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Thursday Mar 06, 2014

Construction starts on Langa public housing

Just off the highway in Bhunga Avenue, Langa, is a plot of sand that will soon be a home for families still living in crowded apartheid hostels with filthy ablution facilities.

An artist's impression of the new block of flats to be built on Bhunga Avenue, Langa

Construction begins this week on 463 flats, which will be rented out with financial assistance from the city. The first new residents should be able to move in by November.

Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Tandeka Gqada, visited the site yesterday, where there will eventually be 1 320 units.

Across the road, in an area known as Special Quarter, hundreds of people are raising families in hostels built for male migrant labourers at the height of apartheid. The hostels became family homes when pass laws were repealed, and the labourers were joined by wives and children, renting beds for R20 a month.

The chairperson of Special Quarter, Thandiwe Jonas, has been conducting a survey of every person living in a hostel in Langa. 'Through the walls you hear everything - fighting, crying babies, husbands and wives in bed. There is no privacy. These houses were not built for family. People came here out of desperation.'

Jonas said the plan was to give the first new flats to people who already had a lease contract with the municipality - especially those whose families had spilt over into shacks attached to the hostels.

After everyone has been moved to new flats, the shacks will be torndown and the hostels restored to become heritage sites on a tourist route through Langa.

'Langa wasthe first formal township developed under the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 to accommodate black people residing in urban areas. It is the only remaining township of its nature in South Africa,' reads the Heritage Impact Assessment.

Elderly Nomalizo Bulebule has stayed here since 1978, when she was allowed into the hostel to live with her husband and his two children. Now, they have returned to the Eastern Cape, and Bulebule shares her room with a woman from another family.

Luckily, they get along well. 'She makes me laugh. If I haven't got something to eat, they help me. We don't touch each other's things unless we are there and can ask for it.'

The room has two separate electricity meters, two lights, and two tiny cooking shelves. Bulebule earns her living as a sangoma.

'People come to me for help,' she said. 'They've only got a little bit of money to pay, but I don't care because I'm helping people.'

But a consultation requires a place for the customer to divulge private details - and privacy is difficult to come by in a shared room.

'Some people don't come any more,' Bulebule said. 'I want to stay by myself now - there's no space here.'

She longs for a kitchen with a bit of space to prepare food. In her house in Special Quarter, there is only a cabinet with a hot plate, pressed up against the foot of her bed which she sleeps in at night and stores herbs on in the day.

It was cramped, but was luxury compared to people packed five-aroom in New Flats, said Jonas.

Beyond Langa, there are 4 000 hostel households in Gugulethu and another 1 700 in Nyanga. The city estimates 12 000 units will be needed - at a cost of R5 billion.

Cape Argus


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