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Pensioners from Helen Joseph Hostel have brand-new houses, where they have their own rooms and communal living spaces and kitchens.
IT was a perfect morning for seven pensioners from Alexandra, despite the cold, for they received their new homes from Executive Mayor Amos Masondo.


Executive mayor Amos masondo hands over new houses to the eldery (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Executive mayor Amos Masondo hands over new houses to the eldery (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)On 3 May, the overcast and chilly weather confirmed that winter had settled in, but that won’t be bothering these elderly ladies as they put down roots in their cosy homes in Extension 7 of the township.

Anna Khabane, Thandi Shongwe, Susan Mdatha, Ruth Nkepile, Nomvuyo Sakwe, Ramadumetja Rapetsoa and Margaret Akgopela all previously lived in the Helen Joseph Hostel, the cramped, crowded place they had called home for the past 30 years.

Masondo visited the hostel in 2010 to learn more about their living concerns, and found that in some instances there were up to six women per room and that all age groups were combined, despite their disparate needs.

As a result, the City made it a priority to phase out the hostel system. The new housing units stand as testament to this. Masondo and members of his mayoral committee handed over the keys to the first of the residents.

“We are making sure we restore the dignity of our people through houses,” said the committee member for housing, Ruby Mathang, at the handover. “Alex has huge potential for going forward because of its location, but it is important that it is developed and the potential realised.”

Job Sithole, the manager of the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP), explained that the housing structure was designed after they discovered there were 182 pensioners in Helen Joseph. It comprises six buildings with four bedrooms. Residents have their own rooms, but share a common living space and kitchen.

The kitchen comes complete with a stove, which automatically switches off when a pot is removed and turns on when one is placed on it.

In total, there will be 48 of these rooms and they will be complete within the next two weeks. “We are putting the finishing touches to the other units and are currently involved in administrating the allocation of pensioners,” he said.

Masondo saw the delivery of the new houses as a small but vital step in resolving Alex’s problems. “The challenge in Alex has been deep and you can see that there is still lots to do,” he said.

“Our aim is to de-densify Alex by buying land and re-demarcating the township. The problem is that people have been pushed together on one small piece of land,” he explained. “What is most important is restoring the dignity of our people because their dignity was taken away; we need to ensure we build human settlements and not just houses.”

He urged Alexandra residents to join hands with the government to aid development in the township. “There is only so much government can do; together with the people, we will get so much more done.

“It will be a deadly blow to apartheid to destroy hostels, and we will do everything possible to ensure we succeed, but we will only succeed if we work together.”

The ARP is a long-term initiative, with a number of housing models being tested to fit the lifestyles of Alex residents. “We are constantly evolving to accommodate the needs of people in Alex,” Sithole said. “Every time we build we try to respond to the different circumstances of our people.”


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