Pretoria - The government cannot continue to build free houses for everyone because the model is not sustainable, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has said.
She was addressing the media at the two-day UN-Habitat III thematic meeting on informal settlements at the CSIR in the city on Thursday.
Sisulu said giving houses to people for free perpetuated the dependency syndrome, which was unhealthy for the government.
Two years ago Sisulu came under fire after she pronounced that people under the age of 40 would not be built free houses by the government.
Critics said her statement was against the Constitution, which championed everybody’s right to have shelter.
The summit, which ends on Friday, was themed “From slums to integrated safe, resilient and suitable human settlement”.
The conference was a preparatory meeting for the UN’s Habitat III summit to be hosted in Ecuador in October.
Participants are expected to come up with an agreed framework and global action plan to inform the New Urban Agenda to be adopted in Ecuador.
Delegates from civil society, governments and academics across the globe exchanged ideas on how to tackle the problem of informal settlements and solutions they might have implemented in their own countries.
Sisulu said South Africa was still grappling with reversing the spatial patterns of apartheid.
She encouraged slum dwellers to take charge of their future by participating in the building of their houses.
There was evidence that slum dwellers who had built their own homes tended to keep them rather than sell them, she said.
Dr Joan Clos, UN under secretary-general for UN Habitat III, said the tendency to sell government-sponsored houses was motivated by poverty.
People sell their houses because they needed to have incomes, he said.
He painted a bleak picture of slums globally, saying there were nearly 1 billion people living in informal settlements.
The situation was gloomy in Africa, with a number of informal settlements at 61.7%.
Living in slums exposed poor people to unhealthy conditions, which affected their life expectancy, Clos said.
Slum dwellers were more vulnerable to communicable diseases, he said, suggesting that governments should come up with new regulations to address informal settlement problems.
South Africa, according to Sisulu, was hoping to draw lessons from the conference on how to address the informal settlement issue, which remained “urgent and pressing”.
Sisulu hailed Algeria for its success in dealing with informal settlements.
The country has indicated that it would be bringing down the last shack in August, she said.
Sisulu was hopeful that the October conference in Ecuador would bring about adequate housing solutions and a reduction in slums.
Availability of land was the major problem facing South Africa, she said.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura singled out urbanisation as likely to deepen spatial inequality if left unchecked.
He said at least 20 000 people were migrating into the province every month. Makhura suggested that developments in the countryside were important to ease pressure on big cities. MEC for Human Settlements and Co-operative Government Paul Mashatile said most poor, unemployed people flocking to Gauteng tended to rely on the government.
The conference explored approaches and strategies in the inter-related fields of security of tenure and housing, livelihoods, safety and governance.
Delegates also took stock of the implementation and monitoring of programmes crafted in previous years.