SA's Housing Crisis

Nastasya Tay Nastasya Tay

What’s happened so far?

1996 - 2003

People across the country, register on waiting lists for low-cost housing. This list eventually becomes part of a “demands database”, so when a housing development begins in an area, the units are allocated according to those registered. The department says different proportions of units are given to different groups. This means a certain number are allocated for local residents, vulnerable groups, and those who’ve been waiting on the database the longest.

Land in Lenasia, Ennerdale, Lawley and parts of Soweto in Southern Jo’burg are identified by government for the development of low-cost housing.

2003 - 2004

The housing department says this is when they started looking at the development of the land in Lenasia, and realised something was “untoward”, as they started getting bills for water and electricity for units that had not yet been built. They say the infrastructure for water and electricity connections to the grid were already in place because it was an established residential area. 

2005 - 2006

People start building on land in Lenasia’s Extension 4 and Extension 13. Some take out personal loans to finance the capital investment.

The housing department begins its own internal investigation into what’s going on. A criminal case is opened to deal with the illegal sale of land. The Hawks take the lead on the investigation.

Since 2006

In February 2007, several developers are implicated in the ongoing investigation. Three people - including a developer and his wife - are arrested, tried, and put in prison. One of them has since turned state witness.

The investigation continues.

The local councillor, Paul Mulutsi alleges that the “concerned residents” are intimidating him with verbal threats and burning tyres, asking him to stop engaging with government on the issue.

The housing department says it starts a process of community meetings, asking residents to vacate the land willingly, as they are unable to start their housing development there.

2010 - 2012

In 2010, the housing department approaches the courts for an eviction order, which is opposed by those occupying the land. The judge decides that because the land is under dispute, people can’t be evicted nor structures demolished, but all construction must also stop. A mediation process begins, which lasts until March 2011.

The housing department says that of the 162 occupiers who opposed the eviction order, only 11 showed up to engage in mediation, and this reflects the disdain of residents for the process. Residents say the 11 residents are there to represent their interests as a collective.

Building continues.

The mediation process breaks down. In September 2011, a court grants the eviction order, stating that residents must vacate their houses and demolish them within 30 days. If not, the state has the right to take them down.  

Another process of dialogue begins.

Building continues.

The second mediation process breaks down.

8-9 November 2012

51 unoccupied structures are demolished in Lenasia Extension 13. Local residents put the number at 47, but officials say they tore down 51 unoccupied structures. One of the 51 structures demolished is a community centre under construction by a private charity.

(The owners of a private NGO that built it say they were given permission to use the land by the Department of Local Government and Housing when they approached them in 2006. They say they have been given no notification that their structure was built on government land and slated for demolition. EWN has seen documents detailing the situation and notifying them of an impending demolition, with their signature, indicating receipt.)

Some residents claim to have been living in the structures and have been left homeless by the demolitions. Neighbours of one woman making such a claim, say the house was uninhabited. EWN reporters on the scene do not find any evidence of habitation, such as furniture or personal effects.

At houses where owners were not present, but the buildings are completed structures with furniture inside, bulldozers knock down part of the perimeter wall.

The South African Human Rights Commission arrives on the scene to speak to residents.

9 November 2012

The South African Human Rights Commission obtains an urgent court order to halt the demolitions. A court case in the South Gauteng High Court kicks off.  

The SAHRC is not challenging the legality of the court order for the demolitions, but rather the way in which the demolitions and evictions are carried out. They are concerned about the violation of the right to human dignity, and are concerned about the trauma being caused to vulnerable groups by the tension in the community around the demolitions. They say the demolitions must be done in a humane and legal manner.

Where we are now

1,402 occupiers of stands in Lenasia Extension 4 and 13 have not submitted paperwork to prove ownership. Some say they paid between R20,000 and R95,000 for the land, but were never given documents or title deeds.

Some of the residents of the 1,413 (the total amount of illegal stands in both Lenasia extensions) have been renting their properties from other owners, who built the structures.

Structures on another 62 stands in Lenasia Extension 13, occupied and unoccupied, are slated for demolition.

Occupied and unoccupied structures on another 1,300 stands in Lenasia Extension 4 are due to be demolished after Extension 13 has been dealt with.

Government says most of the residents do not qualify for low-cost state housing, nor do they fall into vulnerable groups who would need assistance with relocation. They say that while there is a “window of opportunity” for dialogue, they expect demolitions to resume.

Key questions that remain

What were government’s plans for building low-cost housing in the area? What was the timeline for development? Were there delays?

What has been the involvement of government, or government officials, in the illegal sale of land?

What is the situation in Ennerdale, Lawley and Soweto - the other areas affected by the same issue? Exactly how many properties are affected? Where are they?

Who owns the properties that some residents are renting? What is their involvement with the illegal land grabs?

What proportion of residents who say they bought their land actually paid money for it, and what proportion are squatting?

There have been suggestions that some stand occupiers obtained home loans to fund their construction. What is the involvement of the banks? What is the extent of the debt that residents face?