Re-thinking human settlements

Zanele Mtshali stands with her grandchildren, Anele, in her arms, Bayanda and Aphelele, in front of her house that was damaged by the storm in October last year. She tried to fix a damaged wall with corrugated iron, boards and linen. NQOBILE MBONAMBI African News Agency (ANA)

With the dawn of democracy in 1994, South Africa instantly became a country that symbolizes the heights that could be reached through reconciliation and working together. The world at large and Africa admired the reconciliatory process that took place.

The country instantly became more attractive to other nations on the continent that had not managed to transition successfully postcolonial rule and thus leaving many destitute and without shelter or asylum. Displaced brothers and sisters have flocked into the country gaining entry through the loopholes at the border gates and at times enduring life threatening situations in order to gain entry into South Africa.

One cannot help but sympathize with anyone who is forced to leave their home because of war, poverty or rebel rule, however a continued disregard for border controls cannot be condoned nor is it to be encouraged. It seeks to undermine the laws that are in place to protect the citizens of this country and demonstrates little faith in South Africa’s commitment to provide asylum, shelter and any other form of assistance.

The Department of Home Affairs in Gauteng have repatriated in excess of 200 Africans in 2018 alone and the Department continues to work tirelessly to seek out other illegal immigrants from beyond the African continent that have found residency in South Africa without proper documentation.

As a member of the AU and given the history of camaraderie and assistance South Africa enjoyed from other African countries during Apartheid, the country cannot abandon its obligation to provide assistance and refuge to refugees and immigrants from the continent. Correct channels are to be followed when entering the country and documentation is required. There are 72 legally designated points of entry that are to be utilized to gain entry into South Africa.

These multiple ports are often understaffed and do not have all the necessary Departments stationed at them with some only having only law enforcement and no other department thus making the Country vulnerable to illegal immigrants. It is worth stating however that South Africa supports the AU agenda 2063 that envisions integration through seamless borders and creating an Africa that is united and economically dependent.

President Ramaphosa echoed these sentiments after attending a summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area in March 2018. The President is yet to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement and the Protocol on Free Movement of People as there are legal and constitutional maneuvers that are required first. Since no such laws are yet in place in South Africa, our brothers and sisters from the African continent are urged to uphold the rule of law and enter the Country through proper channels and with the correct documentation.

In keeping with the theme of upholding and respecting the rule of law, South Africans that are recipients of government houses (previously referred to as RDP houses) are strongly discouraged from selling these dwellings to foreign nationals. It has emerged that houses built in accordance with the Department of Human Settlement’s constitutional mandate to ensure that all have access to shelter, however some recipients have been found to be abusing this.

The provision of homes is a dignity restoration process that forms part of multiple redress programs undertaken by the South African Government since democracy. They are a form of assistance and can serve as a valuable asset in the long run. The state housing subsidy clearly stipulates that a beneficiary of a house ‘shall not sell or otherwise alienate his or her dwelling or site within a period of 8 years.’ This is explained at all handover processes so that new owners are aware of the law and what is expected of them, however the Housing Act does not outline punitive measures for those who disregard the law.

More effort is required to deal harshly with those who sell their houses especially to foreign nationals as this fuels tensions in communities that are already battling for a multitude of resources. Having a foreign national occupying a Government provided home sends a message that citizens are being overlooked in favour of foreigners, which is not the case.

The Department of Human Settlement is committed to working with the community and law enforcement agencies in order to catch perpetrators of this crime and ensure that they are blacklisted from ever benefiting from the Department ever again. A strong message is to be sent to illustrate that disregard of the law will not be tolerated and will result in dire long-term consequences.

It has been reported in some areas across the Country that some beneficiaries of homes sell their government provided homes and relocate to other areas and erect informal dwellings or join an existing informal settlement community so as to register in hope of receiving another house. However a person only qualifies for one government provided home.

This phenomenon however feeds an existing problem that is spiraling out of control, which is the prominence of informal settlements in the Country. South Africa is reported to have hundreds of informal settlements across the 9 Provinces and it comes as no surprise that Gauteng houses the most as this dates back to the days of migrant laborers that would flock into the economic hub of the Country seeking work during apartheid.

The increasing number of informal settlement places strain on resources that are already stretched and elongates existing backlogged housing lists. They also create a higher demand of service delivery expectations whilst devaluating the values of formally built homes in surrounding areas. With rising tensions from the formal homeowners, Government is pressed to act and the process of removing at the very least newly formed informal settlements requires a court order. Progress can be slow.

The issue of informal settlements has been exacerbated by the call for the return of the land without compensation with a number of land invasion attempts reported across the Gauteng Province. There have been incidents that involve attempts to occupy vacant land that is privately owned or belongs to the respective municipalities within the Province. The police have managed to successfully foil these attempts with arrests being made and a stern warning issued by the President, reiterating that disregard for the rule of law will not be tolerated.

In understanding the urgency for shelter and formal dwellings, the Department of Human Settlements is doing everything in its power to address the matter, however land invasions, selling government provided homes to foreign nationals and building shack dwellings on privately owned land are all criminal acts and so it will not be supported or tolerated. The people of South Africa are urged to remain respectful of the laws that govern land ownership and not take matters into their own hands.

Uhuru Moilwa is the MEC for Human Settlements and CoGTA in the Gauteng Provincial Government