28 February 2014

Waiting for information for Westfort residents

Phase 1 Heritage Survey of Historic Westfort Leprosy Hospital Site (Pretoria), authored by M Naude. Archived as SAHA FOIP collection AL2878_B01.37.0There is an informal, informal settlement in the old Westfort Hospital in Pretoria where people live with little access to the most basic facilities, such as water and electricity. Each day these people wake up not knowing whether today is the day they will be forced out of this limited shelter by the Gauteng government.

Last September some of the residents contacted the Right to Know campaign and were referred to SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme. One of the major issues for the residents' representatives was that they lived in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty.

Over a number of months and years the people living in the Westfort Hospital have seen notices posted on the surrounding gates about proposed redevelopments, which never happen. The Westfort residents representatives told SAHA, that with almost no information available to them they simply do not if they are about to be made homeless sometime soon.

In response, SAHA took up their quest for access to information using their Constitutional right as implemented under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA). SAHA sought documents to help answer two of the residents' key questions:

• Is the old Westfort Hospital site going to be developed?
• Can this historic old Westfort Hospital be developed, given its clear cultural significance to the history of South Africa?

SAHA was very pleased to report to the Westfort residents on the responses from two of SAHA's PAIA requests. These very helpful and relatively timely responses are from:

South African Heritage Resources Agency, and
Gauteng Provincial Heritage Resources Authority.

To date the documents provided have confirmed that the Westfort Hospital (and associated cemetery) were classified as Grade II heritage resources in April 2000, leading to an expectation that no development of the Westfort Hospital can occur until a heritage impact assessment is conducted. Both organisations have confirmed that no heritage impact assessment has been lodged to date.

However, this leaves an ongoing gaping hole in the need for information, about what development, if any, is planned by the Gauteng government. Despite a request for that information in September 2013, and attempts to follow this up in December 2013 and January 2014 - there is still no response.

While SAHA uses PAIA to seek this critical information - more questions arise. In particular, whether this is the sort of information that should have already been made available to the local community on the internet and through community meetings.

In any event, this is definitely the kind of information that should have been provided to SAHA under law, many months ago. In the most recent communications, SAHA has indicated that if no response is received today (28 February 2014), this request will continue to be escalated through relevant appeal mechanisms. We also assure readers that further developments will be reported in this newsletter.