South Africa is 21 years into democracy, and many poor people are still without houses, basic services, and continue to routinely face inhumane evictions. Dysfunctional cooperative governance relations; a lack of capacity, and the ineffective application of policy, are some of the reasons for this, according to a report by the South African Human Rights Commission. KOKETSO MOETI unpacks some of the housing issues and recommendations of the commission.
Earlier this year, Human Settlements Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, said that “the delivery of houses has dropped by 25% over the past five years…” Apart from increasing urbanisation, this decrease is happening in a context in which homes are demolished, and we are shown pictures of distressed people, many with kids, and some on their own trying to protect their homes or collect their belongings. Other times, we are shown scenes of the notorious Red Ants evicting and carrying out people’s property, and can only imagine the trauma of not only losing one’s home, but also one’s belongings.
Take the clearing of the Wilston Court building in Hillbrow in August, when at around 7:00am, the Red Ants came in and started throwing people’s belongings from the windows. Angelinah Mosweu, a 56-year old a cleaner at a South Point building in Braamfontein, was one of those people. Because she starts work early, she was not around when the eviction commenced, and got a call later that morning from one of the three other women with whom she shared a room. “I ran as fast as I could to get home, but by the time I got there, there were things laying everywhere”, says Mosweu. “People were looking for their things, while a group of young men were trying to take them”.
Fighting back tears, she goes on to describe how she looked for things belonging to her, but found nothing. “All I took was a jersey that did not belong to me”. That night, she and many of the other residents spent the night on the streets warmed only by the fire started by some of the men. Because the eviction happened so early in the month and she had just a few weeks before paid her share of the R2000 rent for the room, she had no money to look for alternative accommodation.
After a few days of living on the street, she was approached by a man who offered her accommodation, and she stayed with him until the end of the month, when she found a place to stay. But Mosweu will not be the last to experience this, particularly with the growing demand for inner-city living, which has seen residential property values shoot up in the city, and growing private interests taking over buildings.
Added to this is the problem of cities refusing to comply with a 2011 Constitutional Court judgment, known as “Blue Moonlight”, which requires that emergency shelter is provided to those made homeless by an eviction. These are just a few of the many problems faced by those seeking to have a permanent place to call home.
A newly launched report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) sheds light on issues around housing, noting that that the non-realisation of a right such as housing, can lead to the subsequent violations of many other rights.
The report was compiled following an investigative hearing process looking specifically at barriers to access to housing and the opportunities. A rigorous process was followed, which was non-adversarial in its nature. Instead of holding the state accountable, the SAHRC sees itself as strengthening, and supporting the work of the state. Stakeholders, both state and non-state, were asked to present evidence as part of the process.
Chief Executive Officer of the SAHRC, Lindiwe Khumalo, says the report seeks to assess how far we have come as a country in terms of housing provision in the last 21 years, as well as assessing the extent of shortcoming, weaknesses and inhibiting factors. “Are houses and other services reaching far-flung places? … what mechanisms are available to strengthen the provision of housing, are also some of what we looked to understand”.
Although the SAHRC recognises “that a substantial amount of progress has been made since 1994 with the provision of an estimated 3.7 million housing opportunities providing around 12.5 million people with access to housing, along with further improvements in access to other basic services, including adequate water, sanitation, electricity and refuse removal”; it also shows that that for those who have not been able to, there is no escape from poverty.
The report contains a series of findings including that housing opportunities in urban areas remain exclusive, mostly targeting the single upwardly mobile crowd. It also points out a lack of oversight by both provincial and national spheres of government as part of the problem, as well as a lack of integrated planning which leads to the stalling of development. Added to this is a disjuncture which requires that municipalities deliver, despite being inadequately resourced, and without capacity to do so.
To put the housing situation into context, it is worth noting that according to data from the University of Johannesburg Social Change Research Unit and Municipal IQ, housing has been amongst the top (stated) reasons for protest. This is supported by the Community Law Centre’s project, the ‘Multi-Level Government Initiative (MLGI)’, which found that land and housing have been the top reasons for protests in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 respectively.
In 2009, President Jacob Zuma proclaimed that the Department of Housing would become the Department of Human Settlements. This was done because the government rightfully realised that houses alone are not enough. And so “the focus shifted from housing being just a roof over people’s heads, to providing sustainable and integrated human settlements where people can work, pray, play and have access to amenities required for their day-to- day living”. But for too many people, this change has had very little meaning as they continue to face the trauma of evictions, demolitions, a lack of tenure security and many other things that would improve the quality of their lives. DM
Photo: An unknown father carries his son as he and his family are evicted from their flat during the evictions of people from the block of flats in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa, 12 August 2015. The owner of the block of flats obtained a court order to evict residents from the flats after ‘building hijackers’ rented flats in the building illegally. Many of the 1500 people evicted claim they where given no warning of the early morning evictions. Flats are often rented to more than one family with the flats being decided up with boards. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK.