Matlhodi Maseko, Democratic Alliance Spokesperson on Human Settlements in the Western Cape Province
Member Maseko is also the Standing Committee Chairperson on Human Settlements in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament. The Democratic Alliance is the Official Opposition in South Africa and in government in the Western Cape Province.
South Africans from all around the country are urbanising at an astonishing rate, in search of economic opportunities and a freedom to pursue quality education. The Province of the Western Cape draws the largest volume of such seekers of opportunity. Upon arrival, people are destitute and in need of housing. This is compounded by the cold Cape weather of this time of the year. With population growth, budget constraints and the aforementioned urbanisation, delivering housing opportunities remains enormously challenging as the housing backlog is ever increasing.
Being that it is winter and that people are in desperate need for shelter, land invasion becomes an issue. People who are in need of housing opportunities often find themselves being exploited by politically motivated movements, that aim to destabilise the Western Cape politically, being that it is the only province that is governed by the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition in South Africa. Land invasion occurs where people do not apply and wait to receive a housing opportunity, such as a house or a serviced stand (plot) upon which they can build their own house. It happens when land is occupied illegally. Illegal land invasion means that people often occupy land that does not have bulk services in place, such as water and sanitation. Once structures are erected and because this is done without any development planning, it is incredibly challenging to deliver these bulk services. In addition, how closely to one another these shelters are built has an impact on the accessibility of emergency vehicles as well as on the spreading of shack fires, making proper planning all the more crucial. There are also cases where uninhabitable land has been occupied. The Cape Peninsula, true to form, is pocketed with wetlands. These wetlands often flood in winter, are not stable enough for laying foundations of houses nor for the delivery of bulk services.
In the case of Mfuleni, the land invasion began on 14 September 2015, with around 50 people setting up dwellings illegally. The number soon grew to around 500 people. That the occupation of the land in Mfuleni was illegal is but one of the elements that makes instances like these so problematic. The land that was invaded has been earmarked by the City of Cape Town (local government / municipality), for the delivery of a housing project. This means that people who have been on the waiting list to receive a housing opportunity would have their needs catered to by the delivery of this development. In the same vein, the illegal occupation of the land by those who are not on the waiting list for a housing opportunity would mean the deprivation of those who are part of the legitimate process. While the desperate need for housing opportunities is cannot be denied, the rule of law must be upheld. Those who qualify to receive a housing opportunity and who have been on the waiting list, cannot be jeopardised by illegal occupants.
Those who occupied the land illegally in Mfuleni have had their shacks dismantled and removed. In response to this, 18 persons were arrested following acts of public violence. Petrol bombs were also confiscated. Delivering housing to those who qualify to receive a housing opportunity and who are on the waiting list, is a priority in the Western Cape. It must be done fairly and equitably. Violent protests and the destruction that goes along with it, does nothing to deliver housing opportunities. It only compounds the problem in that funds that ought to have been used for the delivery of housing opportunities would then need to be channelled towards addressing violence.
We all need to be present in preserving the rule of law that is needed for the delivery of adequate services. Participation from members of the community is just as important as that of government. Community members must be involved in the process of delivering housing and must be active in safeguarding the housing opportunities that have been delivered and those that are under construction. Destruction and violence will only debilitate growth. Housing opportunities that are delivered by government must not be seen as a solution. It is a platform for the recipients to pursue greater opportunities beyond that and become all the more capable of contributing to building a stable and viable democracy.