In a debate with Carte Blanche producers, the Gauteng housing
department blamed illegal migrants for problems in the delivery of low
cost housing, writes Michael Tsingo.

Together with housing specialists, NGOs and the media, they were
debating issues raised in a TV documentary on the issue that had been
commissioned by the Wits University Investigative Journalism Workshop
with funding from the Ford Foundation.

The documentary, broadcast on M-Net’s Carte Blanche on February 18, was
based on an investigation into the lack of low cost housing in the
Northern Cape.

The documentary was again aired at the start of the debate, during
which the deputy director general for housing in Gauteng, Joseph
Leshabane, says the presence of about 10 million immigrants in South
Africa – most of them undocumented – increased the ‘magnitude’ of the
delivery gap.

But the documentary researchers, Kate Barry and Florencia Belvedere,
said their investigation revealed that the lack of delivery violated
people's constitutional rights to "have access to adequate housing".
Also, those in charge had failed to "take reasonable legislative and
other measures…to achieve the progressive realisation of this right".

Belvedere, a social researcher and specialist in migration and
refugees, said illegal immigrants are a reality – especially those from
Zimbabwe – “but there is a real leap between movement of people into
Johannesburg and qualifying for housing – if they do then it means
somewhere within government there is some facilitation and lack of

The 18-minute documentary showed houses with cracking walls in
Kimberley. House owners were shown complaining of leaking roofs and of
gaps between the roof and walls. A building contractor, previously
convicted of car theft, was shown refusing responsibility for these
defects on the houses built by him. Most of the contractors were also
benefiting from bridging finance – a loan designed for beginners – even
if they were established contractors, some of them dating back to the
apartheid era.

Leshabane said in response that the national department is looking into
issues around quality and he added that the Special Investigation Unit
was tasked to look into issues of bridging finance and corruption. But
he also stressed that there are places of excellence in the country,
including in the Northern Cape.

“We acknowledge that there are pockets that need attention within the national housing programme.”
He also said citizens and the reality of poverty had put great pressure on the government.

“Take a step back and appreciate what happened from 1994 to 2006. We
rushed out and we did not have enough time to plan. The national
government to deliver sustainable resettlement had to be restructured
to upgrade capacity development, planning and implementation; and this
requires a systematic response.”

Leshabane also asked the media and other participants to bear in mind
that the housing programme is trying to kill two birds with one stone –
that is elevating people’s lives by providing at least a “roof” over
their heads as well as to boost economic development through job
creation and skills development.

Nevertheless, he added that the housing department has about one and a half thousand people without specific duties.

Belvedere wanted to know how the department will deal with issues of
legislation arising from the documentary. She stressed that the aspect
of people/community participation was lacking although it is pivotal
and supported by the national constitution’s Information Act and
Justice Act. She urged South Africans to make use of such pieces of
legislation to protect their right to housing/adequate shelter.

She also asked how inspectors could approve houses with cracking walls, as shown in the documentary.

In concluding the debate, Professor Alan Mabin, Head of Wits School of
Architecture and Planning and co-founder of PLANACT, said the aim of
the debate was to make use of Wits University’s “leading role in
investigative journalism” to examine issues raised by the Carte Blanche
documentary collectively, for the benefit of the country.


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