Townships will continue to burn over land reform

ESP offers various services to underprivileged members of the community.

ESP offers various services to underprivileged members of the community.

Government’s shocking progress report on housing supply will delay the urgent land reform initiative to restore the dignity of poor people.

It’s astonishing how the call to accelerate land reform in recent months has become a leitmotif for political populism, radicalism and even racism – a black or white issue.

South Africa’s land issue cannot be thought of in simplistic terms and arguments that don’t take into account how deep-rooted and emotional the topic is.

Virtually no day goes by lately without protests in South Africa.

Recent protests and land occupation incidents in the Western Cape’s Zwelihle, Mitchells Plain and Vrygrond, Northwest’s Rustenburg and Gauteng’s Eldorado Park, Freedom Park and Protea Glen, have a common theme: it’s the valid demand for adequate land and housing.

Fed up with living in shacks and being placed on waiting lists since the inception of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (known as RDP) – a housing policy now referred to as Breaking New Ground – by the ANC in 1994, residents barricaded roads with burning tyres and fought with police and neighbours.

Politicians – including a prominent opposition leader clad in a red beret and red onesie – have caught a whiff of the smoke around the country, encouraging victims of poverty to occupy any piece of land. This is a cheap shot at political opportunism by using desperate people, who simply want to restore their dignity through owning a home.

Sadly, townships will continue to burn, if shocking figures from the Department of Human Settlements, are anything to go by.

In her budget vote in Parliament last week, the new Minister of Human Settlements Nomaindia Mfeketo revealed that her department’s R32.3 billion budget for the 2018/19 has been cut by R10 billion. This is part of the cuts made in the February Budget to free up more than R50 billion to make Jacob Zuma’s costly legacy of fee-free higher education possible.

The funding reduction will be a shock to the system as it will likely undermine the department’s ability to address the 2.1 million backlog in the supply of urban-based and low-cost houses at a time when rapid urbanisation continues.

After all, along with assisting more than ten million citizens receiving monthly social grants, the provision of more than three million low-cost houses to the indigent is widely considered to be the ANC’s success story since 1994.

Although not yet mentioned, the budget cuts will have a far-reaching impact, also making it difficult for the department to fund housing subsidies for people earning between R3 501 and R15 000 – considered too rich to qualify for a government house and too poor to qualify for a bank loan.

Budget cuts will even hinder the state’s grandiose target of fast-tracking the release of more than 800 000 title deeds by 2019 to people who own state-provided homes but have nothing to show for it.

Housing target downgraded

It’s inevitable that Mfeketo’s department will miss its five-year target (from 2014-2019) of providing 745 000 homes by 2019. Under Mfeketo, the department has already downgraded this target to 635 000. Mfeketo’s predecessor Lindiwe Sisulu was more ambitious, wanting 1.5 million houses by 2019.

Latest figures from the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation indicate that the department has built just over 410 000 homes, raising fears that the revised 2019 target won’t be achieved.

The downgrade of the housing target reflects a toxic mix of poor governance by the department, budget cuts, housing policy instability and overall mismanagement of funds. Making matters worse is that the department had received nearly R1 billion increases in its annual budget since 2014 but has struggled to meet its housing targets.

Mfeketo is looking at the business community and development finance institutions to plug the funding shrinkage and roll out “the rapid release of land” programme to address the housing demand.

Essentially, the programme allows the state to acquire serviced land parcels for people to build their own homes or upgrade informal settlements.

Like previous housing policies, the “rapid release of land” – still in an early stage – isn’t new but has been given a sexy slogan. In fact, a similar plan was touted by Sisulu.

It would be impulsive to hold our breath for quick solutions and responses to the housing and land conundrum. It’s election season, where the governing party and opposition will say anything and everything. The trust deficit between the public and state will only reduce once the poor turn keys to quality homes.

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ALSO READ: Govt can’t afford rapid land release – expert

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