BBC reports on Jozi family withholding their vote

21 04 2009

‘One house, one vote’ for South Africans
By Andrew Walker
BBC News, South Africa

Homes being built in Alexandra

The government says it has built millions of houses in the last 15 years

Down by the banks of the Jukskei river which winds its way through Alexandra, Johannesburg’s oldest township, there is deep and growing anger.

The tin shacks of the Setjwetla “informal settlement” have been there for nearly 25 years, and residents say they are being ignored by the South African government, passed over in favour of outsiders.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is building new houses a few yards away, but the residents of Setjwetla suspect they will not benefit.

At the beginning of April, with elections looming, several hundred decided that enough was enough.

They walked up the hill, past a poster that declares “Alexandra, home of the ANC,” and occupied the new buildings and demanded they be allowed to stay there.

The police were called and evicted them. Clashes ensued and several were injured including a pregnant woman who was run over by a police car.

Houses for votes

“The ANC want us to vote for them in this election. I cannot. We say: ‘One house, one vote’,” says Freda Dlamini, known to friends and family by her married name, Mamtolo “the arrow”.

Freda Dlamini
They say they are building houses, but we don’t know who is getting them
Freda Dlamini

“Until they give us a house, I won’t vote for them.”

Ms Dlamini has been living in Alexandra since 1993, when she came to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape province.

She worked as a domestic cleaner, and can remember the joy of voting for Nelson Mandela in 1994.

But since then, housing has been a struggle.

If they want electricity, they have to hook themselves up to the grid that feeds other parts of Alexandra. If they want water, they have to break into water mains.

“They say they are building houses, but we don’t know who is getting them,” she says.

Last year residents violently evicted Zimbabwean and Mozambican immigrants living in Alexandra.

There is a general feeling that the housing authorities are not going to give new houses to residents already living in shacks in Alexandra.

“I don’t see any future any more, we have been betrayed by our own government. They promise every time, but they don’t do anything about the promises.”

Poorest of the poor

The government has built 2.8 million homes in the last 15 years, it says.

The housing department says 1.1 million South African families still live in slums but that this is an improvement on the situation in 1994.

Voters in South Africa give their views on the most competitive elections since the end of apartheid

But the number of households needing housing is growing by 200,000 a year, according to the Development Action Group, a housing advocacy organisation.

Anthea Houston of the DAG says that since 2003, the number of households needing housing has grown by 2.4 million – meaning the government must double its rate of house-building.

The government has also made a commitment to providing free “basic water” to all South Africans.

According to the Department of Water and Forestry, 86% of all households in South Africa have some form of water provision, even if it is a stand pipe up to 200m away.

But the remaining 14% indicates an enduring problem, according to the Development Bank of South Africa.

The DBSA produce an annual “infrastructure barometer” that assesses South Africa’s service provision.

GIMME SHELTER
248,850 homes built in 2007
2.8m homes built since 1994
200,000 more houses needed per year
2.4 million more since 2003
Source: Government, DAG

They say there is a percentage of very poor people which the government has hardly touched, and this group is expanding.

The municipal housing departments lack the capacity to do their jobs, and political appointees at the head of key departments have failed to rectify the problem, says Mrs Houston.

“They see it as a housing problem, but there’s a bigger context of urbanisation that they’re not dealing with.”

The government should concentrate on “regularising” informal settlements, giving them services when they spring up, rather than concentrating on one settlement at a time and moving them into permanent homes.

“It seems the problem of housing is accelerating,” she says.

‘Living with rats’

Back in Setjwetla, Johannes Matsetela is sitting on a box, playing cards with a friend.

Johannes Matsetela

Johannes Matsetela built his home in Alexandra 22 years ago

“They tell us that this squatter camp is not on the map,” he says.

He came here in 1987 from another township in Johannesburg.

He built his own house from damaged bricks from a children’s creche being built nearby.

It is a small two-roomed shack where he and his wife have brought up nine children.

“We are living with rats, everyone has big rats in their place, they are eating with us,” he said.

“If you don’t give them a plate of food, they’re going to bite the kids.”

Mrs Dlamini and Mr Matsetela say they will not vote for the ANC in protest at the way they say they are being ignored.

But neither could bring themselves to vote for anyone else.

They just want the ANC to appoint a local official who will take their plight seriously.

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