Magazine article New African

What Became of 'Mandela's Houses'? He Promised One Million Houses by 1999, but by the Time He Left Office, Mandela's Administration Had Built Only 40,000 Houses. What Happened to the Promise? (Feature: South Africa)

Magazine article New African

What Became of 'Mandela's Houses'? He Promised One Million Houses by 1999, but by the Time He Left Office, Mandela's Administration Had Built Only 40,000 Houses. What Happened to the Promise? (Feature: South Africa)

Article excerpt

"We are not happy. How can we be if we can't even afford a house?" Thandiwe Madikizela shakes her head and points towards the new Smartie-coloured government houses opposite. "These people, they were moved here recently, so there is money. It's just not getting to the people that need it."

Walking through the vast informal settlements on the Cape Flats, it is certainly clear that South Africa's housing crisis has, if anything, worsened. Millions remain without adequate shelter or services and shantytowns are proliferating at an alarming rate. What happened, then, to Mandela's promise in 1994, to build one million houses by 1999?

Put simply, the government's pledge failed. The post-apartheid Reconstruction and Development Project (RDP) raised high expectations. It promised new houses and the redistribution of 30% of good farming land -- a prickly subject, given Zimbabwe's example.

But aside from a few successful upgrading projects, mainly around Johannesburg, the housing crisis has worsened. In fact, during Mandela's administration, fewer than 40,000 low-cost houses were built, a far cry from the one million that was promised.

Meanwhile, rural to urban migration has rocketed. An estimated 60% of South Africans now live in urban areas and shanty towns are mushrooming -- in 2000, an estimated six million South Africans were homeless.

These figures are rising, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands have been lucky enough to secure housing. Small areas of RDP houses have sprung up around townships, but the waiting list continues to grow.

Eunice Dubani and her nine-strong family have lived in one of "Mandela's Houses", as they are commonly known, since 1999. She had to wait five years before her application was processed. I ask her if she is happy living there now. "The rain comes through the roof and there is damp," she says. "In winter it is very cold. We have added another two rooms to the house; otherwise we would not all be able to live here. It is hard."

Yet she is one of the lucky ones. The tiny, one-room structure on a dusty Khayelitsha road has a toiler and running water -- luxuries that an estimated three million people are waiting for. The backlog is indeed daunting; somewhere between two and three million, admits the housing minister Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele.

But why has the housing problem worsened? Initially, the failure was an issue of policy. The RDP based its housing strategy on a top-down, non-participatory approach, designed, in part, by World Bank reams.

On the one hand, the RDP promised a real improvement in access to housing and services, but on the other it decided, with no public debate, on a private-sector approach which failed to address the key issues of the housing crisis.

Thankfully, that policy is beginning to change. Last year, at the 25th anniversary of Habitat for Humanity, President Thabo Mbeki announced that the government was "very keen that people themselves should be active in development, rather than being docile recipients of delivery by a benevolent government".

Mbeki's switch in focus is clear: the government wants people to rake an active role in the development of their communities, instead of waiting for government handouts. He praised the participatory efforts he had witnessed in townships. "These are dedicated South Africans who do not just rely on government subsidies and complain about what it can or cannot do, but continue to mobilise savings schemes and participate actively in the construction of houses". …

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