Are we doing enough to house the poor in Durban?
This story appeared on May 4 in The Mercury
Unveiling the eThekwini Municipality’s R17.4 billion budget, Mayor Obed Mlaba has taken issue with critics who complained that Durban was spending R500 million on a new soccer stadium instead of building more houses for the poor.
Mlaba defended the city’s spending on major infrastructure like the stadium, saying: “When one simply gives away houses to the poor who have no means of sustaining themselves or building communities, you had better be sure that you have other income-generating programmes in place to pick up the slack.”
On top of the R500 million the city is spending on the new stadium, it would like to spend another R2 billion on infrastructure to showcase Durban during the 2010 World Cup.
Before his budget speech on Monday, Mlaba asked councillors to observe a minute’s silence for the three people from the Kennedy Road informal settlement who died when a fire swept through the settlement at the weekend.
The settlement is one of scores dotted around the city that are home to an estimated 800 000 people who live in about 200 000 informal houses.Mlaba said he was optimistic that the city would be able to double the number of houses it built annually, from 16 000 to 32 000.
He did not specify how this would be done, but said: “Doubling the number shouldn’t be a problem . . . We want to move away from apartheid planning and draw people closer to their places of work.” Mlaba said building houses was not the task of the government. “The ideal situation would be where the government is not building houses. We are doing so because of the negligence of the last government.”
ANC councillor Nigel Gumede, who heads the city’s housing committee, said: “We have to double up production and we will do that with the assistance of the National Housing Agency. We are also contemplating establishing our own housing company to spearhead the delivery of houses.”
Gumede said that the council had become a victim of its own efficiency.
“We should discourage people from building new shacks. Our focus is to eradicate shacks, but (by building houses) the message to people in the townships is to move into shacks.”In the 2007/08 budget, the council has pledged to spend R543 million on low-cost housing projects and R210 million on housing infrastructure, while R60 million is being spent on upgrading hostels.
City Treasurer Krish Kumar said another R112 million had been budgeted to supply water and electricity to new low-cost houses.
He said the city’s expenditure on housing this year was 5% more than last year’s.
S’bu Zikode, the President of Abahlali baseMjondolo (a movement of shack dwellers), asked Mlaba or city officials to present their plans to shack dwellers.
“For two years we have been asking the city for its housing plans and for the lists of people who will get houses. We have asked for this information before and we get complicated policy documents in reply. The city needs to answer simple questions, like where is it building houses and for whom. It needs to tell a grandmother if she will get a house and when, so she can make alternative arrangements if she isn’t going to get one.”
Zikode said that the province’s Prevention of the Re-emergence and Elimination of Slums Bill did not talk about upgrading informal settlements. Instead it was about relocating people from work opportunities, which went against stated ANC policy.
DA Caucus Leader John Steenhuisen endorsed Zikode’s call for open discussion on housing.”
This affects us all and yet the ANC tends to regard it as their turf. We would like to explore different options, like maybe prefabricated structures to accommodate people temporarily, ones that are fire-safe and can be re-used when people move to formal houses. Unless we do this, the goal of clearing slums by 2014 will be a pipe dream,” he said.