Give legal housing preference

2016-01-27 06:00
Lehlohonolo Nyetanyane

Lehlohonolo Nyetanyane

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FOR many decades in South Africa, labour migration has caused an influx of people from rural to urban areas. Migrant labourers have over the years been crammed into hostels closer to workplaces – they didn’t have permanent residence in townships. Most migrant labourers were restaurant, mine and construction workers who left their families in rural areas in search of a better life in the cities.

In the early 1990s most labourers sought residence in townships as backyard dwellers or squatters in informal settlements so that their families could visit them.

After the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, South Africa saw an unprecedented increase of informal settlements in townships closer to big cities. People who settled in those areas were former hostel dwellers who wanted to be integrated with residents from surrounding townships, and former farm labourers who had been evicted from farms where they had been working for decades.

Names such as Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo Square were common for such settlements. A common denominator in these settlements was the fact that they were not sanctioned by government and did not have basic services such as water, sanitation, roads and electricity.

Almost 22 years into a democratic dispensation, a trend of informal settlements still continues unabated. People from smaller, underdeveloped towns migrate to big cities for employment opportunities and better schooling facilities for their children.

Foreign nationals who had sought refuge in South Africa for economic or political reasons are part of South Africans who initiate informal settlements X they illegally occupy any vacant piece of land they come across. Insurmountable pressure to address the housing backlog has forced government to formalise informal settlements by providing basic services such as water and electricity and ultimately building free Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses for people who had illegally occupied state land.

For decades, residents in townships had been renting backyard rooms while waiting for government-subsidised homes. They would register their names at a nearest municipal office for enlistment on a housing register. They did not erect shacks on any vacant piece of land X state or private.

While attempting to address the proliferation of informal settlements, the department of human settlement (DHS) has inadvertently neglected millions of law-abiding backyard dwellers who are still waiting to be placed in areas where state-subsidised houses will be built. They feel that undue preference is given to land-grabbers who have no regard for the law.

Not every vacant piece of land is meant for human settlement purposes. Some land is meant for business, wildlife conservation and industrial development. Backyard dwellers feel that adherence to the law disadvantages them, and that land invasion is the only way to get attention from authorities. Unfortunately, this perception begets anarchy.

Government is damned if it allows land-grabs to continue, and is equally damned if it bulldozes people off illegally occupied land. Ring-leaders of such land-grabs emerge as instant heroes to their followers.

After securing state-subsidised RDP houses, land-grabbers sell them and move on to illegally occupy another piece of land, and so the cycle perpetuates.

As the trend continues, law-abiding backyard dwellers shall forever remain on housing waiting lists. Owning a house shall remain a dream for them.

Government should be careful not to give an impression that land-grabbing is a quick-fix solution to getting a free house. Due processes must always be followed to the book.

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