South Africa’s Housing Issue

The apartheid regime did not succeed for so long simply by encouraging racial discrimination. Racial discrimination did serve as the foundation for the apartheid, but it was the oppression of rights of certain racial groups that allowed this governance to continue for so long. One of the ways in which the apartheid government oppressed people was by restricting their property rights. This social engineering meant that black people were incredibly disadvantaged. The effects of this oppression is still felt in modern South Africa, as the economic advancement of the previously oppressed people is drastically encumbered by the fact that they are still trying to find a foothold on which to lift themselves up on- a foothold that was denied to them by the Apartheid government. In simple terms, it would be easier to facilitate economic advancement of the entire population if the past was a time of equal opportunities. Since 1994, the post apartheid government has been trying to resolve this issue. They have devised countless plans and programmes, all designed to rectify the injustices of the past and alleviate poverty. One such programme is the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme was implemented in South Africa by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in 1994. The government’s chief aim in creating this programme was to address the serious socioeconomic issues created under the apartheid regime. The programme sought to alleviate poverty and address all problems with social services. To do this, the government created, amongst other things, the RDP housing project.

The government undertook, in accordance with the Bill of Rights which stipulates that every citizen has the right to adequate housing, to supply homes to those who need them. These houses are often referred to as ‘low cost houses’, as they are built using cheap materials. Citizens of South Africa who are under the age of 21, with a household income that does not exceed R3500, may apply for a these houses. Once the application is granted, the citizen will be provided with a small house, usually equipped with basic amenities.

However, though this may seem to be a step forward for South Africa, housing has become a very controversial issue.  Since 1994, all the strategies implemented by the government focused on ‘housing’. In 2004, a new plan was designed to address the problems of the first few years of democracy.

However, nothing seems to have truly resolved the issue surrounding housing. The allocations of RDP houses come with a negative side- communities become easily riled up because of the way in which these houses are allocated, people become angered by the empty promises and many people spend years as just a name on a waiting list before being allocated a house.

The demand for these houses has increased drastically over the years, and the government seems to be struggling to keep up with it. In the process of trying to keep up with the demand and calm the masses, the government has been giving out impractical promises. If this continues, the government runs the risk of losing sight of the initial aim of the programme- to create long lasting solutions. The government should be rethinking its role as the sole funding agent for this initiative. They should also be focusing more on quick delivery, as the reality of waiting for an RDP house is often overlooked.

RDP houses are definitely a better alternative to living in unhygienic informal settlements, but it has yet to truly solve the issue of poverty. The beneficiaries of these houses do not become full owners of these houses, and many RDP agreements include clauses that prevent the beneficiaries from selling or letting the property for many years.

It may be argued that these clauses are in place to prevent the beneficiaries from selling these homes as soon as they receive them. But such a mindset echoes the mindsets of the past in certain ways. Other home owners are allowed to sell or let their houses at any given point in time, so why shouldn’t the poor be afforded the same opportunity? Ownership of houses entails being given rights over the property. Other than providing a roof for the poor, RDP housing has done no more to truly alleviate poverty- something which has been a goal since its implementation. The poor should not be subject to the discretion of the executive. The only thing that can truly alleviate poverty and empower the poor is full ownership of these houses.

There has been almost no innovation in this field over the years, and change and improvement is desperately needed if the government truly wishes to wipe out poverty.

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Aishvarya Singh
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Aishvarya Singh is an aspiring writer and law student. She is into books, Bollywood and social justice. When she's not writing, she is either binge watching series or reading. She lives in South Africa, and no, she does not have a pet lion. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ai5hvarya Email: aishsingh113@yahoo.com

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