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By Xolani Mbanjwa
The government had failed millions of people who were living "like pigs" in informal settlements, and efforts to explain to them why this was so after more than a decade and a half of democracy would be meaningless, President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.
Zuma told a meeting of the President's Co-ordinating Council that the conditions he found on Monday's unannounced visit to Johannesburg's Sweetwaters informal settlement had brought him close to tears.
He was addressing a special meeting of the council, which brings together ministers, premiers, MECs and mayors to deal with service issues across national, provincial and local government.
The focus on Tuesday was on "unpacking the human settlements delivery agreement" and discussing solutions to obstacles blocking provision of service, Zuma said. He rebuked departments for having budget rollovers every year and said he could not comprehend how the state could fail to spend money while service lagged behind.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane were also present, as were MECs for housing and human settlements and representatives from the SA Local Government Association (Salga).
Zuma expressed dismay at government officials who, he said, were aware of shack-dwellers' living conditions, but who sat on their hands.
He also questioned foreign nationals who "forged" documents to gain access to services meant for South African citizens, and locals who received government houses and chose to sell or rent them out and move back into shacks.
Of Sweetwaters, Zuma said: "There is no decent housing, sanitation, electricity, access roads or health facilities. There is only one unreliable communal tap, according to residents. I visited two houses and it's not very often that I really feel almost like crying.
"One lady lives in a place that when you come in, you may believe that people left this shack 10 years ago. People are sleeping like pigs," Zuma said.
"How does it happen that some of our people still live in such areas, 16 years into our freedom and democracy?" Zuma asked.
He said the housing backlog was estimated at 2.1-million units, affecting 12-million people, while there were about 2 700 informal settlements.
"Through a progressive human settlements programme, we will be able to reverse the legacy of the Group Areas Act, the Influx Control Act and a host of other apartheid legislation which dehumanised our people," Zuma said.
Programmes being put in place were aimed at undoing this legacy and restoring to people "their dignity, self-esteem and pride".
"The living conditions have to improve," he said.
Developing human settlements - which aim to provide not just housing, but also amenities such as schools, clinics and business centres - are a key priority for Zuma's administration.
While inroads had been made in improving the provision of basic services such as housing, living conditions in some areas left "much to be desired".
While problems caused by apartheid would not be resolved "overnight", Zuma warned that the government would find it difficult to explain conditions in areas such as Sweetwaters when the country celebrated two decades of democracy.