Saturday, September 29, 2007


- Linda Jaquet -

It was quite a happening when the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Sue van der Merwe, met with politicians, officials and community representatives of the Central Karoo District Municipality and the Prince Albert Local Municipality at Prince Albert Road on 13 September 2007.

Sue van der Merwe is the political champion of the Central Karoo in the National Government and came to learn for herself about the obstacles faced by communities living in Transnet-owned houses dotted along the mainline railway line throughout the region.

Just across the railway line at Prince Albert Road station is a cluster of 18 small, neat red-brick houses, many of whose inhabitants recall with affection the days when their station was busy and efficient providing them with a livelihood. Most are former employees of Transnet, who were retrenched when the company restructured in the early 1990s.

Transnet now wants to dispose of its “non-viable assets”, such as houses, and in the case of Prince Albert Road, has offered to transfer them at very low cost to the Prince Albert Municipality.

The situation is complicated: the Prince Albert Road settlement now falls within the jurisdiction of the Prince Albert Municipality but its residents continue to pay rent to Transnet and are surrounded by Transnet- and privately-owned property. Transnet provides services and infrastructure that residents say leave much to be desired: a borehole supplies household water, there is no rubbish collection and houses still have bucket toilets. While the settlement is not electrified, residents pointed out to the Friend that the local businesses and “white people’s houses” on the other side of the railway line ironically drew their electricity from the station. An elderly resident who has lived at Prince Albert Road all her life, commented tiredly: “Die treinspoor is die apartheidslyn.”

It is obvious that services and infrastructure will have to be upgraded. Mr Edwin September, Prince Albert’s Acting Municipal Manager, told us that the Municipality was cash-strapped and was adamant that Transnet should assist in financing the upgrading of the settlement. Transnet appears reluctant to do so. Angela Conway of the Southern Cape Land Committee (SCLC), a George-based NGO, told the Friend that Transnet had in no uncertain terms simply abandoned the people of Prince Albert Road and had for the last decade or so “somehow wished that they would all disappear.” Mr Hans Rossouw, a community leader, stressed that while the residents of the “Transnet huisies” had felt unsure about their futures for many years, they have no intention of disappearing or being dumped in one of the bigger, neighbouring townships, where they fear their family lives would inevitably break down. Hans commented that while both sides negotiate about houses, land and costs and take their time to do so, “they forget that there are people living in the houses. We know that once we can own our own houses, that we have electricity and have a sense of pride in ourselves again, we can sort the rest out.”

In spite of the obstacles, the community remains surprisingly positive. They have approached BADISA to assist them in setting up a day care centre for toddlers and have spruced up a room in the settlement’s old school to accommodate it. BADISA has also agreed to help residents begin a soup kitchen and there are plans afoot for skills training. Hans emphasises that: “We want to work for ourselves – it’s not about handouts.”

Deputy Minister van der Merwe told community leaders that she wished to work with all of them to overcome the blockages faced by Transnet settlements. Obviously the people of Prince Albert Road do not expect miracles, but certainly hope that her visit will speed up decisions about their future.

Photo: Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe (left) shares a joke with Outa Lappies outside his home at PA Road

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