It never rains, but pours for beleaguered Ziscosteel workers who, after going for over five years without pay, are now being evicted from their houses for failing to pay rates to Redcliff Municipality.
Most of the steelmaker’s 3 000-strong workforce live in council houses in Redcliff. The local authority has itself failed to pay its own workers for the past 17 months due to difficult financial circumstances.
Utaba Imana (94), whose husband died while working in the mines of the steelmaker, was evicted from her home of 55 years by the Freddy Kapuya-led council over a $550 debt. She spent three nights sleeping in the open until well-wishers helped her take Redcliff Municipality to court over the matter.
She is challenging the house ownership claims made by council. She argues council has no right to evict her because the house belongs to Ziscosteel, which used to employ her husband, but failed to pay his retirement package and pension.
“The 1st respondent [Redcliff Municipality] is not the owner of the house in which I am staying. The house belongs to Ziscosteel and the respondent does not or at all enjoy the right to evict me from the same.”
“The respondent lacks any locus standi at law to evict my late husband or myself as we do not have a valid contractual agreement between us,” she wrote in an urgent application which seeks to have her re-occupy the house.
Ziscosteel, which at one point acted as the local authority of Redcliff, handed over 820 company houses to council as part of a social responsibility gesture at no cost.
The houses, most of which are substandard, were handed over to council on condition that the local authority would upgrade the properties, some of them built some 70 years ago.
Most of the houses do not have ablution facilities or electricity and are on the verge of collapse.
The houses had communal toilets and water points, but these are now unusable, yet residents continue to be charged for water and use of the toilets.
Torwood Residents and Ratepayers’ Association (Torra) president Michael Maphosa now accuses the local authority of charging residents for non-existent services.
“Our members are being charged for non-existent services. council bills each household $23 for water each month but we fetch our water from boreholes. We have no toilets and no street lights but council charges residents for these services. This is daylight robbery if you ask me,” he said.
Redcliff mayor, Kapuya, who was at the time a special interest councillor, was awarded a $400 000 contract to build toilets and bath outlets on each of the houses through a government loan. He got the contract through his company Wackdrive Properties in 2010.
He is accused of doing a shoddy and incomplete job, with most of the houses now having empty compartments built to house the toilets.
The few toilets that were fitted are none functional because there is no running water and the drain gradient was wrong. Kapuya, however, says his company did what it was contracted to do — to erect (empty) structures.
“What is left on those houses is the plumbing side, which was supposed to be done by council and not my company. We did our part and commissioned the houses,” he said.
The mayor, who must now pay back the government loan, says he can only raise the money through selling the houses on the open market. Such a move would effectively lock out present occupants given that over 80% of them are in no position to buy the houses because their employer, Ziscosteel, is unable to pay their salaries.
“Remember we borrowed half a million from the same ministry to upgrade those substandard houses on the understanding that we would pay back the money after selling the houses. So giving title to tenants (without payment) will leave us in a financial hole,” he said.
Tendai Tsikira (22), whose parents died while still employed by Ziscosteel and are still owed salaries and benefits, is among the tenants who will be expected to buy the houses on the open market. She was the first to have her belongings bundled out of a council houses over a $622 debt. She lived in the open, outside the house for three weeks together with her one-year-old child. She was evicted in the middle of the winter season.
“We have lost all dignity because of these evictions,” she said. “For the past two weeks, my family has been staying in the open and nobody has offered us any help. This house is the only home I have known and I have nowhere else to go,” she said at the time.
Redcliff council is also struggling to settle its own debts that include an outstanding salary and wage bill which stands at $6 510 450, including statutory remittances.
Other creditors who include Zesa, TelOne and Zinwa stood at $1 576 135 by end of February this year. Redcliff Municipality is also sitting on a $497 285 bank overdraft.