June 01 2008 at 02:28PM Source: Cape Argus
Thousands of people who bought or rented their low-cost homes on the black market face mass eviction with the government poised to conduct an “occupancy audit” of the 2,6 million houses built since 1994 and kick out those not entitled to live in them.
These illicit occupiers either bought or are renting the state-subsidised houses from the original owners.
Meanwhile, moves are afoot to get provinces to bar people from erecting shacks as they please with the government keen to re-house shack dwellers in “transit camps” as part of a drive to eradicate informal settlements.
However, some civil society organisations have cautioned against the government’s approach, arguing that there were deep-rooted problems which led the poor to either sell or rent out their houses and warning that anti-shack laws would impact on the recently urbanised and poor.
Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu this weekend said the government would criminally charge the owners of subsidised houses who have either sold or are renting them out.
In an interview with Weekend Argus, Sisulu said the audit was urgent and her department would advertise a tender this weekend.
“The occupancy audit will quantify the extent of the problem,” she said.
In her Budget speech in Parliament last week, Sisulu revealed that investigations had uncovered more than 31 000 housing subsidy cases involving government employees.
Resentment of foreigners living in government-issued houses has been one of the factors some have identified as a cause of the recent xenophobic violence.
Sisulu says her department had not issued a single house to a foreigner - the houses in question had been either sold or were being rented out by South Africans.
“The first thing we are going to do is to charge the owner of the house and the owner will have to make sure that he is able to reverse the sale,” she said.
Asked if those illegally occupying the houses would be evicted, Sisulu replied: “Of course, yes.”
She said the government would take back some of the houses. “We are going to examine their circumstances … if they no longer deserve it … then we take the house back. But if they are living in informal settlements, not only are we going to charge them, but we will force them to go into their house.
“It’s a criminal offence; it’s against the law to sell these houses before a particular period of time. If they do not have a problem with poverty they should not have accepted these houses; they should not have applied,” she said.
“The houses will go to those without the prospect of getting a job - those entirely relying on the grants. Our new focus will be the elderly and our primary focus will be the indigent, those with children and those with disabilities.
“We want to close those loopholes - we want to cut off those who can survive (on their own) because that’s where we have encountered problems.”
Laws that bar individuals from setting up informal dwellings needed to be enforced.
“When I went to Boys’ Town in Cape Town in 2004 I was amazed at the number of young people who lived in their own shacks. That’s why we must eradicate informality … at the moment it’s free for all … (anybody can) put up a shack,” she said.
Sisulu told the National Council of Provinces on Friday that by the end of this year “appropriate legislation is to be introduced at provincial level to improve our ability to regulate the growth of informal settlements”.
It is understood she has in mind laws on the lines of KwaZulu-Natal’s controversial Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act which is currently being challenged in court.
The Act, which targets shack farming and the mushrooming of informal settlements, has been criticised as being anti-poor.
Sisulu has pleaded for a once-off R12 billion injection to impact on the housing landscape.
She said the money would provide for “emergency housing” on the lines of the temporary housing project in Delft where communities were relocated from informal settlements.
“If we could build 500 000 houses a year we will be able to provide the 2.1 million houses in four years,” Sisulu said.
However, this seems like a pipe dream considering the cutback by the Treasury on the annual growth percentage of the housing budget.
The housing budget grew by 23.2% from R4.8bn in 2004 to R9bn in the 2007/08 financial year.
However, the projected budget for 2008/09 is R10.6bn, marking a 19.4% downward growth - a trend expected to continue until 2011.
Soweto’s Anti Privatisation Forum said evictions or taking back houses would not solve the problems.
“The microeconomic policies of the ANC government are what have led to this decay. Trying to find scapegoats is not going to solve the problem. Even though they get houses, poor people can’t afford to pay for electricity and for rates and are trying to find means and ways to survive,” said forum spokesman Silumko Radebe.
S’bu Zikode, chairman of KwaZulu-Natal’s shack-dwellers association Abahlali Basemjondolo, which is challenging the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act in court, also added a cautionary voice.
“While we welcome the audit, the government must understand that there are reasons why people sell houses and move back to their shacks. Some of these houses are built in faraway areas from the city centre while the people need to be closer to where they work,” said Zikode.