Opinionista Yonela Diko 12 March 2018

Human Settlements: The ticking time bomb that is about to go off

We have in the Western Cape a province that has not been able to improve its informal settlements, and we have a province that complains of very little budget allocation for it ever to be able to build houses for our people, returning the very money they claim to need desperately, year after year, back to the national fiscus. This can never be understood outside the simple fact that the informal settlement constituency and the poor who need government houses are not the DA’s valuable customer.

The great Oliver Goldsmith once said, “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

I remembered these words when the current MEC for Human Settlements in the Western Cape, Bonginkosi Madikizela, responding to a criticism that questioned the huge failure of his department’s very core mandate of providing social housing, said:

We are responsible for Estate Agency Affairs Board of Real Estate that is worth almost R7-trillion as the end of last year. We have to see the mandate of this department as an economic lever rather than social intervention.”

So while his spokesperson, Ntomboxolo Makoba-Somdaka, presented the dire situation and insurmountable problems faced by the department, Bonginkosi was looking at the bigger picture.

According to the spokesperson: “The provincial department’s current budget of R2.5-billion is only enough to assist 18,000 families. We need about R80-billion to assist the current backlog. There’s only one housing demand database for people waiting for houses. Backyarders are included in this list.”

The current backlog is 575,000 homes and the province and the City says it will take another 27 years to meet this backlog. Of course, by then there would be new demands for houses as the population grows and urbanisation accelerates.

Somdaka, unlike her boss, appreciates that 60% of the land by residential value is owned by 20% of the population in the Western Cape so for an MEC to be excited by R7-trillion that is owned by 20% of the population while 80% must make do with what the government can provide is akin to cognitive impairment.

The reality is that the Western Cape strategy for Human Settlements 2015-2020 puts as one of its priorities the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP), which seeks to improve living conditions of many people in informal settlements and backyarders who continue to wait for proper houses. At the heart of this strategy is to ensure that informal settlements are upgraded to conditions that befit human settlement and not the cesspools of human degradation and indignity they had been after forced removals. People did not have to live in deplorable conditions while transitioning into full ownership of proper houses.

Bonginkosi Madikizela, the current MEC for Human Settlements in the Western Cape, reaffirmed this point when he said that “one of the ways to help the poor was to formalise backyard shacks by upgrading existing informal settlements”.

The recent violent and destructive protests in Gugulethu, and the almost weekly protests by informal settlement dwellers for various grievances, from water and sanitation to electricity and crime prevention security cameras and the recent demand for by backyarders for their own land (open space) for installation of their own independent homes, shows that this UISP programme has failed, as the indignity in informal settlements, particularly for backyard dwellers, has only got worse.

What becomes clear then is that the Western Cape provincial department of human settlements cannot provide an evident improvement of informal settlements and prospects for building decent houses are slim to none. This begs the question of the very reason for the continued existence of this department if it is too incapacitated to fulfil any of its goals and has no reason to believe it ever will.

How did we get here?

The first problem, as identified by the National Department of Human Settlements, is that despite the ever-increasing housing crisis in Western Cape, the City of Cape Town has for years not used all of the money meant for the upgrade of informal settlements, or the budget for building formal housing. Money allocated under the Urban Settlement Development Grant has since its inception not been fully utilised by the City. Last year, R150-million was rolled over and this year the city received R1.6-billion, the department said.

Vusi Tshose, spokesperson for then Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said: “A concern is the inability of the City of Cape Town, which takes about 70% of the provincial budget, to spend its allocated Urban Settlement Development Grant since the introduction of the grant. The City has continuously failed to spend 100% of the (grant) and is forever requesting roll-overs, including in the last financial year.”

Now this simply boggles the mind. We have a province that has not been able to improve its informal settlements, and we have a province that complains of very little budget allocation for it ever to be able to build houses for our people, returning the very money they claim to desperately need, year after year, back to the national fiscus.

This can never be understood outside the simple fact that the informal settlement constituency and the poor who need government houses are not the DA’s valuable customer.

It cannot be that in a province with a housing backlog of 575,000, a province that claims that it will take about 27 years to address the housing backlog, that this very province fails to maximise even the very few resources they have. The contrast of only providing 18,000 houses per year, out of 575,000 that are needed, and still return millions of unspent budget defies common sense and borders on violation of human rights.

Then there are further accusations of mismanagement and corruption. Secretary of the Khayelitsha Human Settlements Forum, an organisation that deals with land-related and human settlement issues, Mava Nowala, said: “There is a lot of corruption and a lot of people don’t benefit and get houses in housing projects because of it.”

This is an enduring problem of the City and province’s inability to manage the housing allocations of the few houses that have been built and this causes a lot of resentment.

Madikizela’s explanation of this is that “local leaders and steering committees often use the built projects to try to force the department to accommodate their agendas, which range from political agendas, to the promotion of self-interest through accessing work or business opportunities, to local forms of nepotism through trying to influence housing lists”.

This is like a boss refusing to take responsibility by blaming those serving under him.

Then there is the problem of affordable housing, exclusion and the continued spatial planning that still keeps the majority out of the best parts of the City and province. This resulted for example in 51 people then occupying the Helen Bowden Nursing Home, which had been standing vacant since 2014.

Reclaim the City’s Sheila Madikana said: “We are not going to leave this place. This place has got 198 rooms to accommodate a lot of people. All of the people who are staying here work in Cape Town and Sea Point. We will continue to occupy this building until we get affordable housing.”

If this department is not managed properly with a sense of great urgency, a million people in Khayelitsha will one day invade the city centre or the Camps Bay corridor and by then it will be too late. DM

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