Government won’t build you a house, Housing Minister Kubayi tells activists

The activists want the allocation of RDP houses to the youth and the government to do away with the tender system when it comes to construction. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Activists used the opportunity to comment on the Draft White Paper on Human Settlements to call for policy changes.

Housing activists and non-governmental organisations in the housing sector in Cape Town made their voices heard on the Draft White Paper on Human Settlements at a meeting organised by the Department of Human Settlements at the Civic Centre on Monday.

According to the department, the Draft White Paper seeks to repeal the Housing Act of 1997 by strengthening the department’s approach in responding to the housing needs of the people. Mmamoloko Kubayi, minister of the Department of Human Settlements, asked the activists to share their views on the sale of RDP houses, evictions, and the requirements that residents must meet to qualify for a RDP housing subsidy, among other issues.

The White Paper was gazetted for public comment on 18 December 2023. “We want to have sufficient input from our partners,” Kubayi said. “The major issue we are dealing with is transparency around the housing database.” Elitsha has previously reported on the investigation of the housing waiting list by Housing Assembly.

Kubayi said: “The law says you can sell after eight years. It says sell to us. Do we allow RDP house owners to sell their houses?”

“The belief that the right of access to adequate housing requires the State to build housing for the entire population, and that people without housing can automatically demand a house from the state, is incorrect,” says the department. Kubayi herself also told the activists that the state is obligated to build houses only for disabled people, and what the state is responsible for is to create an environment that will enable people to get houses on their own.

In February 2023, residents of particularly informal settlements who had occupied vacant land during the 2020-2022 lockdown, marched against harassment by law enforcement officers.

Houses for youth

Activists asked the minister to hand houses to youths and do away with the tender system for building houses. Peter Lonwabo, Cape Peninsula chair of the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco), said:  “We want the government to give houses to youth from age 21 upwards. Some of the youths have kids, so they desperately need a shelter.”

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Lonwabo said Sanco wants the minister to intervene in cases where residents get evicted after losing their jobs. “We want there to be an ombudsman with whom we can lodge our complaints regarding housing projects,” he added.

Mabhelandile Twani, deputy president of Intlungu Yasematyotyombeni, concurred with Lonwabo. “We are marginalised as youth. To qualify for a housing subsidy, you must be forty and above. We want the minister to rethink her criteria for handing out RDP housing subsidies,” he said.

Twani called upon the minister to introduce rules that would allow her to have more control over how the provinces spend money from the Department of Human Settlements. “The minister recently gave about R11-million to the City of Cape Town to provide basic services in new occupations. We want the minister to have a say in how monies from the department are spent,” he said. But more than just monitoring the budget, Twani advised the minister that the housing department should establish a company to build RDP houses in working class areas. “The minister must phase-out the tender system and stop dishing out tenders to tenderpreneurs because they underpay workers and fix prices for building materials,” he said.

Twani said the new White Paper must address the delay in getting new occupations recognition and basic services delivered. Primrose Taiwo, a leader of Gugulethu-based Konke Kuyenzeka, said: “The government must always engage and visit us to check how we live in informal settlements.” Disabled people struggle to use toilets in informal settlements because they are not suited for them. Taiwo, who walks on crutches, said: “We are unable to use toilets in informal settlements because they have no ramps for disabled people. The department must educate us about its policies.”

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Other activists called upon the minister to translate the White Paper into other languages, deal with apartheid spatial planning, “shack-farming” and dilapidated and overcrowded hostels, to set up a permanent forum to liaise with the department, safeguard the housing database and deal with open spaces.

Langa Old Flats were built for single migrant men in the 1940s and they are now home to families. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Kubayi responded to some of the views the activists expressed. On evictions, Kubayi said that the department has called for the review of the Eviction Act. Regarding tenders for housing construction, she said: “The government doesn’t get involved in who gets tenders. If there is a noncompliance, people must report it.”

Responding to allegations that the department marginalises the youth, Kubayi said: “Our view is that 15 percent of housing projects go to the youth, so youth is not marginalised.”

Ndifuna Ukwazi, a housing NGO, said that the government has already shifted away from providing a house but site-and-serviced stands instead. “Minister Kubayi in her remarks, referred to engaging with communities around the development of the White Paper for Human Settlements with the potential to create a new Housing Act. But, during the SONA debate, she did not address the government’s expressed intention to shift from providing housing, to providing site-and-serviced stands on the peripheries of cities, which would only perpetuate spatial apartheid,” said Yusrah Bardien, communications officer for Ndifuna Ukwazi.

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