‘Housing runs out of land’

12 05 2008

Source: The Times

Housing delivery has ground to a halt in certain parts of South Africa — all because of a bitter tug-of-war over municipal land.

Despite a massive housing backlog of more than two million units, municipalities are holding on to millions of hectares of prime commonage land — which is supposed to be used to assist local residents — or have already sold it to private developers despite a countrywide moratorium on such land sales, Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has told Business Times in an exclusive interview.

Sisulu said that tens of thousands of hectares suitable for affordable housing may have been lost this way, a problem caused largely by a combination of soaring land values and dwindling council revenues. And in many cases the municipalities are selling the land under dubious circumstances.

Huge tracts of land in rural municipalities are also lying idle due to unresolved land claims, she said.

The situation has prompted urgent talks between the departments of housing, land affairs, public works and the Treasury, with several key legislative changes in the pipeline to stop the municipal land grab — and to bring maverick officials into line. “Somehow the state has tied itself up into so many binds that it is unable to move with the speed with which it should move,” Sisulu said.

Commonage land was granted to municipalities decades ago free of charge subject to stringent title-deed conditions for use for local residents.

In a frank appraisal of national housing delivery, Sisulu listed several other major obstacles which include:

# There is still no complete public land asset register, which means the three spheres of government do not know how much land they have and may be available for housing or land reform;

# Housing costs have rocketed due to the high price of cement and steel caused by the ongoing construction of the country’s 2010 World Cup soccer stadiums;

# Massive areas of municipal commonage in Limpopo are tied up in land claims now before the Land Claims Commission; and

# Parastatals such as Transnet are sitting on vast tracts of land that cannot be transferred to the housing department because of legal complications.

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