Housing crisis

NOTICE | Qhamani Neza Tshazi: South Africa’s housing crisis is neither sustainable nor acceptable

The number of people in need of housing interventions in the country is estimated at at least 12 million, a number that is neither sustainable nor acceptable in a country of 60 million people, writes Qhamani Neza Tshazi.


The apartheid government’s lack of investment in housing, coupled with the absence of a coherent and practical housing model in post-apartheid South Africa, created an unprecedented housing shortage that the country has so far struggled to manage. This is despite the state’s efforts to address this problem, providing an impressive 3.7 million housing opportunities in the 20-year period between 1994 and 2014 alone. Over the same period, however, we have seen the housing backlog in the country drop from 2.1 million to 2.3 million housing opportunities.

South Africa’s housing programs have, in the years since democracy, focused on reducing the number of informal settlements in the country rather than addressing the extent of the country’s housing problems in their entirety. That informal settlements are an urgent challenge cannot be debated, but they cannot continue to be treated in isolation from other housing issues. In 2011, the Ministry of Energy stated that it takes an average of at least nine years for an informal settlement upgrading project to be completed from the start date, which excludes all studies of prefeasibility required.

Reality, however, has shown that even this nine-year average is anything but a conservative estimate. The experiences of communities on the ground tell a different story. Over the past few years, we have seen informal settlements continue to grow in communities without a government plan to gradually expand them. And in cases where these settlements have been modernized, communities have seen the social networks that are their very fabric destroyed at the expense of a few people getting a home.

Where do the problems come from?

In trying to deal with the housing challenges in South Africa, some of the critical questions that need to be answered become, where do these problems come from and how do we deal with them? The simple answer is that a wide range of factors contribute to housing problems in South Africa. Our history of dispossession played a key role in creating these problems, but the fact that they have persisted 28 years into democracy cannot be blamed on history alone. At some point, the current government will have to take some, if not most, of the blame for maintaining the housing status quo in the post-democracy years.

To begin with, the model that the government has adopted to deal with many of our housing problems is one of the main reasons why we have not been able to deal effectively with our historical housing problems and have instead exacerbated by new means.

The post-1994 housing policy environment in South Africa adopted a subsidy model as a tool to address the country’s housing challenges. A grant model designates a set of funds per household/individual to pursue their empowerment in the face of the housing challenges they face.

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Examples of this model in South Africa have been the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) and its many iterations over the years, such as Breaking New Ground (BNG), People’s Housing Process (PHP) and Enhanced People’s Housing Process (ePHP), etc These are all grant instruments that differ in their nomenclature, but have similar principles and results. People get money for a house, the difference being either the government builds with RDP and BNG or people build those houses themselves with PHP and ePHP.

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To add further insult to injury, the state has taken a clear stance as the main provider of housing, in contradiction to its own housing development plans as set out in the National Development Plan. The National Development Plan 2030 explicitly states that the state should gradually shift from its role as a direct provider of housing of last resort to that of a housing facilitator, ensuring adequate housing and better access to a wider choice of housing options. lodging. Yet there are RDP/BNG/PHP/ePHP houses that smell of fresh paint in many townships in South Africa, a pattern that has proven to be unsustainable.

Outsourced to the private sector

In addition, the South African government has outsourced responsibility for housing development to the private sector. This means that adequate access to well-located land for all has been denied in favor of maximizing profits for the few. Access to well-located land for housing has been a privilege enjoyed by those with financial means and capital, while the rest of society has been continually placed on the outskirts of cities.

Now what should happen? South Africa needs a new housing model that is not based on subsidies as an instrument, but that takes into account the needs of citizens holistically outside four walls and a roof above from their head.

We need a model that takes into account the educational, social, economic and environmental issues that South Africans face on their journey to housing. We need a model that sees housing as a process as opposed to housing as a structure (a roof over brick and mortar).

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Yes, a number of poor South Africans need a physical structure like a home to own, and in many cases only the government can provide this. The reality, however, is that this is not possible for all who need it within the limits of the state’s available financial resources. And increasing the budget will not help, on the contrary, it will lead to the formation of more informal settlements, which will further aggravate the housing problems in South Africa.

Driven by these global issues, Nelson Mandela University, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Habitat for Humanity South Africa recently signed an important Memorandum of Understanding. This memorandum aims in part to seek alternative affordable housing solutions that address the challenges faced by many poor people in present-day South Africa. This MoU was officially launched on July 19, 2022 in the informal settlement of Rolihlahla in the Metropolitan Municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay, perhaps an iconic moment to showcase the communities it is expected to serve.

Co-create sustainable solutions

Speaking about the memorandum, Professors Verne Harris and Sjekula Mbanga, of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Nelson Mandela University respectively, highlighted how this MoU served as a time to sit down, listen and co-create sustainable solutions with the communities that the solutions were designed to serve as opposed to the top-down approaches we had been introduced to in the past. It should be noted that Mayor Eugene Johnson was present.

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This MoU signifies the importance of what could happen in partnerships between the academy and civil society, driven by a common goal to see an improvement in the lives of the communities they serve.

The MoU comes at a critical time when South Africa’s current housing backlog stands at around 2.6 million households. This brings the number of people in need of housing interventions in the country to a minimum of 12 million, a number that is neither sustainable nor acceptable in a country of 60 million people.

The MoU aims to address these challenges and more, and whether or not it will achieve its goals remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the intent is there, and the hope is that government and society as a whole will be able to address some of the issues they seek to address in a way that benefits the majority of poor South Africans. .

– Qhamani Neza Tshazi is a dialogue and advocacy analyst at the Nelson Mandela Foundation and a doctoral student in urban and regional planning at the University of Stellenbosch. He writes on a personal basis.

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