With close to a million applicants still on the waiting list for housing, many dating back to 1996, the Gauteng department of human settlements is still to complete 33 housing projects under its Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).
The RDP scheme was introduced by the new ANC national government after the fall of apartheid to address racial imbalances in access to housing, clean running water and sanitation.
Sizakele Mngomezulu, who lives in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, was one of the first people to apply for a house in 1996 at the Region E walk-in centre on 8th Avenue.
“I remember we had to wake up at 2am to avoid the long queues and we all had hope that the dream of owning our own houses would come true,” she told the Mail & Guardian.
“When the process was done we were told to wait and, yes, I have been waiting for almost 30 years.”
Still hoping against hope all these years that one day officials would come and hand her the keys to her house, Mngomezulu thought this might finally come true in 2019 when the Gauteng MEC for human settlements announced that those who had applied for government housing in 1996 would be the first to benefit from the department’s projects.
“But five years later nothing has happened,” she said this week.
According to the Gauteng department of human settlements 2018-19 annual report, 31 mega projects were at different stages of development. It said 18 were at construction level, 11 at detailed planning and two were in the first phase of planning.
The department is implementing 33 mega projects across the province to tackle the housing backlog, according to Castro Ngobese, the spokesperson for the human settlements MEC.
“These projects are expected to yield at least 10 000 housing units each. However, they are at different stages of development,” Ngobese said. He said work had resumed in most of the housing projects that had been left unfinished, without explaining what had caused these “various delays”.
Essentially, no progress has been made since the housing department’s report in 2019, said Nomnikelo Sigenu, the secretary of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali Basemjondolo.
“Empty promises are what the government is good at. We can protest, march or do anything but all they will do is just give empty promises — especially now because elections are coming,” Sigenu told the M&G.
Meanwhile, vigilante group Alexandra Bonafides has been on a drive to evict foreigners living in such houses in the township, arguing that the majority of the properties were acquired illegally.
“We decided to take it upon ourselves to fight for our brothers and sisters to rightfully own houses because it is the government’s officials that are part of this corruption,” said a member of the group who spoke on condition of anonymity.
They claimed to know of a City of Johannesburg official who had been arrested for allegedly creating a fraudulent RDP house application and charging an applicant R4 000 to “process” it.
“A lot of these people are not even hiding their scams. There are hundreds on social media and they have their contact details. The government is not doing anything because they know it’s their people and they eat with them,” the member added.
Alexandra Bonafides has won the approval of residents such as Nontokozo Dayimane, who spoke of her recent frustration when she accompanied her grandmother to the housing department’s offices to check on the status of her application.
“On arrival we were told that my grandmother had received her house. We were given an address but when we got there the house was occupied by people we do not know,” Dayimane said.
“When we returned to the department to let them know about our encounter, no one really took us seriously or offered to help us with what to do next.”
In his State of the Province address in February, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said his government was aware of people occupying RDP houses illegally and that it would implement a new biometrics system “where we will use your finger as a key to open your house instead of giving you a key”.
“The government likes implementing unnecessary solutions,” scoffed Dayimane. “We do not need biometrics systems that will take forever. We need the people who are corrupt in the offices to be seen and dealt with.”
According to the Gauteng housing department’s Ngobese, under the Human Settlements Act, there is a pre-emptive right included in the title deed which “prohibits the sale or transfer of the property within eight years from the date of its original transfer unless it is first offered to the relevant provincial human settlements department”.
He said the department urged people to report all illegal activities in the housing system by phoning 0860 428 8364 or sending an email to [email protected]