/ 9 June 2008

Sanco chief in war over RDP houses

ANC MP Rose Sonto, also the head of the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in the Western Cape, this week repeated unsubstantiated allegations that foreigners are buying government-subsidised houses and forcing South Africans to live in shacks.

He first accused foreigners of ”taking over” government-subsidised housing in Du Noon township three months ago, shortly before xenophobic violence erupted in the settlement.

Following the allegations the provincial minister of housing, Richard Dyanti, went on a fact-finding mission to Du Noon. Dyanti and 32 officials conducted a door-to-door investigation of 500 houses in the township, and discovered that only one was owned by a foreigner. There are 2 500 RDP homes in Du Noon, where xenophobic violence first began in the Western Cape, displacing up to 25 000 people.

Their Housing Occupancy Survey — named ”your house is your asset” by Dyanti — took place a week before the xenophobic attacks began.

Speaking at the Human Settlement Summit in Cape Town on February 29th, Sonto accused foreign nationals of owning ”three-quarters” of RDP houses in Du Noon. Sonto also mentioned several other townships, Phillipi, Samora Machel and Delft, from which foreigners were later chased away.

Shortly after Sonto’s speech a Cape Town newspaper published an article quoting a nameless Zimbabwean allegedly making ”big business out of RDP homes”. The Zimbabwean, from Du Noon, said he had bought four RDP houses which he intends to renovate and resell.

In his speech Sonto accused ”non-South African nationals” of ”taking over”. ”With no apology, I must say, in what many would regard as being xenophobic, when laying bare the dangerous problem that is creeping into our democracy — many houses in various localities are owned by foreign nationals whose refugee status is unknown to us as citizens of this country,” he said.

”They buy these houses to stay in them or to rent them out to needy South Africans,” Sonto said.

He used Du Noon as an example of how ”foreigners are taking over”. ”Three-quarters of Du Noon is owned by non-South Africans. Phillipi is another area — Samora, Delft and many others are areas where government delivery is turned into misery for those who are supposed to be recipients.

”What this means is that government resources — that were meant to restore dignity to our people and rid the country of slums and informal settlements — go next door and as citizens we are at the mercy of foreigners.

”It might be undermined now, but later our democracy will suffer serious setbacks as we will become foreigners in our own country in the not-too-distant future. If we keep on hiding the truth behind xenophobia as we do, we will wake up one day being slaves of other people in our own country,” Sonto said.

The Mail & Guardian this week interviewed a group of Congolese refugees who claimed they were told to leave their homes and the country or face being killed by people who belong to Sanco.

”When the people came to my house and told us to get out, I recognised some of them. They belong to what they call the street- committee and Sanco. They said they’re from Sanco and foreigners everywhere must go because there is now a war between the South Africans and the foreigners because we’re taking food from them,” said Congolese national Deo Kabemba Ngulu.

Ironically, he said, it was his neighbour, also a member of Sanco, who saved his life: ”She told the mob that gathered outside the house I was renting, that I am a good man and that my family and I will not die here next to her. She told them to give us time to get out.”

This week Sonto, who is also an ANC MP, repeated his allegation that foreigners are buying RDP houses from locals and forcing increasing numbers of South Africans to live in shacks.

Sonto told the M&G he stands by what he said and that Dyanti is ”not finished with his survey yet”.

”South Africans, myself included, have never been xenophobic. Never. You are insisting on sensationalising this issue by dubbing it as xenophobia because it suits those — including you — who want to exacerbate the problem by your insistence that this is xenophobic,” Sonto said.

”I don’t have a problem with Margaret Thatcher’s son buying a house in Constantia. That’s not my context. My problem is the insignificant delivery of RDP houses because recipients get houses and sell them after a short space of time and then they go back to shacks. You don’t have a problem with that, but I do.”

Dyanti spokesperson Vusi Tshose denied that the minister went to Du Noon to check on foreigners who bought RDP houses. ”He is doing a housing survey. We piloted 505 houses in Du Noon, of which 225 of the owners are the rightful owners, according to our database. Another 230 are South Africans but not the rightful owners. We found one person who is a foreigner and had proof that he bought the house. This is about housing corruption and not about foreigners,” Tshose said.