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White Paper on Human Settlements met with wide criticism

BY Zolani Sinxo and Yanga Yose


Civil society organisations representing shack dwellers protested outside Parliament yesterday as the Department of Human Settlements tabled the White Paper on Human Settlements before a portfolio committee.


The paper, among others, deals with subsidised housing, land availability, upgrading of informal settlements, affordable rental housing, financing options, and governance arrangements.


According to the department, the paper was intended to strengthen its approach to providing sustainable human settlements.


The paper reads: “The White Paper informs the government’s approach to using tailor-made subsidy instruments that target poor households and vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities.


“The policy promotes co-ordination between the three spheres of government for effective and efficient delivery of human settlements.”


It has been met with criticism from organisations including the AmaTyoTyombe (ATAF) activist forum, #UnitedBehind, and Movement for Change and Social Justice.


These organisations contend that the paper was drafted without full consideration and consultation of those who lived in informal settlements.


Mkhuseli Mataka, an activist at ATAF, said people living in informal settlements and backyards had the most to contribute to the White Paper.


“Through our daily experiences, we have important knowledge and insight to shape the laws and policies through democratic participation. The Constitution demands this public participation. However, the government is violating the Constitution and breaking its laws,” said Mataka.

He said they had not had enough time to participate in the public participation process as it was gazetted on December 18, 2023, and public comments were opened from January 31 to February 28.


“We want to be given at least a six-month period to consult our people and discuss the White Paper, especially those who stay in the informal settlements, because they have a direct experience of the living conditions.


“What sparks an outcry about the paper is that, among other things, it states that ‘all spheres of government shall deal with unlawful occupation decisively’. What does unlawful mean?” Mataka said.


The DA spokesperson for human settlements, Luyolo Mphithi, said the paper had many gaps.

“I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. The minister is trying to neglect what the Constitution says in Section 26, where it clearly states that everybody has the right to shelter, and for them to simply say that it is not the role of the government to provide housing for them is completely wrong because so many families are in need of houses.


“We believe that this particular White Paper is not addressing the issue of the housing backlog in our country,” said Mphithi.


This article by Xolani Sinxo and Yango Yose was first published in the Cape Argus on 15 February 2024.


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