Government abandons mass removals plan as measure to curb Covid-19

Diepsloot is one of the most densely populated areas in Gauteng. Government has now abandoned plans of mass removals of people from highly congested informal settlements as one of its responses to covid-19 pandemic. / Sebabatso Mosamo
Diepsloot is one of the most densely populated areas in Gauteng. Government has now abandoned plans of mass removals of people from highly congested informal settlements as one of its responses to covid-19 pandemic. / Sebabatso Mosamo

Government has abandoned plans of extraordinary mass removals of people from highly congested informal settlements as one of its responses to covid-19 pandemic.

The move, which was aimed at curbing the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak, has been shelved thanks to advices from non-governmental organisations which operate in informal settlements.

The plans, which were initially announced by human settlements, water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu last month before the start of the lockdown, aren't going to be pursued any more.

Sisulu said government would now be embarking on "reblocking" in informal settlements to ensure that emergency vehicles could be allowed to access high density informal settlements.

"The concept of de-densification is a way that we, government, had described what we wanted to do and I've been in contact with a number of NGOs and they have helped me understand the language that's acceptable, we call it reblocking," she said.

"This means to create enough space around them so that vehicles can come through, especially emergency services, and this is the concept they've been working on so they will be nothing new by the time we get there."

The minister said "de-densification will be put aside" as reblocking would be used to create enough space for social distancing to be adhered to. "If people agree to move to other places, they will do that on a voluntary basis," Sisulu said.

Government had initially identified 29 informal settlements in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape that would have been affected by the removals. Sisulu said agreements reached with NGOs which operated in informal settlements is that nobody would be removed.

"The agreement we have with the NGOs... is that we will find land adjacent to where they live so that they are not dislocated from their society, we've agreed to do that and we have a good working relationship with 12 NGOs that we called on to come advice us," Sisulu said.

Sisulu was speaking at a construction site of a new development of temporary units made with fireproof material called "hardrock" being constructed in Wilgeheuwel and Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg.

The new development which would house about 300 residents from Ikemeleng, a tented informal settlement, comes courtesy of a donation from the South African Housing and Infrastructure Fund (Sahif).

Sisulu said the temporary units were a solution that government was looking into to help those in informal settlements to be able to practice social distancing.

Beauty Maake, a mother of three from Ikemeleng, said she was looking forward to many peaceful sleeps which may come with dreams of lotto numbers in the new units to be completed this week."

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