Houses for all! Now! | by Martin Legassick

by Aug 12, 2013Magazine

Women and children have been forced to endure the Cape’s lashing winter winds and rain sleeping in the open in the Marikana area of Philippi. This is the result of illegal actions by the Democratic-Alliance-sponsored Anti Land Invasion Unit (ALIU), demolishing their shack homes without a court order.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille has the audacity to claim that the city has “the most exp[ansive policy of redress and redistribution in the country.” (Cape Times, 10/6/2013). But the Democratic Alliance has thrown in the towel and is not building houses for the homeless. Instead, despite its proclaimed “free market” policies it refuses to allow individual initiative by the homeless to build their own homes.

This occurrences show the desperation of the homeless to get decent housing, and the total incapacity of government to satisfy them. Poor shackdwellers and backyarders cannot afford the legal costs to contest the illegal actions of the ALIU. Moreover the evictions are carried out ruthlessly, with police violence.

Nationally, the housing backlog is almost as large as in 1994: officially 2,1 million, despite the building of more than 3 million homes, reported housing minister Tokyou Sexwale to parliament recently. Moreover audits have shown that many of the claimed houses are ‘ghost houses’ that have never been built by crooked developers. And up to half the completed houses are reported to be “sub-standard” (in the words of Tokyo Sexwale) and have severe defects – which government intends to spend billions more to rectify.

Cape Town alone has a housing backlog of more than 400, 000, increasing by at least 18,000 a year, but in only one year since 1994 have even 10,000 houses been built. On the present basis the housing backlog will never be overcome! There are more than 250 informal settlements in Cape Town, besides the thousands of people living in backyards paying exorbitant rents. While many informal settlements lack toilets, and often electricity, those in backyards struggle to get access to the toilets in their landlord’s house. Residents of informal settlements suffer floods in winter and fires in summer.

The Democratic Alliance government in the Western Cape and Cape Town does not even intend to provide the tiny RDP houses which have been built by the ANC in government. They are concentraing on the site-and-service schemes of the late apartheid years! In Cape Town they have put up more “Temporary Relocation Areas” like Blikkiesdorp — concentration-camp-style zinc boxes – into which people are condemned to live not temporarily but permanently.

The anti-land-invasion unit costs the city some R10 million a year. Since a decent house could be built at a cost of some R50,000, scrapping the unit and using the money for housing could itself provide 500 houses more a year. If rates were doubled (and rebates also increased) only the rich would pay more in rates – and this could also be used to build houses. Two billion rand a year is collected by Cape Town municipality in rates: with an extra two billion rand an additional 40,000 houses could be built a year – meaning 400,000 in ten years.

The ANC government is no better than the DA. Nationally, less than 2% of gross national product is spent on housing, while the average for countries at similar levels of development is 5-6%. The government relies on private companies working for profit to build houses. This results in corruption in the tender process, and shoddy houses as the businesses try to cut costs.

Tokyo Sexwale claims that his aim is to break the spatial geography of apartheid. To do that requires providing lowcost housing for the poor near city centres. To do that requires the government expropriating and nationalising city centre land, without compensation except in case of proven need.

There are some 6-8 million people without jobs in South Africa. What is needed is to put them to work to build the 5 million plus needed homes, through non-profit publicly-owned companies under workers’ control and management. This would require a massive expansion of the Expanded Programme of Public Works, and focusing the relevant SETAS on providing the necessary skills – bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing, electricity etc — on a crash-course basis (instead of frittering away their money on administration costs).

What stands in the way of this is the profit system run in the interests of the big banks and the building monopolies in cement etc. As NUMSA calls, for, these must be brought under popular control – through nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management.

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