Bitou mayor ‘sets the record straight’

IN statement released on Friday, under the heading ‘Actions by the Western Cape Human Settlements minister threaten to delay housing development in Bitou’, mayor Peter Lobese says he is “very disturbed by the utter arrogance and lack of respect” showed by Western Cape Human Settlements minister Tertuis Simmers.
“How a minister of one sphere of government can enter a town to meet with its constituency and present plans to the people without the council’s input and approval is a sign of disrespect.
“The minister is going around presenting plans to communities without even having the decency to table it to council. These plans do not conform to those that were approved by his predecessor, minister Madikizela.
“We may not have always agreed with Madikizela’s approach, but he was five times better than the current incumbent,” says Lobese, adding that “Simmers is hardly four months in the position and has without consultation unilaterally changed all the housing plans that was approved by his predecessor”.

The statement continues thus…
Bitou Municipality cannot suffer because of the fact that Madikizela and Simmers may have their own political fights within their own party. This statement stems from the fact that Simmers said he would not support the plan Madikizela approved but would develop his own plans.
Now this is not how government works. The plans that Madikizela approved are within the Municipal IDP cycle and it affect the municipal budget processes.
Coming back to the meeting that Simmers had with the concerned residents: Mayor Lobese says that the SA Human Rights Commission has been driving a process to find a binding and lasting solution to issues that led to the weeklong unrest in Qolweni during July 2019.
The minister never saw the necessity to be part of this process. It is not surprising that his actions are that of undermining a process that has been running smoothly. The SAHRC (SA Human Rights Commission) called a meeting for Wednesday October 9 and the minister at the last minute decided to move the meeting to Sunday the 6th.
The mayor consulted with the exco and senior officials and they had already made prior commitments and was thus not available for the rescheduled meeting of October 6. The SAHRC was informed and this led to the postponement of the meeting.
All stakeholders including the minister were informed of this postponement. Therefore, when the SAHRC sent the notice of postponement to stakeholders, Bitou Council accepted that the meeting would not take place.
The mayor and deputy mayor point out that the municipality had a budget approved by Madikizela’s office for 169 houses. How Simmers had come to reduce this amount of houses to only 36 is a mystery.
Currently, there is a Transitional Residential Area (TRA) being developed on the Minaar site that was part of the budget received during Madikizela’s tenure. Therefore, Bitou Municipality will go ahead and implement the plans as agreed during Madikizela’s time of office.
The mayor thanks the Members of Parliament who were here as part of the visit by the National Council of Provinces in September. These MPs made sure that they fast tracked approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Ebenezer land.
The provincial Environment department has been delaying this process and said it would only be approved in January 2020. But above-mentioned input cut the red tape and the EIA was approved. The tender for bulk infrastructure installations will go out in the next few weeks and this will ensure that the TRA for Ebenezer can be accelerated.
The mayor is also very concerned about the silence regarding the 75 houses that Madikizela promised the community of Kurland. Bitou Municipality has planned for these houses and needs the Western Cape Human Settlements department to commit to a promise that was made by its then incumbent in the department.
Plans cannot disappear when there are changes in government hence we work on a five-year cycle. Simmers should at least be aware of the fact that there is a five-year budget cycle, seeing that he also comes from a local government environment.
Minister Simmers, as a citizen of this town, comes home over weekends and we understand he wants to be seen as being active. However, his actions are not only dividing communities but it is causing chaos and mistrust among the people.
He is spreading false information and seems to be clueless when it comes to the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act. He should understand that he is not running a parallel local government and the provincial government is only there as another sphere of government.
These spheres can only be effective if they work as a unit and within the IGR Framework Act. He should also consult Chapter 3 and Section 154 of the SA Constitution that clarifies the cooperative roles played by the three spheres of government.
The mayor has indicated that he is already in consultation with the national ministers of Human Settlements and Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs to intervene in this matter.
He further warns that Simmers’s actions have the potential to cause more conflict and unrests in the town, and hopes that he will not fold his arms and hide when these situations flare up again.
The reason why the SAHRC stepped in to assist Bitou Council during the riots is that leaders like him were hiding behind glass doors. - Andile Namntu on behalf of Bitou mayor Peter Lobese