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City does about-turn on rent office

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City does about-turn on rent office

by Tammy Petersen and Esther Lewis
17 Oct 2007
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

The doors of the Manenberg rent office have finally been reopened and members of Proudly Manenberg claim their threat to march in protest against the city's decision to suspend operation in February is the cause.

But the city disputes this and says the reopening has been in the pipeline for several weeks. "There is no way you can just threaten to march and expect results immediately," says Charles Cooper, city spokesperson.

The housing office was shut in February this year because of a gang war in the area at the time.

The closure was supposed to be a temporary measure, but at the end of July, Grace Blouw, manager of existing settlements in the city's Housing Directorate, announced that the office would not be re-opened at all because city could not guarantee the safety of its staff.

As a result Manenberg residents were referred to the Heideveld office, two kilometres away.

But after several complaints from the community, that decision was overturned.

"We heard about children being robbed on their way to pay the bills. We also heard about elderly people who could not make that trip," says Blouw.

Since then, the city has worked on beefing up security. One of the measures taken is a resident security guard. The Metro police will also set up a satellite station at the office.

On Wednesday, however, a crowd gathered at the De Downs traffic circle armed with protest posters, only to be informed that the rent office had already been opened that morning by mayor Helen Zille. They then decided to continue their march to celebrate their "victory of finally getting a response from council".

Mario Wanza, chairperson of Proudly Manenberg, says the situation is "disgusting".

"We have been waiting for eight months to get the city to provide a service to the residents of Manenberg. We're about building a new Manenberg where everyone can care and share with each other."

He claims that all other public servants are rendering a service to the community and there is no reason why the rent office staff cannot perform their duty. "They are servants of the residents of Manenberg. We pay our taxes."

Satisfied marchers cheered as the lock was finally removed from the gate and a notice referring the residents to Heideveld ripped off the door by group members. Rent office employee Mogammat Sonday confirmed that the office would be functioning from Thursday (last week). "We are reopening but still clearing up. Anyone who wants to pay is welcome from tomorrow (Thursday)," he said. People complained about being treated unfairly by the council owing to the constant negative publicity they attract as a "gang infested area".

Resident Martha Harcombe says service delivery is substandard because they are Manenberg residents.

"People complain because the council doesn't fix things here. Don't judge us. We pay our rent, so give us quality, not rubbish."

A number of people complained about the inconvenience and the price of travelling to Heideveld. Many said they cannot afford the R8 taxi fare and that they don't have access to cars.

"It's irritating and expensive to travel all the way there. If the clinic was willing to function here why couldn't they? Why do they have to wait for the people to march before they listen to us?" asks Irene de Villiers from Francisco Court in Manenberg. But Blouw insists the reopening is "coincidental".

"We weren't aware of the march taking place. It just happened that it was the day we planned to re-open the office."

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