Accessing Housing Finance in South Africa: The Role of Women Activism

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Abstract

Women's history in South Africa is replete with examples of exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization. The transition to democracy in 1994 and inclusion of gender equality in the post-apartheid constitution in 1996 were seen as steps in the right direction towards addressing women's oppression and creating gender equity in accessing housing finance. The subsequent formulation of policies and institutions meant to achieve gender equality put women's concerns in the public domain. However women's access to capital and housing finance in particular remain challenges in accessing improved housing.

An exploration of women's position with regard to housing finance points to the ways in which women were systematically excluded from accessing housing during apartheid. While the post-apartheid housing policies have been inclusionary to women, access to finance from both the traditional and nontraditional housing finance institutions remains a challenge. This paper argues that women's involvement in rotating savings schemes has been key in providing them with finance for the consolidation of subsidized housing in South Africa. Although micro-credit institutions continue to respond to women's need for housing finance, equality in access to housing finance will only be achieved when all the role players, both formal and informal, remove the obstacles that constrain women's access to capital and credit for investment in housing development.

Post-apartheid analyses (Peer, 1997, Ismail, 1998, Department of Housing, 1998, Department of Housing, 1999, Kallman, 1999, Ndinda, 2001) on housing point to women's increased participation in housing delivery, but few focus on their access to housing finance (Mjoli-Mncube 1998, Ndinda 2004). This paper examines the change in post-apartheid South Africa in terms of women's access to housing finance and what their activism has accomplished.

Land in Africa remains a significant basis of capital accumulation. In South Africa, where people were removed from the land through racist and segregationist policies starting with land appropriation in 1913 and the subsequent apartheid policies, few own land on which to build their homes. In 2001, the Black Economic Empowerment Commission stipulated that at least 30 percent of the land should revert to black ownership (Black Economic Empowerment Commission, 2001). Since 1994, only 3 percent of the land has reverted to Blacks. Yet, the stipulation that 30 percent of the land should be owned by blackslxxxi does not address what this really means in terms of race and gender. The clause on the transfer of land ownership is generic in that it does not directly address the inequality of access to land in terms of gender.

In this article, housing finance institutions are taken to be those organizations that lend capital and credit to borrowers with the intent of investing in housing. Traditional housing finance institutions are the formal banks that lend funds for mortgage and bonds while non-traditional lenders are informal financiers such as micro-credit lenders who also provide capital and credit for investment in housing, however their terms might differ from those of traditional lenders. While the clients of traditional lenders can access finance from non-traditional lenders, most of those who resort to non-traditional lenders do so because they cannot access housing finance from traditional lenders.

The Context of Women's Access to Housing Finance in South Africa

The first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 saw the country make a transition from White minority apartheid rule to majority rule. The postapartheid democratic order saw tremendous changes taking place in terms of constitutional rights and public policies. Before the notion of housing finance access for women is discussed, there is need to sketch the social, political and economic background of the current situation.

When the African National Congress (ANC) took over in 1994, the housing backlog was about 1. …