Breakthrough and Struggle: Land, Housing and Backyarders in Tiryville, Eastern Cape

By Dolly Cedras (on behalf of FEDUP)*

When you look down the hill, there’s a flat piece of land called Lapland. That’s where we used to live before we moved to Tiryville. At the time Tiryville already had bank financed houses and some open land where we built our shacks..

Dolly Cedras (left) and Leana Ceasar (right)

I lived in my shack for 16 years, and in 2002, after I managed to buy the plot next to my shack I thought about building a house. I went to the municipality to ask for help but they said I needed to get other people to join me. I then found out that the area was zoned for bank-financed houses and not for low-cost housing. So I wrote a letter to the then Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu, and asked if the area could be rezoned from private ownership into an RDP project area.

One day I met Mama Chawe who was part of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP). She said to me: “I can see that you are struggling to get a house. Come over and listen.” She told me about the rituals of FEDUP and the agreement with uTshani Fund [as a financial bridging institution for government subsidised housing]. So I listened and she said I should join FEDUP. I got my green savings boekie [little book] from Mama Chawe for R8. And that is how in 2003 I joined the movement now called FEDUP and began saving.

View onto Tiryville

On their next visit from Port Elizabeth, FEDUP national leaders called a meeting and told us more about the movement and the People’s Housing Process (PHP). We were introduced to the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and together we soon met with the municipality to begin negotiating for our subsidy to build FEDUP-led PHP houses. We convinced them by first building my house [a show house]. The inspector was happy with the quality and so we had many more meetings with the municipality, CORC and uTshani. Eventually we managed to get a contract of 48 PHP houses for the FEDUP members in Tiryville.

We started construction in December 2014. At the moment [July 2015] we have already completed 17 houses and 7 further houses are half-way built. When the foundations were built there was a delay in the construction process because the engineers changed the floor plans. So far the construction process has been quite smooth and we haven’t had many problems with the municipality.

FEDUP built PHP house


Dolly and FEDUP Coordinators inspect a near-complete FEDUP house

Most of the challenges we experienced were in the community. Many were upset that our houses looked so nice. But they did not know that our houses were FEDUP and not municipality built. [Due to FEDUP’s 2006 pledge agreement with the national and provincial department of human settlements, eligible FEDUP members are able to gain direct access to their housing subsidy through the PHP instrument. This enables FEDUP members to build bigger houses (50m2) than the municipality (35-40m2)]. Some neighbours still come to ask about the houses. Others decided to join FEDUP savings scheme too.

Bank-financed house in Tiryville

Although some of us have houses many of our FEDUP members in Tiryville are backyarders because they weren’t able to buy plots. Leana Caesar coordinates the FEDUP backyarder group in Tiryville.

“As the backyarders in Tiryville we identified some land which the municipality identified too. But up to this moment we have not yet received any response to our land submissions. The challenge is that the municipality does not know the real number of FEDUP backyarders. There are 970 people in Tiryville that do not have houses. 212 are FEDUP backyarders. But the municipality thinks that the number is only 170 people. The actual problem is that we are waiting for land so that FEDUP can help us.

In the meantime the other backyarders are saving. They believe in the principles of the Federation. Others have not joined FEDUP because they’ve given up hope. It’s been years that we’ve been trying to push this process. For example, my first application for a house was in 2001 (14 years earlier)”

(Liana Caesar, Tiryville backyarder coordinator)

I know the frustrations that Liana speaks about. There was a time where we needed to each pay R 40 for housing subsidy forms. Do you know how much money I’ve spent on driving to and fro from the municipality in Port Elizabeth? When the municipality did not have forms for us we went and printed them ourselves at the Internet café. I needed to keep hope. I’m telling you, this breakthrough with the municipality is a praying matter.

Dolly's blue FEDUP house

Almost all of us in Tiryville receive grants and pensions. In fact all 48 beneficiaries are unemployed. Many of us try and make a little bit of income. Some sell cookies and tea; I am a seamstress. I can’t tell you if each of the 48 households will remain FEDUP members. But I can say that I like FEDUP. You know, the municipality was often not very responsive to our requests. But FEDUP had an ear to listen to me. No one else could have given me my beautiful blue house!

* Documented and compiled by Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)