The "temporary" housing untis erected by the LImpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha at Talana hostel in Tzaneen.

When the Premier of Limpopo announced last week that the needs of the people of Limpopo would be met with the launch of a multi-million housing project, residents across Tzaneen were sceptical. When the houses were revealed to be corrugated shacks at the Talana hostel, scepticism turned to outrage.

In a statement on Wednesday, 29th of July, (sent to media houses only two days before the event because the Limpopo government prides itself on proper planning) Kenny Mathivha, spokesperson for the office of the premier, stated that the lack of proper shelter poses a serious health risk to the destitute households across the Province during this time of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“The Premier of the Limpopo Province, Mr Chupu Stanley Mathabatha  accompanied by the MEC for CoGHSTA, Mr Basikopo Makamu will on Friday, 31st of July launch 40 brand new low-cost housing units at Talana Community Residence (A multi-million Human Settlements Project), Greater Tzaneen Local Municipality in the Mopani District,” the statement read. “In an effort to purge the speedy spread of the virus in the area, government prompted with speed by providing shelter to the needy and destitute families.”

Limpopo Premier, Stan Mathabatha, cut the ribbon to unveil the “multi-million” housing project at Talana.

As it turned out on Friday at the ribbon cutting ceremony, the housing scheme promised to “alleviate” the plight of the poor communities during the Covid-19 pandemic that broke out 120 days prior to this launch, were nothing more than corrugated iron shacks. Photographs of the launch exploded over social media. Residents were outraged and called for the President to remove Mathabatha and Makamu with immediate effect.

In an effort to defuse the situation, the Premier assured residents that the 40 structures (which cost the Limpopo taxpayers R2.5 million – R64 000 each) were only temporary and that government would still build proper housing. He said that his government decided to erect the temporary structures to ease congestion within the Talana hostel and make it possible for its residents to comply with Covid-19 regulations.

“We are doing this to help residents of Talana after Limpopo Provincial Covid-19 Command visited the area and found that the people there could not comply with the regulations because of congestion,” Mathabatha said.

The residents of Talana hostel in Tzaneen look on in disbelief as the “houses” are unveiled.

Countering this statement, Jossey Bhutane of the EFF said that they would be laying charges against Mathabatha as he felt that the act was one of absolute humiliation and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable.

The DA’s Jacques Smalle said that they were looking into the matter following the various allegations of irregular and wasteful expenditure. He did however state that despite the houses being shacks, the structures have improved the living standards of some of the families in that specific area. “There were families literally living with in a shanty structure built from plastic bags and sticks. These might not be RDP houses, but they are much better than what most of these families are used to. It is not the ideal obviously, but it is a start. When you look at the promise that these structures would come with JoJo tanks and perimeter fencing, the costs seem reasonable.”

Desiree van der Walt, DA Constituency Head and Member of Parliament paid a visit to the Talana site yesterday morning (Thursday, 6th of August). She was accompanied by the DA Ward Councillor, Tienie Prinsloo. They were responding to reports that undocumented individuals from the Talana hostel were moving into the new structures. 

The “temporary” housing untis erected by the LImpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha at Talana hostel in Tzaneen.

“The community pointed out four houses that were illegally occupied. In one instance a legal beneficiary was denied her house by an illegal Mozambican man who used her id to gain access to the structure,” explained Van der Walt. “The other three units were illegally occupied by individuals who grabbed the keys to the units the moment the structures were erected. We also spotted illegal electricity connections already in place as they await the municipality to connect the new units to the grid.”

According to Van der Walt, there were no JoJo tanks as promised or perimeter fencing. There was also no new ablution facilities to accommodate the new housing units. The only facilities still at Talana are the ten toilets erected in the veld opposite the hostel by the Greater Tzaneen Municipality last year. The only water supply was erected by Ward Councillor Prinsloo a year ago as well.

The inside of one of the “houses” which allegedly cost R64 441 each to construct.

The GTM municipal manager, Thapelo Matlala, issued eviction notices to the illegal occupants of the new structures and gave them seven days to evacuate from the site.

In the meantime, Bulletin came into possession of the cost break down for the so-called “multi-million housing scheme” that includes the Talana and Burgersfort projects, and it does raise questions.

According to the official budget document, the temporary units cost R64 441 each. They are 30m2 in size and are supposedly to be fitted with prepaid power meters. According to the cost breakdown, the units were supposed to be fenced in and 5000lt JoJo tanks were meant to be supplied to the site. The bill of quantities also lists an item for “social and community facilitation” through a social facilitator at a cost of R300 000.

We do not know what a “social facilitator” is, nor do we know why this person would need to be paid R300 000 to facilitate socially. We have sent our inquiries to the office of the premier as we want to understand why it was necessary to spend millions on temporary houses, which are to be connected to the power grid and provided with sanitation and water and security and fencing, in the interim while actual houses are set to be constructed at a date still not announced? We also wanted to know why it took the ANC government 120 days after the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, to respond to the plight of the poor. Lastly, we will be sending an email inquiry to the EFF to understand exactly what “charge” they will be laying against the Premier.

The Aventino Group was awarded the tender for this project. We were provided no information on the directors of the group or their affiliates. Their website is very secretive and lists only the following information regarding their owners and direction:

The ten temporary toilets that are meant to sevre the families of the 40 new “homes” are not new structures. They were erected by the municipality a year prior to this project.

“The business is a family owned business. The Chairman and founder is a person of reputable and proven Managerial experience in construction engineering and infrastructure industry armed with Bsc Eng from the University of Cape Town, MBL and a Phd from UNISA. The Company is steered by a woman CEO or Managing Director armed with MBL and impressive experience record in the listed industries.”

Bulletin did some digging and we discovered that the Aventino Group is in fact a closed corporation headed by a Constance Mohlala. The company was previously named Ntje Business Enterprise and Construction.