The launch of a hostel eradication programme in Soweto this week stirred speculation that the Gauteng government had been spurred into action by fears of further xenophobic outbursts.
This was denied by a provincial spokesperson, who said the newly announced plans to destroy hostels and replace them with residential units were part of an ongoing process.
Hostel-dwellers have repeatedly been accused of being involved in xenophobic attacks.
On Tuesday the Department of Housing blew up a dilapidated power supply structure to demonstrate what would happen to the hostels.
In a packed marquee outside the hostel, Gauteng minister for housing Nomvula Mokonyane announced that 13 Gauteng hostels would be destroyed this year. She said more than 3 000 Dube residents currently living in 253 single-gender blocks in the hostel would be accommodated in 9 500 new rental units.
But listeners expressed concern about how the new units would be allocated and whether all hostel-dwellers would be accommodated. There were also questions about the rents for the new units.
The xenophobic attacks that took place last month were partly fuelled by accusations that South Africans were losing out to foreigners in queues for housing and other services.
Mokonyane’s spokesperson, Aviva Manqa, denied the hostel eradication programme was intended to prevent further xenophobic attacks. “I understand the context — but the department’s action was not at all a sudden thing. The eradication of hostels programme began with phase one, which focused on fixing emergencies such as electricity and water problems in hostels,” he said.
“And in terms of our programme, we have found that hostel-dwellers and the surrounding communities already interact with each other. So there won’t be problems integrating them,” he added.
Mokonyane announced that the Diepkloof, Orlando West and Meadowlands hostels would also be demolished. She said approximately R14-billion had been budgeted to improve the lives of hostel-dwellers: “We urge you to support us in eradicating these apartheid symbols, which for many years were used to distinguish who is from Gauteng and who is not. South Africa belongs to everybody who lives in it.”
Some residents have been relocated to temporary homes provided by the department, while more are expected to relocate as the demolition continues.
“At first, I didn’t quite like this woman — Nomvula — but now I love her for what she is doing. We have been living in appalling conditions for many years and nobody cared about us,” said a jubilant Induna Christmas Nyandeni of the Jeppestown’s Wolhuter hostel.
“I have been staying in my room since 1974. But for many years I could not have my family visit me here — I am a respected man back home — I can’t be seen living in this dirt by my family and friends,” he added.
Nyandeni said he does not think government suddenly sprang into action because of the xenophobic attacks, but rather that it was keeping its promise.
Mbongeleni Bhengu, a Dube hostel resident since 1999, said the excitement of finally having his own space was overwhelming.