The Stellenbosch United Action Group met with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in October 2020. They raised the question of what constitutes violation of the right to housing. The Group focuses on the housing question in the entire municipality. We have only done research on housing in Idas Valley. Hence this article will look only at the national context. And relate the detail of Idas Valley housing to that.
There is a constitutional right to access to adequate housing. But what does “adequate” mean? These terms are subject to different interpretations. Depending on who is making the assertion of the right. Or claiming the right. This is not simply a matter of individual choice.
Political and economic elites say that the state has limited funds. And cannot therefore provide free RDP/BNG housing to household heads younger than 40. Government expects these people to get bank loans and use a finance linked subsidy through the FLISP (programme). Or to squat on site-and-service schemes, or on vacant land on the urban periphery. These elites control the key departments of state – including the National and Provincial Treasuries and Municipal Finance Departments. They say they have to reign in state spending. This means taking money from grants for housing, pensions, health, education, etc.
The workers have a class based view of their right to housing. They are living in shacks, or overcrowded formal dwellings. They link these with economic marginalisation. This means high unemployment, low wages, mind-numbing and physically demanding work. They pay large percentages of their income on utilities and transportation. Housing demands of workers are not separate from other demands. They want the state and the employer class to pay for them to access rights to housing, health and work.
The elite view is that beyond the limited subsidies the poor must fend for themselves. And engage in self-help initiatives. The workers say that the state has an obligation to pay the costs of their housing. Linked to these conflicting demands are different views about the meaning of “adequate”.
Access to Adequate Housing – Nationally
The Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) assessed the status of the Right to Housing in a 2017 report. There are several criteria used in this report. We cannot go into all of them here. Only three are relevant to looking at the housing situation in Idas Valley.
One issue relevant to Idas Valley housing is the number of households nationally, still living in informal dwellings. Has this been increasing or decreasing over the years? Another is access to basic services, like sewerage disposal, potable water and electricity. In the backyards of Idas Valley basic services provision is sometimes inadequate. A third issue is whether the households are employed or unemployed. Do they receive a decent wage. This too is relevant to assessing the housing situation in Idas Valley.
Informal wendyhouses in Idas Valley
Sight of backyard shacks (Idas Valley)
The following graphs show an assessment of the housing situation nationally, in terms of these three issues. The national situation provides a context within which to locate the specific Idas Valley situation. The problems experienced by many Idas Valley residents are not different from housing problems in the rest of the country. A comparative study provides the basis for nationwide solidarity in the struggle for adequate housing.
Dwelling Types Adequacy
The above graph tells us that informal dwellings as a percentage of all housing has stayed constant, even increased slightly, over the 14 years ended 2016. The SPII Report notes that the Housing Development Agency (HDA) thinks that the percentage of informal dwellings is a likely undercount. A researcher at the Isandla Institute several years ago opined that if one counted the shacks where foreign nationals live the true proportion of informal dwellings is closer to 25 per cent of all types of housing. There are at least 595 000 informal units rented in the backyards of previously segregated townships. It is the fastest growing rental sector in the economy.
For most if not all informal housing dwellers, informal housing is inadequate. However, for the state the production of new housing is going to be left in the hands of the households themselves, with or without assistance from the private sector. In making this policy shift the state is condoning informal structures as an adequate form of housing.
Adequate Drinking Water
The above graph tells us that the proportion of households that have access to potable (i.e. fit-to-drink) water varies significantly between:
43,8 per cent in Limpopo and 47,1 per cent in the Eastern Cape, to
88,1 per cent (Western Cape) and 91,8 per cent (Gauteng).
While in most provinces there have been improvements (albeit small) between 2002 and 2016, in some provinces the proportion of households with access to potable water has actually declined over the same period.
One of these is the Western Cape (from 91,1 to 88,1 per cent).
In the Northern Cape the proportion has fallen significantly from 88,3 to 78,4 per cent over the period.
And in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape less than half the households had access to potable water in 2016.
As far as residents are concerned, the state has a commitment to provide all households with access to potable water. But its performance has fallen far short of this target in the case of most provinces.
Adequate Basic Sanitation
The above graph tells us that the proportion of households that have flush toilets varies significantly between
25,4 per cent (Limpopo) and 43,4 per cent (Eastern Cape), and
88,6 per cent (Gauteng) and 93,1 per cent (Western Cape).
In six of the nine provinces less than half of the households had flush toilets. In all the provinces the proportion of households with flush toilets has grown over the period 2002 to 2016, with the exception of Mpumalanga.
As far as residents are concerned, the state has a commitment to provide all households with access to flush toilets linked to a public sewerage system and/or septic tank. But its performance has fallen far short of this target in the case of most provinces.
Adequate Electrical Energy
The above graph tells us that between 80 per cent and 94 per cent of households in provinces have a connection to a mains electricity supply. The highest proportion of households connected to an electricity supply is in
Limpopo (94,1 per cent), with
Northern Cape running second (91,8 per cent).
87 per cent of Western Cape households were connected to electricity supply in 2016.
Between 2002 and 2016 the provinces that recorded the most significant improvement in proportion of households linked to the electrical supply, are
Eastern Cape (from 55,3 per cent to 83,4 per cent),
Kwa Zulu Natal (from 68,9 per cent to 80,6 per cent) and
Limpopo (from 72,5 per cent to 91,8 per cent).
While the state has provided a relatively high percentage of households with access to electricity, there is still a proportion who have not received this and who are unlikely to receive it as Eskom has limits on rolling out the electricity grid. These limits arise often with informal housing in both urban and rural settings. This has led to the government, private sector and NGOs looking at providing renewable energy through solar home systems (SHS). SHS is typically a solar photovoltaic (SPV) panel with a battery, attached to the roof of a structure and provides sufficient power for a few lights, radio and/or television and charging mobile phones. One of the disadvantages of the SHSs is that they generate insufficient electricity to power a stove for cooking food.
While SHSs are popular in some areas and bring much needed power to marginalised communities, there is also resistance to this on the basis that the people have a right be linked to the Eskom grid.
Adequate Employment and Income
The employment situation has worsened considerably since the onset of the national lockdown in March 2020. The official national expanded unemployment rate has increased from 37 per cent (September 2019) to 39 per cent (September 2020). However, there appears to be an undercount of unemployment and the true percentage might be considerably higher. A joint research project by seven universities found that three million people lost their jobs between February and April 2020, a direct consequence of locking down the economy as a response to Covid-19. Unemployment brings significant loss of income in its wake.
Stats SA undertakes a comprehensive census every 10 years that includes a profile of household income. The last Census was in 2011. The accompanying graph is a summary of the 2011 national income profile, categorised in terms of qualifications for various housing subsidies and mortgage finance. Monthly social grants are included in the household income figures.
The graph indicates that in 2011:
57 per cent of South African households earned less than R3 500 per month.
Only 15 per cent had access to the established home ownership market.
Source: SARS 2011 Census
A home is the highest-value asset on a household’s balance sheet. Older households are able to sell their houses, and realise increased value. They use this to fund their retirement.However the majority of South African households are excluded from this possibility. This is due to their relatively low incomes.
The commercialisation of municipal basic services (the supply of water and sanitation, refuse removal, and electricity) means that there are limited free units of each service. Thereafter, residents have to pay for the cost of additional consumption of water and electricity. (Through an equitable share grant government covers the cost of property taxes, sanitation and refuse removal for indigent households. Each municipality defines differently what constitutes an indigent household. It is usually a household the monthly income of which is less than R2 000,00.)
Since 2011 further rises in housing prices and municipal services costs as well as growing unemployment (particularly in the second and third quarters of 2020) are likely to have further reduced the percentage of households able to afford access to the housing market. This situation also has made it difficult for households to afford rentals, which tend to rise incrementally year-on-year.
The recent spate of unemployment and loss of income is barely addressed by limited state grants (including the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress grant of R350 per month). Families affected by unemployment are going hungry and unable to pay their rentals and municipal utility bills.These dire circumstances for many working class people impact on their health, quality of life and need to be taken into account when assessing their housing.
Just when they required significant support and care from the government, the state has decided to further limit its RDP/BNG housing output. The lockdown has severely contracted economic activity, resulting in an expected shortfall of tax revenue for the fiscus. This is the basis for the government’s decision to get people to build their own housing.
As numerous housing struggles across the country have demonstrated, many working class communities have broader demands about inequities and their protests have been described as a “rebellion of the poor“. These protests persist and have become more disruptive over time.
Access to Adequate Housing – Idas Valley
There are quite a few Idas Valley residents who rent wendy houses. During 2019 Stellenbosch Transparency researched the housing situation in Idas Valley. We read documents and interviewed selected households.
Adequate Informal backyard rental?
The Stellenbosch United Action Group needs to know how many informal backyard structures there are in Idas Valley. As well as in other residential areas around Stellenbosch town. This will help the Group determine the the size of the problem. And on this basis they could go to the community and get a mandate for demands. However it is no simple matter to quantify the size of the problem. Different sources tell us different numbers. The most reliable source is the Stats SA Census figures. As the following diagram shows, there were 95 informal backyard structures in Idas Valley in 2011.
In 2019 Stellenbosch municipality commissioned research on Idas Valley’s backyard dwellers. The survey did not cover all the informal backyard dwellings. The draft report identified at least 330 informal dwellings. That’s a 247 per cent increase over eight years, an average growth in informal backyard renting of 31 per cent per annum. Our interviews with people suggest this trend reflects population growth and in-migration. Eviction of families from farms has driven migration to the town. For years no new low cost housing developments happened in Idas Valley. Consequently people have rented informal structures on others’ property. It is likely that a similar dynamic underlies the informal rental market in many other areas of Stellenbosch municipality.
Adequate Basic services
The survey referred to above, revealed the following about the adequacy of basic services for people renting in the backyards of Idas Valley.
92 per cent of respondents said that they had access to water on the properties.
42 per cent used the tap in the main house.
35 per cent got their water from a tap in the yard.
And only 14 per cent had a tap inside their structure.
The right to adequate housing includes the right to potable water in one’s house. This right has been violated for most back yard tenants in Idas Valley.
Only 19 per cent had access to electricity inside their structures.
71 per cent had no direct access to electricity.
The right to adequate housing includes the right to electrical power in one’s home. This right has been violated for most Idas Valley backyard tenants. During our tour of Idas Valley backyards we did not see renewable energy SHS. The Group needs to be clear whether the Idas Valley residents require renewable energy. Or whether they are demanding Eskom-provided electricity. The potential divisive impact of SHS was apparent in Stellenbosch in 2012. Then there were violent protests in Kayamnandi township, demanding Eskom-supplied electricity. These took place against the backdrop of the installation of a renewable energy SHS scheme in the Enkanini informal settlement, next to Kayamnandi. According to our information the implementation of this SHS scheme triggered these protests.
41 per cent of these households had to use toilets in the main house.
23 per cent used toilets in their yards.
Only 10 per cent had toilets inside their structures.
State of toilets in Idas Valley’s backyards (2019)
During our 2019 walk through parts of Idas Valley we saw several outside toilets that were in an extremely unhygienic state. These conditions impair the dignity of the people who have to use them.
The right to adequate housing includes the right to flush toilets in one’s home. This right has been violated for most Idas Valley backyard tenants.
91 per cent of these households used wheelie bins to dispose of their refuse.
This indicates a benefit in that they do not have to walk down the road to the nearest municipal skip and throw their garbage bags into it.
Adequate local employment and income
Stellenbosch employment and income profile
The 2011 Census shows that then in Stellenbosch:
21 per cent of households had no income, i.e. were unemployed
74 per cent of households earned less than R3 200 per month
28 per cent of households earned between R3 201 and R12 800 per month
Thus in 2011 74 per cent of Stellenbosch households qualified on income for a free RDP/BNG house. This equates to 31 929 households. Not all of these needed housing. But it is likely that a a substantial number did. Over the last nine years the bulk of the new housing delivered was in Klapmuts. There was also some new housing built in Watergang (Kayamnandi), Jamestown and Idas Valley. While we don’t have the precise figures it is common knowledge that new housing units have been too few for the need. And their concentration in Klapmuts has evoked criticism from community leaders. Within this context we turn to the specific housing conditions of backyard tenants in Idas Valley.
Informal tenants income/employment profile
The municipal-commissioned survey (referred to above) also indicated that of the households renting in Idas Valley back yards:
45 per cent were unemployed
41 per cent were employed
24 per cent earned between R0 and R3 500 monthly
17 per cent earned between R3 501 and R7 000
26 per cent earned between R7 001 and R22 000
(32 per cent did not respond to the question regarding income)
26 per cent received some form of government grant
68 per cent did not received any government grant.
These employment and income figures demonstrate the extreme levels of income poverty amongst backyard tenants in Idas Valley. Some of the unemployed households could have received a government grant of sorts. However, 68 per cent of those surveyed said they received no government grant. In the case where members of an extended family are living on the same property there might be an arrangement for the employed to temporarily support the unemployed. This would put strain on the ‘landlords’ for whom rental is an important source of income.
Almost one quarter of these households were in the income bracket that would have qualified them for a free RDP/BNG house. In our limited interviews we often heard the demand expressed for a bricks-and-mortar house. And that where people could afford to pay they would make their contribution. However, there is clearly a large component of these tenants who would only be able to contribute very little. But unless they fall within certain special needs categories, they cannot expect anything from government, beyond a serviced site. And this might be in a location they they do not favour.
National government limitations
The Constitution assigns to citizens the right to adequate housing. However, the housing conditions of many South Africans indicates that their right is violated. This is true for the country as a whole. And also in Stellenbosch and in Idas Valley.
The Constitution says that government must secure this right within its available resources. Government claims that it has reached the limit of its resources. Therefore it is retreating from providing completed housing. It also has some significant backlogs in respect of basic services. This applies in Idas Valley to many back yard tenants. There is a national context of the violation of housing rights. This is the national government cutting back on the housing grants in the national annual budget.
This is the context within which local municipalities have to deliver housing. Municipalities can tax their resident property owners and also sell electricity and water for a profit. They therefore have some independence from national government about what they could fund. However, the bulk of funds come from from the national government transfers. Without these funds a municipality is limited in what it is able to do to support low cost housing projects. But municipalities can plan and make land available for low cost housing. And a municipality can direct some of its own budget towards this. However, a municipality cannot charge homeowners exhorbitant property taxes. Likewise, it needs to price electricity and water that is affordable to its ratepayers and residents.
Act local, think global
The Stellenbosch United Action Group says that the Stellenbosch municipality has shut the door in their faces. They called on the HRC to help open these doors. To force the municipality to converse with them. And hear their grievances. They saw this as a last opportunity. The HRC made it clear that they had a limited mandate. Namely, to investigate whether the residents’ housing rights have been violated. And on that basis to recommend action. It is unclear whether in this process the HRC is committed to facilitating meeting between the municipality and the group. But the group is expecting this.
Let’s assume the HRC indeed facilitates a meeting between the parties. The group is likely to be confronted with the argument that the municipality cannot fund their demands. As explained above, the funding of housing is both a national and a local responsibility. The group has to start thinking about broader national campaigns for the right to adequate housing for all. Part of the group’s strategy is to forge links with others involved in the same struggle.
This broader focus should not detract from the immediate objective of getting a face-to-face meeting with the municipality. How could the group get the municipality to respond positively to their demands?
The HRC spokesman asked why the Idas Valley and other Stellenbosch communities consistently returned elected representatives who persistently failed to secure their housing rights. He referred to next year’s local government elections as an opportunity to elect new representatives and to hold them accountable.
The group says that it plans to achieve this through building grassroots support across all Stellenbosch municipal wards. In doing this the group will have to confront the question of how to create the funds required for the right to housing. An alternative banking model is required. But this is a topic for a separate blog post.