Cape granny finally tastes freedom

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Siena Van Niekerk, now 75 years old, has lived in a house made up of asbestos ever since she moved to the area of Morningstar, Durbanvile, in the Western Cape, 48 years ago.

She had long wanted to own a decent house and this has always been her wish that she dies in a proper home. Extremely cold during winter nights, the asbestos house was not good for her health.

But life is about to change for the 75-year-old. She is one of many residents of Morningstar who were this past weekend handed the keys to their new homes on the eve South Africa is to commemorate Freedom Day.

“I am happy with my new home. It has given me the space to move around the house to different rooms. It’s an improvement compared to the asbestos house I stayed in before,” Van Niekerk said upon receiving keys to her home from Deputy Minister of Human Settlements Zou Kota-Fredericks and a local NGO this past weekend.  

The country’s Bill of Rights enshrines the rights of all people in the country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. It commands the State to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of all its citizens. One of the rights highlighted in that section of the Constitution is the right to housing. And so when Van Niekerk and others in Morningstar received the keys to their new homes, nobody was doing these residents a favour. It was a fulfilment of a right that is enshrined in the Constitution – that is, every South African has a right to decent shelter.  

The Group Areas Act, a legislation imposed by the apartheid government, had condemned the people of Morningstar to asbestos houses for over 50 years.

While achieving political freedom remained a priority leading up to 1994, the needs of the citizens changed after the country’s first ever democratic elections in April of that year. Addressing poverty and socio-economic challenges emerged as an urgent task for the incoming administration as it embarked on a task to rebuild the nation. Providing housing became one of the immediate tasks the government had to face up to.

Over three million houses delivered since 1994

The statistics don’t lie – South Africa is undoubtedly a world away from the place it was 23 years ago. Since 1994, more than three million houses have been built to benefit millions of poor households. But there are still many people who require houses. Many of these people live in dire conditions and are battling to stay warm every day.

Eager to change this situation in Morningstar, The Department of Human Settlements, the Western Cape Provincial government and the Morningstar Development and Upliftment Initiative went ahead to demolish and rebuild twenty asbestos houses in the area replacing them with proper homes.

Residents founded the Morningstar Development and Upliftment Initiative to carry out projects that are aimed at ridding the area of socio-economic challenges through development and job creation for the youth. One of the projects that the non-profit organisation has taken up is improving the living conditions of some of the elderly residents who continue to live in asbestos houses after all these years.

Speaking at the handover of the houses recently, Deputy Minister Kota-Fredericks said projects like these – that allow government to work together with civic society organisations and the private sector – assist in creating opportunities, especially for the youth.

“There is an opportunity which can be driven by the Morningstar Development and Upliftment Initiative to capacitate our youth, to uplift our youth free from the shackles of unemployment and poverty. Even to have them accredited with certain skills.

“So yes, this is the vehicle to address those issues,” she said.

More partnerships to roll out projects

The Deputy Minister roped in the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) to spearhead the project, together with the Morningstar Development and Upliftment Initiative.

The Deputy Minister further reminded the beneficiaries of the houses of what the country’s constitution promises.

 “As we celebrate this day [and later] Freedom Day, let’s all remember and pay tribute to the country’s unique and remarkably detailed and inclusive constitution and the Bill of Rights.

“Our Constitution is recognised globally as one of the most developed in the world and guarantees all the country’s citizens freedom from all inequalities of the past”.

Zane Williams, chairperson of the Morningstar Development and Upliftment Initiative says to break free from the shackles of the legacy of apartheid, change starts with everyone.

“Only we can free ourselves with the help and assistance, the guidance and the keenness of our national government,” he says.

It is this partnership Williams is referring to that has helped people like SienaVan Niekerk to have a place they can finally call home even if it happens at the age of 75. –


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