Cape Town - Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is determined to eradicate the 2.3 million unit housing backlog before she thinks of a possible end to free government housing, although not state-subsidised housing.
She says the key to getting to grips with South Africa’s housing logjam is a database to get a full picture of who still needs free housing 20 years into democracy, and to eliminate fraud, corruption and queue-jumping of the housing waiting list.
“It never was the intention of this government to give free homes ad infinitum,” Sisulu told the Cape Argus on Wednesday.
“What makes an 18-year-old think the state owes them a house? It’s a culture of entitlement… We can’t continue with a dependency culture.”
When the government introduced free housing, it was to correct the wrongs of the past affecting the majority of South Africans through dispossession and forced removals, she said. But beyond a certain point, questions needed to be asked.
Determined to go “full steam” to clear the housing backlog, Sisulu also said it might be necessary to look, via a housing database, into the “closing-off of free houses”.
“Somebody has to have the courage to say this is not what we intended,” she said. Free housing was not in the Freedom Charter, which talked of there being houses, or in the constitution, which set out the right of access to adequate shelter.
It is a potentially controversial stance. But the minister maintained there were many options to ensure no vulnerable, poor South African was left without access to adequate shelter. This included providing state housing subsidies through the social grant system, and affordable rentals.
Currently there was simply not enough information on the country’s housing needs, while reports abounded of shoddy and incomplete work by contractors. There were also reports of beneficiaries of free government housing selling their homes, often for next to nothing and without the right paper work.
In her budget speech this week Sisulu said it was do-able to provide 1.5 million housing opportunities over the next five years.
This included about one million brick-and-mortar free government houses, with 50 mega-projects of at least 10 000 units to get under way within 100 days.
The remainder would be made up of site and service spots, where people could build their own homes, affordable rental accommodation and the financing in the gap housing market for those earning too much to qualify for free homes and too little for commercial mortgages.
Land is at the heart of state housing provision in integrated human settlements. Sisulu is determined suitable land will be identified and acquired: “We might think of expro- priating for this purpose.”
But as the Lwandle evictions in a freezing mid-winter cold spell showed, politicking is never far from housing. The complex mix of the DA-controlled Cape Town council and provincial administration, the government-owned SA National Roads Agency and the national transport and human settlements departments is currently the subject to a ministerial inquiry.
Sisulu is adamant the lessons from this heart-breaking eviction will be applied countrywide and, if necessary, the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act will be amended to ensure every party is aware and sticks to its obligations.
“It’s not just about Lwandle,” Sisulu said.