So the meeting called by the ward councillor took place yesterday evening. Advertised as a Ward Public Meeting Ward 37 (Region D2), Councillor Zodwa Nxumalo Kindly invites all the Residents of Ward 37 to a meeting to be held as follows:......Mavis Hall.... Agenda includes 2. Jabavu stadium development.(Resume). The leaflet's footer included the coat of arms of the Office of Speaker of Johannesburg and the Joburg logo. All very efficient, I reckoned, shouldn't be any problem. I should have been so lucky!
I arrived at the appointed time, 5 pm, to find a representative from the Speaker's Office outside but no sign of the councillor. I introduced myself and explained my reasons for being there. He looked puzzled. "But they are illegal squatters" he said with a frown. "Some have been there over 20 years and have occupancy rights" I replied. "The place was managed by a trust when it was built in 1984. One of the residents, who had paid rent to the trust for many years, took over when the manager of the trust died, and he and a committee then looked after the place. Trouble is, the City has not recognised them as legitimate, hence they are seen as squatters." We left it at that and waited for Cllr Nxumalo to arrive.
That she did at around 5:15 in a shiny new Mercedes-Benz. She came towards us gingerly with a shifting gaze, not really wanting to engage me or look me in the eye. I approached her and offered my hand in a greeting, gave my name and the reason for my being there.
"We don't need Adele Lucas here" she growled.
"I'm here representing the Homemakers community."
"This isn't about Homemakers it's about the stadium."
"Yes, I know, but it's right next door and there is a tender out for the redevelopment of Homemakers and I hoped you could shed some light on that too this evening."
"You have no right to be here."
"I think I have, this is a public event, it's a City event and I'm a resident of the City and the Homemakers community have asked me to represent them. I have documentation in the car I can show you."
"No documentation. I don't want to see documentation. You can attend but I'm not going to entertain your presence, I'm not going to entertain your presence here."
With that she walked off and I followed her into the hall, finding a seat among the roughly 100 people who eventually arrived, including quite a few Homemakers residents.
Well clearly I'm not welcome, I mused. At most meetings I attend, even if uninvited, when I am the only white person or someone from outside the gathering the host or convener acknowledges my presence or welcomes me and there is an acknowledgement from the assembly, an age old African custom accorded to strangers or visitors. Not this time. I was in hostile territory. What made this even clearer to me was that the Councillor conducted 99% of the meeting in the vernacular - a deliberate ploy to exclude me from proceedings?
Fortunately my friend from Homemakers was able to give me the gist of the meeting afterwards. The City had allocated R4,1 million to redevelop the stadium. A contractor had been appointed and work would commence soon. There were four contractors short-listed for the Homemakers redevelopment but the City was delaying the appointment, which she could not explain. The Homemakers residents, she suggested, claimed preferential treatment in the development but when the houses were built they would have to wait their turn like everyone else.
I asked him about the mentions of the DA. He said the Councillor was very angry with the DA for coming to Homemakers and politicising the title deeds issue. Yes, she acknowledged, people had been waiting for 15 years for houses and this was wrong. But someone from Jozi FM who'd been at the DA meeting on Monday told her Mmusi said only the Homemakers residents would get houses. This was clearly a distortion, as Mmusi made it very clear that there were roughly 220 000 families in Gauteng waiting for houses.
"Why is she so aggressive towards the Homemakers people?" I asked.
"Because we stand up to her and we complain when she does things like remove the electricity substation outside Homemakers making it impossible for us to get power. She even warned people at the meeting that with winter coming, they need to beware Homemakers residents stealing power from their homes with illegal connections. It's amazing."
Cllr Nxumalo is an imposing woman, an impassioned speaker and to some she could be intimidating. It's no wonder many people fear her. She obviously has a grudge with Homemakers, which seems to be shared by many others in the City of Joburg. In the coming few weeks we are going to try to get to the bottom of this. When something important comes up I will share it with my readers.