Defend Truth


Separate development remains a blemish on our democracy


Musa Gwebani is the head of advocacy and organising at the Social Justice Coalition in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. She oversees the local government and safety programmes which are aimed at improved service delivery and effective policing in informal settlements.

The Western Cape is failing to roll out social housing, with a 571,979,000 backlog, the greatest demand being in Cape Town. The provision of social housing on the city’s peripheries recreates the apartheid ideal of separate development. This is why the province’s decision to sell the well-located Tafelberg property in Sea Point to a private buyer is unjustified.

Ndifuna Ukwazi appeared in the Western Cape High Court from 25 -29 November 2019 to challenge a decision by the Western Cape Provincial Government to sell a well-located property in Sea Point to a private buyer, the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School, for R135-million. The province did this amid the worst housing crisis in South Africa, and acutely so in Cape Town.

Ndifuna Ukwazi argued that the province ought to have earmarked that land for social housing because it would allow low- to medium-income people to live close to the city where they can access economic opportunities. Ndifuna Ukwazi further added that the province’s failure to roll out social housing in the inner city and surrounds was in breach of its constitutional mandate to provide housing in terms of Section 26. Ndifuna Ukwazi conceded that although this right must be achieved through progressive realisation, the failure to build a single social housing unit in the inner city and surrounds was a clear failure.

Equal Education joined as amicus and argued that social housing in the inner city and surrounds would also mean that learners from low to medium-income families could get access to better schools, which are generally found in the city and its surrounds.

Western Cape arguments

The province argued that it had met its constitutional mandate to provide social housing by doing so on the city’s peripheries and it had no mandate to provide housing in the city. The province argued that it was creating other economic nodes where people could access better services and economic opportunities. The province cited the Khayelitsha CDB and the construction of the Khayelitsha District Hospital as one of the key markers of this success.

The province excessively exaggerated its success at social housing and the creation of economic centres outside of the city. Khayelitsha is not a buzzing economic hub full of opportunity. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Khayelitsha District Hospital has not revolutionised health care in that community either, it is not uncommon to find patients strewn on the floor without beds at that hospital.

Furthermore, the province is confused as to the true nature of its mandate to provide social housing if it believes it is not compelled to do so in the inner city and its surrounds. The rest of this article will illustrate the nature of the housing crisis and how fundamental a role social housing plays in resolving it and the province’s duty to provide such housing in the inner city.

Waiting list

In 2018, the housing waiting list in Cape Town stood at 345,915. The total number stood at 571 979 000 in the Western Cape, with Cape Town having the greatest demand. This backlog alone is a clear demonstration that the province is failing to roll out social housing everywhere.

Property prices

What exacerbates the housing crisis in Cape Town is the exorbitant property prices. On 4 December 2019, Property24 listed that the average asking price for residential property in Cape Town (on Property24) for properties ranging from zero bedroom (bachelor apartments) to five-bedroom homes and above, was R11,004,237.40. The lowest average price was for two-bedroom homes and bachelor apartments at R5,276,260 and R5,684,990, respectively. These prices mean one could expect to make bond repayments of more than R50,000 a month for a bachelor apartment. This clearly demonstrates that very many people in Cape Town have no hope of ever accessing private homeownership.


Private rentals are not much better either and would still exclude low-income households and poor households. According to The South African, for a one-bedroom home, one can expect to pay an average of R11,000 rent a month in the city and surrounds, and an average of R7,500 a month on the outskirts.

Unemployment and wages

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey of the second quarter of 2019 showed that the official rate of unemployment in the Western Cape sits at 20.4% and the expanded rate at 23.8%, while the average salary of a highly skilled employee was R22,600,00 and R4,400 for a low skilled employee across the country. The Inequality Trends Report produced by Stats SA showed that white South Africans on average earn three times more than black South Africans. The report showed that in 2015, the average annual earnings for black people was R9,186 while it was R100,205 for white people.

It is clear that both high- and low-skilled employees would have great difficulty in acquiring a home in the Western Cape. It also means that it is virtually impossible for black people to privately buy homes or rent in Cape Town and they will have to rely on government programmes to assist them to secure accommodation.

Constitutional Mandate

The cost of homeownership, the cost of residential rentals, the rate of unemployment and the low wages of particularly black people makes it abundantly clear that we have a housing crisis that needs addressing and social housing is central to that solution. Section 26 establishes the right to housing as a human right, which the state has the duty to progressively realise for everyone. The Preamble states that the aim of the Constitution and the rights contained therein, are to heal the divisions of the past.

Professor Sue Parnell, who provided expert evidence for Ndifuna Ukwazi, noted:

Cape Town is vastly less densified and more divided than it was 15 years ago. Cape Town still resembles an apartheid city.”

One of the concrete markings of apartheid was spatial segregation and the creation of communities with a racial character through creating literal, physical divisions between people. The new South Africa has the duty to undo such injustice. Integrated housing, which brings people closer to economic opportunity but also brings people closer together, achieves this. The Western Cape province must understand its duty to provide housing in this light.

The provision of social housing on the city’s peripheries ensures that low-earning people, who are most likely to be black, remain in the communities apartheid established for them and do not have the financial muscle to move out of them. The establishment of social housing exclusively on the peripheries does nothing to reverse the divisions of the past. In fact, it reinforces them. It recreates the apartheid ideal of separate development. It is a blemish on the gains of our democracy.

The province thus has a very clear duty to provide social housing in the inner city and the surrounds not only to promote access to economic opportunities and education but also as means of undoing our racist segregated past and bringing all people together. DM


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