Opinionista Lebo Keswa 27 October 2014

Sisulu: Minister of Human Unsettlements?

One of the achievements that the ANC often boasts about is the provision of housing to the homeless. So why upset the applecart of one of the few visible ANC delivery records?

While the Apartheid regime specialised in removing people forcefully from ancestral land and displacing them, the ANC has always wanted to be known for providing housing as a way of restoring dignity. The provision of what was to be known as RDP houses was to be a signature of the caring nature of the new South Africa, where the doctrine was no longer every man for himself and God for us all. Over the years this approach has been wearing thin, with the public no longer considering such an intervention sacrosanct.

A few years ago, Nomvula Mokonyana went on a frontal attack against residents who were caught trading in RDP houses. They joined the queue of those in need of free housing, and then went on to sell the house to those more desperate for it. This tells us two things: firstly, that there is a market for housing at the lowest level, where free housing is actually granted; and secondly, that there is an understanding that housing is not really as much an entitlement as it has been made out to be.

If you want to test the theory that free housing is sacrosanct, all we have to do is consider that government has built 2.5 million houses over the last twenty years against a population of 54 million people. This immediately tells you that most of the citizens already fend for themselves, without reference to the farce of free housing.

It is in this context that one may partly agree with Minister Lindiwe Sisulu that free housing can no longer be an entitlement for everyone and that there needs to be a cutt-off point regarding how government can be expected to provide. The only trouble with this view is that the so-called free housing is already only scratching the surface when you consider the high levels of unemployment, estimated at 25 percent of the population. Think about the numbers for a moment: the population is now a staggering 54 million. Can it be that someone gave the ANC the impression that they had outdone themselves already? I mean, if we consider the number of shacks still to be eradicated, as well as the homeless population, are we really at a point where we can start to be clever about offering dignity in the form of a roof over people’s heads?

In the face of an EFF, which trades on unrealistic promises of economic emancipation, threatening one of the few things that the ANC has used to campaign over the years is simply not very clever, is it? Just look at the question of land reform. After 20 years, less than seven percent of the land has been redistributed to the people, prompting a hurried policy change that was not even processed properly through the structures of the ANC. The subsequent spat between the minister of land affairs and the ANC spokesperson bodes ill for policy coherence. It is clear, given the silence from Luthuli House, that Sisulu’s pronouncement falls in the same category…yet another minister shooting from the hip and at odds with the ANC’s approach to endear themselves to a key constituency.

Another disturbing angle about this pronouncement is the effect it can have on the youth vote. It is common cause that the youth are the hardest hit by unemployment. One would therefore find it more logical to place emphasis on aiding youth to access economic opportunities as well as making an environment conducive for them to pursue such opportunities. This way, it would remove them immediately from the queue of dependency. Youth who are street kids or homeless are not the ideal candidates, often, for ready-made opportunities. The policy that is being mooted that seeks to throw young people below forty under a bus does not make electoral sense. Given the near loss of Gauteng by the ANC, such a reckless pronouncement can only hurt the ANC’s electoral fortunes in the coming local elections. Already, the EFF is jumping up and down with disbelief regarding how the ANC can offer them yet another electoral wagon onto which they can hitch their economic freedom mantra, showing up the ANC as non-caring and callous.

Like e-tolls, this would simply count as a self-inflicted pain by the ruling party – something that may soon be considered quite schizophrenic in its approach to policy pronouncements and execution. It’s not unlike pronouncing every day against corruption, while failing daily to take decisive action against those who give the party a bad name in this regard.

One hopes that the ANC will rein the princess in, before she is known as Minister of Human Unsettlements. DM

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