Mercury: Housing Concerns

Housing Concerns

October 07, 2008 Edition 1

A report released yesterday on housing rights and “slum eradication” in Durban makes for sobering reading.

In it the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction praises the eThekwini Municipality for its zeal in building a considerable number of homes, but also expresses a number of serious concerns.

These include the size, quality and location of the houses being built, the failure to provide adequate levels of basic services to shack dwellers, the authoritarian methods used to evict people and to silence dissenters, and the strong perceptions in communities of corruption and political patronage in the municipality’s housing system.

Of course it is easy to criticise without fairly considering all the constraints that face municipalities in South Africa. It is simple, from a rich country such as Switzerland, to pronounce on the undeniable right of people to homes and services, without explaining precisely how this should be financed (other than making the good point that national government should drastically increase its housing budget).

Quite how a municipality can meet huge demands in a climate of poverty, high unemployment and a continued inflow of people from rural areas, is another matter.

However, the report touches on many important points. It states that building densities need to be increased, government departments at all levels need to undergo a paradigm shift, replacing the “slums eradication” discourse with a housing rights discourse and they need to abandon the idea that a “world-class” city is a place where the poor must be hidden from view.

Equally seriously, the municipality must be seen to clean up the image of patronage and rampant bribery that sticks to its housing department and it must build trust among communities with better communication and consultation methods.

Moreover, the police need to address persistent allegations of intimidation of community representatives, and worse. Perhaps details in this latest report may just prompt SA police headquarters to finally act firmly on the repeated complaints made against lawless elements in the Sydenham Police Station.