NCOP Speech by Minister Madikizela
The Western Cape Government's vision includes the development of integrated and sustainable human settlements. Fortuitously, our strategy for realising that vision is aligned with the National Government's Outcome 8, namely Sustainable Human Settlements and Improved Quality of Household Life. In order to create integrated and sustainable human settlements, we need to take a very careful look at the social, legislative and physical factors involved in creating such settlements, and whether or not our current ways of thinking and doing things is supporting or inhibiting this objective.
Central to the issue of sustainability is job creation. Job creation may appear to be unrelated to housing, yet it actually underpins the success of housing in our country. When people have jobs, they have the power to pay for services, they have an inherent sense of dignity, and they have the ability to pay something towards their homes. If too many people cannot pay for their services, eventually municipalities will go bankrupt and there will be no more services.
Human settlements need to be sustainable. This means that people need to be close to job opportunities, close to transport routes, close to schools, close to hospitals. For transport routes to be economically viable, for business centres to be vibrant and for schools to be near where people live, we need high-population densities, which means the densification of human settlements. If we look at the pictures of housing developments that are shown to us and the dreams sold to the people, then they are all pictures of single-stand houses with a piece of ground around them. By doing this, we keep them entrenched in poverty, as they have to use their minimal resources on travelling to work, or sending their children far to school, and they often spend hours every day travelling. No wonder parents have little time for their children or children are too tired to study. The pictures we use to promote housing must change from nice little neat houses, into blocks of high-density apartments, surrounded by transport routes, close to businesses, and full of people sharing public spaces.
When we have high-density projects, then it's much easier to produce high-density rental settlements. I am in wholehearted agreement with the national minister and his comments in his recent budget speech supporting densification of settlements. The national minister has also stated that there will be a future cut-off in government-subsidised housing, and this creates an urgency to find ways to get beneficiaries to pay towards their housing, and once again, they need jobs.
As the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said in her State of the Province Address earlier this year, "There is only one way to overcome poverty and realise the dream of opportunity for all. Unless we ensure that everyone has the chance to get a job, the South African dream will never be more than a dream. A job is a passport out of poverty and the start of the path to prosperity." Currently it is very difficult for people in the gap market earning between R3 500 and R14 000 a month to buy a house.
These people have families, cars, dreams, jobs to go to, yet can't qualify for a house. How do we support their dreams of buying a house? We are hoping that the mortgage default insurance, designed to support people in the gap market, will be available through the banks before April 2012. We currently have a situation where earners in the gap market are paying for basic services, yet can't afford properties, while people below the R3 500 level are being given free houses and free basic services. Surely something is wrong here, for if you want to be a home owner, it pays to stay poor and unemployed. We even have situations where people are threatening to resign from their jobs in order to qualify for houses. We have to address this distorted incentive by ensuring that the gap market is properly serviced.
The Western Cape Government's primary focus is now the provision of the basic services of clean water, electricity, sanitation and refuse removal. It's better to first make sure everyone has the basic services, rather than making sure only some people have houses. The situation of people living in conditions without these services, 17 years after the end of apartheid, is unacceptable. People must have basic services. Once everyone has basic services, then we can build more top structures. With this point, the Western Cape is in alignment with the national government and the focus on the provision of basic services. In the Western Cape, it is our goal to have no informal settlements without basic services by 2014.
Of special interest, though, are legislations and planning that hampers our delivery of housing and services. Planning processes need to be streamlined to ensure quick and effective service delivery, because now it takes at least three years to plan and deliver houses. It makes absolutely no sense, for instance, to have 11 different grants to put together a single housing unit. Again, it doesn't make sense to have a separate Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) from a housing grant because you can't build any houses without infrastructure. Another serious problem that is stalling housing delivery is land invasion. The requirement by the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act (PIE Act) for people to be provided with alternative accommodation encourages this practice.
This makes the housing demand database, or waiting list, impossible to manage. As a result of this, people are holding government to ransom by invading any land that is earmarked for development because they know that they will be moved to alternative accommodation. These people use the PIE Act to force the government to give them accommodation ahead of their turn. The sad part about this is that those people living in backyards that have been on the waiting list for years, patiently waiting their turn, become compromised by this Act. This cannot be right and surely needs to be revisited. In this case, it's usually very few individuals that hold us to ransom and delay housing developments meant for thousands of people.
We must change our policy in order for us to respond to most vulnerable groups of our society (like elderly people, disabled people, child-headed households), and inculcate and encourage our economically active people to play a more active role and to take more responsibility in the provision of their homes. While we celebrate the fact that people have rights, we must ensure that we balance those rights with responsibilities.
We must change our criteria for people who qualify for our subsidised state housing. It doesn't make sense that because a person is 18 years old and has a baby that they therefore must qualify for a house. The state must create a country conducive for young people to be self-sufficient and to be the masters of their own destiny, instead of depending on hand-outs We know that people get subsidised state houses and sell them for next to nothing and go back to shacks, thereby increasing the demand and the spread of informal settlements. Even though we are boasting about having built close to 2.8 million houses over the last 16 years, very few of these houses have been part of integrated and sustainable human settlements. How much better off are those beneficiaries, really?