities need more than houses’

Cape Town - Communities need to hold all levels of government accountable, irrespective of which party is in power, to ensure that they have basic services, says Pregs Govender, deputy chairwoman of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

“And saying there are different competencies (local, provincial and national) does not absolve them of co-operative governance,” she said.

The SAHRC recently came under fire from Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, who was outraged that it was conducting site inspections in the informal settlements of Kanna, Barcelona and Europe without informing the city. In a letter to the commission, De Lille also had strong words for its spokesman, Isaac Mangena, whom she accused of acting for the ANC Youth League.

Govender was speaking during a visit to Blikkiesdorp, near Delft, where residents discussed their concerns about sanitation, water, housing and other issues with the commission.

She will also visit Khayelitsha and the farming community of Ashton this week, as part of the Western Cape leg of the SAHRC’s national inspection of basic services. “Whether it’s the ANC or the DA, national or provincial government, people are saying that government must fix (the problems). Government needs to come together.”

Referring to De Lille’s comments, Govender said “disparaging” remarks about the commission undermined its independence and impartiality. “The constitution explicitly protected Chapter Nine institutions, such as the SAHRC, from state interference.”

Mina Perry, 71, who was moved to Blikkiesdorp six years ago, told Govender conditions were unbearable. “I hate this place. Every night I ask God for his blood to wash over me and my house, so I can find a way out of here.”

Perry said crime was rampant. “We hear the men and women screaming (when they are robbed).”

Govender said the government needed to do more than just provide houses in informal settlements. It needed to encourage social cohesion, so that communities who were forced to live together could do so in peace.

“There is a lack of co-ordination between all levels and spheres of government. We need to explain to government how to respond,” she said.

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