/ 30 October 2023

Failed promises: The long and ‘hopeless’ wait for RDP houses

Rdp House
Samaria Ndhove, 54, says she has 'given up' on receiving a house

Twenty-nine years into democratic rule in South Africa and many despondent, hopeless and angry citizens are still waiting for a place to call home.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was a significant socio-economic policy framework introduced after the end of apartheid. It was implemented by the ANC to address imbalances such as access to housing, clean running water and sanitation.

But, for Tembisa resident Sipho Dlamini, 48, the promise of a permanent home has still not materialised. 

As the sun sets on Tembisa, the streets are abuzz with street vendors and workers returning home. Sam Molele Drive separates the section called Mangweni from an informal settlement known as Madelakufa. 

Dlamini, a street vendor who sells traditional Zulu shoes and accessories, lives in Madelakufa. He told the Mail & Guardian that he had applied for an RDP home in 1995, while he was still in his twenties. At the time, he hoped the government would allocate him a house so he could have a family and bring up his children in a warm and comfortable home. 

“I have been following up since I applied for a house and I am told that I am on the waiting list and all my information is in the database. 

“I now have to share a one-room shack with my four children and my wife,” he says.

“I left home in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, in 1999, hoping that I would come to Johannesburg to work and make a better life for me and my family — but life did not work out the way I had hoped.”

His shack is not a corrugated iron one, Dlamini says, but rather a small structure with a sail for a roof, stabilised with wood and rocks. 

“The rainy season is upon us; my stress levels have shot up because I know what my family and I will have to go through. 

“We have to stay up all night to make sure it does not get flooded, and, when it does, we have to leave and find cover somewhere so that no one gets hurt. Nothing hurts me more than that as a father.”

If the rain continues for a week, the family simply has to “wait it out”. Each season is hard — the rain in summer and the cold in winter.

“Whatever comes with the season ends up in my home,” Dlamini says. 

If he had the opportunity to speak to the government, he would “plead” for a home that was safe.

“Elections are coming up, and there is so much they are going to be promising us, but as soon as the elections are over, things go back to what they were, and we never see them again,” he says of next year’s poll. 

“They once promised that they would build proper shacks for us and that we would get water and electricity. We are still waiting.” 

Albert Ntsele, 56, lives with his wife and seven children and grandchildren. With tears of frustration in his eyes, he told the M&G how difficult it was to be a father under his circumstances.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. I applied for a home in 1996 and I was hopeful and patient that my time will soon come,” he says.

“There was a development next to our settlement and officials asked us to move our shacks, so they could build homes, which we assumed were ours. So, we complied and watched them build what we thought were our future homes.”

Time passed but hope remained — until those on the waiting list saw people putting up curtains and some parking their cars in the homes they thought they would be moving into.

“We were so angry and disappointed — to the point that we stopped the development. 

“We asked, ‘Why not us?’ and no one gave us answers,” Ntsele says, adding that his “pride as a man” takes a daily knock because his children might  never have the privilege of living in a brick house. 

“Every time I wake and open the door, I see homes on the other side of the street, and when I look back and see all my children sleeping on the floor, it hurts me. It’s a pain I can’t put into words.” 

At this point in his life, says Ntsele, it is “okay” if the government won’t provide a home for him and his family but could they at least provide them with electricity, he asks. 

“We are even willing to pay. This community has stopped hoping for free things. We are willing to buy electricity so that our children can watch TV, we can cook on stoves and have lights. If the government wants us to pay, we will pay,” he says. 

He feels the pain of older people who still live in shacks in Madelakufa, never having owned a home. 

“It’s okay if the government does not care for me but what about these old people who we worry about when the seasons change? 

“What will happen to them the day we cannot reach them because of the floods? Will they not die a painful death? Those who run the government have no conscience at all.”

Samaria Ndhove, 54, moved to Johannesburg from Malamulele, Limpopo, in 1988 and has had to move from one informal settlement to another as a result of floods sweeping her homes away. All the while she has hoped that her application for a home would be approved. 

“I went to check how far I am on the list last year and all I was told is that I am on the waiting list. After so many years, how is this possible?” Ndhove asks. 

She says she has “given up” and won’t follow up on the matter because “the truth of the matter is” that she will never get a home. 

Her grandchild, whom she babysits, lies on the bed in the one-room shack while Ndhove prepares macaroni on a primus stove. 

“I look at this child lying here and wonder what kind of a life she will have in this environment. I have stopped internalising what my shack looks like; I feel nothing towards this so-called home. It keeps me safe but is a constant reminder of many days of poverty I am yet to face,” she says.

Ndhove’s prayer is for her children to have a better life.