Duncan Village residents not happy with relocation

A view of some of East London’s Duncan Village shacks which the Buffalo City Metro Municipality plans to remove to make way for a planned housing development. All photos by Mandla Mnyakama

Residents of Duncan Village informal settlement say they are not happy with being moved to temporary relocation units.

Ntombizandile Mhlola, the Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements for the Buffalo City Metro Municipality (BCMM), has pleaded with Duncan Village informal settlement residents to co-operate with municipal authorities in its bid to upgrade the area’s congested shacks into brick houses.

Mhlola, who is also Duncan Village’s Ward 2 councillor, said their plan was to first de-densify the old township’s densely populated informal settlements by destroying the existing shack homes and then relocating residents into newly erected temporary relocation units (TRUs) in Mdantsane East and along Ziphunzana Pass.

According to Mhlola, the municipality will engage in all these efforts to try and comply with covid-19 regulations and to improve living conditions in the overcrowded shack settlements to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus among the shack dwellers while their RDP houses are being constructed.   

The municipality will then use the vacant land where their dilapidated shacks once stood to construct two-bedroomed RDP homes for them.

The BCMM described the project as their new vision to change the lives of Duncan Village residents by building 21,000 housing units. They intend moving the occupants of 5,000 shack units to these new homes from identified hostel areas.

Mhlola’s plea followed the airing of grievances by residents in the identified informal settlement areas over what they claimed was the failure by the municipality to properly consult with them on the implementation of the initiative.

They complained that they rejected the TRU option and contended that they should rather be taken from their rundown shacks to new brick homes without being kept in the small wooden bungalows.

These anxious residents said the escalating corruption in the human settlement sector made them skeptical of the development project and that it might be just a new ploy by government officials to remove them from the area for a new government’s private business.

73-year-old Mnini Goyi flashed a yellow card, dated 1991, provided to him by the apartheid government to prove that he was eligible for a government subsidised house at the time; the promised house never materialised. Elitsha found him still occupying  a four-roomed shack at Mayibuye informal settlement with his six children and wife.

The softly spoken elderly man has lived in the area since 1985 and blamed his plight on corruption in the allocation of government houses by the authorities. He has lost all hope of ever receiving a proper house from government.

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“This is a disturbing matter. We feel severely neglected down here, to a degree that it is hard to ever trust statements by government officials.”

“It has now become very hard for us to believe what the government officials say to us and that was how I felt two years ago when some officials visited us in our homes to complete forms and promised us new RDP houses.” said Goyi.   

 Just like many other residents of informal settlements, he assured Elitsha that he will reject being accommodated in the TRUs.

“We just wish that they could move us to proper brick houses as they did when they moved people to Mdantsane, and the recently established Chicken Farm and the New Life townships,” he pleaded. His 40-year-old daughter, Yandiswa who owns a one-roomed shack adjacent to his, has also been left frustrated by false promises from housing officials in 2018.


Mnini Goyi, a 73-year-old father of seven, shows a yellow card provided to him by the apartheid government in 1991 to prove that he was eligible for an RDP house at the time.

David Tsabo, a 65-year-old father of two and a pensioner, spent several years as a backyard tenant in the nearby Mathuntutha Street and moved to Zakhele informal settlement to erect his own two-roomed shack after he lost a carpentry job in 2000. He appealed for government to reconsider its temporary relocation area idea.

“It’s something we cannot accept. We have already lived in cramped conditions for many years, and now they still want to confine us in those bungalows which are small like the size of a caravan.

“Why can’t they first find a vacant land to build us the brick houses and then move us directly into them afterwards, instead of these TRUs?” he asked, “Or they should rather consult with us in order to understand our own opinions.”

Tsabo added that they cannot trust the BCMM because one hundred families displaced by a fire on Florence Street in 2013 still live in the same TRUs in Braelyn. Countless RDP-house promises made by the municipality have never been fulfilled.

“They have also delivered no RDPs for 160 families whose shack homes were destroyed in the Duncan Village Roma area in 2018. All those people are still being accommodated in the same old TRUs in Braelyn,” he said.

Some residents say that they would rather stay in their shacks than be moved to small TRU houses.

David Mbovane, a 50-year-old resident from Bhelebhele informal settlement, said that as the community they had resolved to boycott the relocation plan.

“No! That particular promise [of a RDP house] is just a polite excuse by crooked politicians to kick us out of this area in order to use this land for their own private businesses. They could not even provide us with toilets or electricity in our area. We light up our homes with the means of illegal electrical connections from the nearby Eskom substations.

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“We rely on the generosity of the adjacent Harry Gwala informal settlement residents for toilets since the late 1990s when this informal settlement was established.

“I get very emotional when I consider how the authorities treat us. They just become careless and heartless in everything they do if they have to deal with us (informal settlement residents) as if we are not entitled to any human rights,” objected Mbovane.

He also condemned the TRUs for having even less space for his three children and his wife than the four-roomed shack they presently occupy.

Councillor Mhlola said the novel coronavirus outbreak had made it impossible for them to convene meetings with the residents about the project’s implementation, but highlighted that all those who had already been provided with the municipal housing approval cards will be the first to benefit from it.

“Although the total number of those to be relocated is 5,000, we will first relocate about 2,000 families for the first phase of the development.

“All we desire is that they cooperate well with us during the process. We understand how irritated some might be about the long periods they spent in unsatisfactory living conditions. We also wish to beg all the identified informal settlement residents to stop erecting new illegal shacks because that will be against the law.

“They have all got to be relocated to make way for the development of new RDP houses on the sites they currently occupy.

“Our purpose as the Human Settlements Department is to ensure that we first de-densify the area. The manner in which those shacks are situated can make it possible for people to easily infect each other with coronavirus,” said Mhlola.

She added that not all of the relocated residents will benefit from the free government houses as some of them are employed as civil servants.

Samkelo Ngwenya, the BCMM’s spokesperson, had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication, but Elitsha has learnt that the municipality has received a R340-million urban development settlement grant from the department earlier this year.

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