FEATURE: Land grabs point to social housing failures

Having a roof over your head is not a luxury, but a need most South Africans cannot attain, which is why many settle wherever they can.

Steep prices, bad urban planning, the slow release of land, migration and limited resources are some of the contributing factors to the housing crisis in the country. People in search of better economic opportunities migrate with the hope of bettering their lives, but this rapid urbanisation impacts under-resourced and unprepared towns and cities.

To address this and attempt to reverse apartheid spatial planning and post-apartheid urban sprawl, the government introduced policies such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). However, the implementation of these and other plans has been at a snail’s pace.

Almost 30 years into democracy, South Africa still faces a social housing crisis. Residents of an informal settlement in Tembisa’s Glen Marikana, Ekurhuleni, found themselves in a compromised position when they were evicted from the land they had occupied.

They were evicted on July 24, 2023, from the piece of land, it is understood that the land is privately owned and they were there illegally. The Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) evicted these residents from the place they called home for more than six years.

They were promised alternative accommodation in Putfontein, an area in Benoni demarcated by city of Ekurhuleni for the evicted residents. It is approximately 21 kilometers from Glen Marikana. But this never materialised.

To the shock of many, they were instead dumped together with their belongings on a strip of land that lies between a busy road that stretches from Kempton Park into the informal settlement.

When Wits Vuvuzela visited the area after desperate calls from the residents in limbo, sounds of shovels, nails and hammers could be heard from what can only be described as post-apocalyptic scenes. More than 1 200 people were hurriedly trying to build shelters for themselves, after three weeks out in the cold. Established routines and safety all taken away in an instant, “many children missed out on school,” said Ellie Mashiane.

Hundreds of residents trying to rebuild their lives following evictions in Glen Marikana, many with very little to work with in terms of materials. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

“We feel unsafe as we have been sleeping outside in the cold since we were evicted from Glen Marikana. We haven’t bathed in over two weeks, and we have nothing to eat,” said Shirley Mathopa.

Many residents share Mathopa’s sentiments and are calling for intervention from the municipality. Thapelo Komane and Lesego Phasha say that it is a struggle, and it is inhumane to live under such conditions.

Phasha said, “When we were moved here from Glen Marikana, we were promised 10-meter by 10-meter stands as a temporary fix, however, we are now being given seven-meter by seven-meter stands due to tensions between us and residents from the neighbouring Tembisa township which was not part of the initial agreement we had with the municipality”.

One of the people evicted from Glen Marikana with her belongings on the side of a busy road. Photo: Sbongile Molambo
Belongings of a resident out in the open veld as residents have been sleeping outside for three weeks. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

Mashiane said repeated attempts to reach out to MMC for human settlements in Ekurhuleni, Masele Madihlaba, have failed.

Residents, many of whom are unemployed, cannot afford to rent elsewhere, so they have nowhere else to go. As far as basic services go, the residents say they were only provided with chemical toilets and two JoJo tanks two weeks after their arrival on the strip of land. However, Marven Mnisi, a resident, told Wits Vuvuzela, that the JoJo tanks ran out of water on the day they arrived and have been empty ever since.

He said that they [municipal officials] promised to come back to assess the situation and start allocating accommodation to the evicted residents but they never returned.

Residents said they have been deserted and forced to live under inhabitable conditions and the provision of basic services is almost non-existent. They have to fetch water from a nearby taxi rank on a daily basis. They say they haven’t had warm meals for days and now live on the mercy of good Samaritans.

Chemical toilets that have been provided by the municipality to service almost 1 200 people. Photo: Sbongile Molambo
A JoJo tank that has been sitting empty for two weeks according to the residents. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

Section 26 (1) of the Constitution states that everyone shall have the right of access to adequate housing. Accessibility means that the state must create conducive conditions for all its citizens, irrespective of their economic status, to access affordable housing. 

Municipalities are obligated to provide temporary alternative accommodation to people who would be homeless as a result of an eviction, this is according to the Emergency Programme under the National Housing Code. The National Housing Code of 2009 sets the underlying policy principles, guidelines, norms and standards which apply to various government housing assistance programs introduced since 1994.

According to the Human Settlements Department annual performance plan 2022/2023 the South African government delivered over 3.4 million housing units by the end of February 2022 since 1994.

In their admission, the human settlements department says by mid-2022, there were over 2 700 informal settlements in South Africa. Shows that the release of housing units has been slow as there are people that still live in informal settlements and do not own their own land or house.

In 2018, the Gauteng government adopted the Rapid Land Release Programme (RLRP) – a programme developed by the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements which aimed to make serviced stands available to qualifying Gauteng households who would not be able to meet their own housing needs without government assistance. The sizes of the stands provided in the RLRP shall range between 150m2 and 200m2.

However, the government fell short of its promises and protests ensued – Gauteng premier, David Makhura, as cited in this 2020 GroundUp article.

In a commitment to address the housing gap that is prevalent in the country, the Social Housing Regulatory Authority (SHRA) which administers the government’s social housing program is targeting the delivery of 18 000 social housing units by 2024.

Although the government is trying to improve the socio-economic conditions of its people, it can be noted that the housing crisis is a result of a lot of contributing factors, but must notably of them all, poor implementation.

FEATURED IMAGE: Evicted residents build new shelters next to a busy road in Tembisa. Photo: Sbongile Molambo