Mashaba and Mashatile clash as residents fight

Protests over the housing crisis in Johannesburg, ongoing since the beginning of May, continued this week. Residents of Diepkloof in Soweto clashed with police in support of the adequate housing demands as the city announced it could build only 1 000 in the next year.

Diepkloof residents decried the occupation of RDP homes by people from other countries, blocking roads with burning tyres and throwing rocks at the police, mimicking scenes in Ivory Park in Midrand on Monday, where Red Ants and metro police fired rubber bullets to get people off land they had illegally occupied.

It will take at least 30 years to resolve the housing backlog in Johannesburg, said mayor Herman Mashaba, blaming funding cuts by the Gauteng government.

The city’s coalition council, in consultation with the Economic Freedom Fighters, presented a budget with R145-million from the Gauteng government’s human settlements grant set aside to build houses over the next 12 months.

The grant is less than half of the R411-million the city received at the beginning of 2016.

“I can’t go out and promise people what I don’t have. But I’m going to query the grant reduction. If they don’t come to the party — national and provincial government — I’m going to take them to court,” Mashaba told the Mail & Guardian.

The grant was decreased by R66-million after the local government elections because the Gauteng government said it would take over upgrades to the city’s hostels. Both Mashaba and human settlements MEC Paul Mashatile confirmed these upgrades have not yet happened.

Mashaba was despondent about his efforts to clear the list of 300 000 people waiting for houses, the highest in any South African city.

He blamed the grant reduction on the ANC losing control of the country’s economic hub last year. Mashaba said this was proven by Mashatile’s decision to increase the grant allocation to Ekurhuleni, which remained under ANC control. In the 2019-2020 budget, the Ekurhuleni metro will receive R207-million from the provincial grant and Johannesburg R145-million.

Mashatile confirmed that the allocation had been decreased, saying: “The housing allocation is not static. It’s based on performance so when that increases we allocate accordingly.

“The mayor may not have money to build houses, but if he comes to me and says we have finished the money for 1 000 homes, we’ll give them more. I don’t want to give money and they don’t spend all of it,” Mashatile told the M&G.

He was referring to the nearly R1-billion urban settlements development grant to the city council from treasury that will end at the end of June, of which nearly R300-million has not yet been spent.

“But 2016, that was during the ANC’s term,” the mayor responded.

Mashatile said his department hoped to build 200 000 houses across the province over the next five years. The province has a backlog of 600 000 people on the waiting list. Another 100 000 people could be housed if Mashatile’s department reaches its target of servicing land that can be sold for people to build on their own.

In the short term, the MEC hopes to build up to 50 000 houses a year through mega-projects such as high-rise buildings with low-cost units.

Mashaba said the coalition council also set aside R66-million from its own budget to service land in Ennerdale and Lawley that it hopes to issue to people on the waiting list.

The demonstrations started in Eldorado Park and quickly spread to Kliptown, Ennerdale and Freedom Park, and continued in Ivory Park where evictions took place this week.

In Klipspruit, Bernadette Chamanil didn’t care about the politicians’ war of words. “Since 1994 I’ve been on the waiting list for a house and every year we hear the same promises … I’m tired now.”

Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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