Sunday Tribune: Evictions loom for illegal low-cost home dwellers

Evictions loom for illegal low-cost home dwellers

June 01, 2008 Edition 2

Sibusiso Ngalwa

Thousands of people who have bought or are renting low-cost homes through the “black market” face imminent eviction. The government is poised to conduct an “occupancy audit” of all of the 2.6 million houses built since 1994 and to evict those not entitled to live in them.

Illegal occupiers either bought or are renting the state-subsidised houses from the original owners. It is illegal for the original owners to let or sell such houses for eight years.

Meanwhile, moves are afoot to get provinces to stop people erecting shacks willy-nilly. The government wants to move shack dwellers to “transit camps” as part of a drive to eradicate informal settlements.

However, Soweto’s Anti Privatisation Forum and KwaZulu-Natal’s Shack-Dwellers Association, have said deep-rooted problems caused the poor to sell or let their houses. Anti-shack laws would hurt the recently urbanised and very poor.

Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu this weekend said the government would criminally charge the original owners of subsidised houses who had sold or were letting them.

The audit was urgent and her department would advertise a tender for it this weekend.

In her budget speech in parliament this week she said investigations had uncovered more than 31 000 housing subsidy cases involving government employees.

Resentment of foreigners living in government-issued houses has been cited as one of the causes of the recent xenophobic violence. Sisulu said her department had not issued a single house to a foreigner.

In dealing with the problem, she said they would first charge the original owner of the house who would “have to make sure they are able to reverse the sale”.

Asked if those illegally occupying the houses would be evicted, Sisulu replied, “Yes.”


“We are going to examine their circumstances . . . if they no longer deserve it . . . then we take the house back. But if they are living in informal settlements, not only are we going to charge them but we will force them to go into their house.

“It’s a criminal offence . . . If they do not have a problem with poverty they should not have accepted these houses.”

The housing department has built 2.6 million houses, but another 2.1 million are needed.

The government would not be able to wipe out the growing housing backlog, she said, but “we can eradicate informality”.

Sisulu has pleaded for a once-off R12 billion for “emergency housing”.

“If we build 500 000 houses a year we will be able to provide 2.1 million houses in four years.”

The projected housing budget for 2008/09 is R10.6 billion, a 19.4% downward movement.

New criteria for the issuing of houses would be implemented, she said. Houses would go to those without job prospects, relying on grants. “Our new focus will be on the elderly, indigent and those with disabilities.”

Urbanisation meant informal settlements kept mushrooming, she said. Laws that prevented this needed to be enforced.

Sisulu told the National Council of Provinces that by year-end “legislation is to be introduced at provincial level to improve our ability to regulate the growth of informal settlements”.

It is understood she has in mind laws along the lines of KwaZulu-Natal’s controversial Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act currently being challenged in court. The Act has been criticised as being “anti-poor”.

Soweto’s Anti Privatisation Forum said evictions or taking back houses would not solve the problem. “The policies of the government led to this,” said forum spokesman Silumko Radebe.

S’bu Zikode, chairman of KwaZulu-Natal’s shack-dwellers association Abahlali Basemjondolo, which is challenging the slums Act in court, said, “There are reasons why people sell houses and move back to their shacks. Some houses are far from the city centre. The people need to be closer to work.”