Former South Africa education minister, Mosibudi Mangena, warns against the debilitating culture of citizens expecting free state housing
Why is it that migrants from all over the world come South Africa and succeed in various enterprises whilst locals struggle to make ends meet and complain about the under-performing politicians?
Is it because South Africans have become prisoners of so-called delivery expectations from the government, whilst migrants know that they can only succeed through ingenuity, initiative and hard work?
Needless to say, the state has significant resources that must be utilized for the development of society, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of smothering initiative and enterprise in our population.
Recently, the residents of Eldorado Park and Ennerdale in Johannesburg went on a destructive rampage demanding free houses. It is not the first time that a community in South Africa has adopted this tactic to force the government’s hand in delivering free housing.
And it certainly will not be the last because as long as our politicians continue to make extravagant election promises that cannot be fulfilled, the government dependency syndrome will prevail.
For a long time now, some of us have contended that the provision of free houses by the state, whilst a noble idea, is unsustainable. The governing party, ANC, knows this too, but is afraid that a change of direction on the free housing promise would lose it votes.
Ironically, the continuation of such a policy is likely to cause instability and loss of government credibility, with dire consequences for the economy and the country in general.
The provision of shelter for citizens is not a standalone issue. It is connected to other factors that obtain in the country and it might stand or fall by the general play of those factors. In our case, we might want to look at the following:
Firstly, we need to build a credible and productive education system to give as many young people as possible a good education to enable them to function effectively in the world of work. People with employable skills are less likely to queue for RDP houses or social grants; they would be able to build or buy their own homes.
Secondly, the state should invest more resources on building a versatile and sustainable economic development programme as it would be counterproductive to produce skilled technocrats if they have no economy to operate in.
Zimbabwe is a case in point – the country produced highly skilled professionals over many years, but as the economy shrank, significantly high numbers were forced to go abroad in search of employment.
Thirdly, the state should include in its housing policy, a significant site-and-service element to enable as many people as possible to build their own houses.
Over the past 23 years the state has behaved as though most citizens are little puppies that cannot do anything for themselves and have to sit and wait for the government to deliver things to them. In the process, the belief of our citizens in their own ability to do things for themselves has been eroded. And that in turn has robbed our people of the challenge, joy, pride and dignity that flows from doing things for yourself and your family.
In rural areas across South Africa, where the state is less active in housing construction, one can see beautiful houses built by locals. In all probability these people have less resources than those in urban areas, but are nevertheless driven by pride and a sense of duty to provide decent houses for their families.
Fourthly, a state housing entity should be established to build low, medium and high cost houses for rental and purchase purposes. The entity should undertake maintenance of this rental stock as well as coordinate all other forms of housing developments referred to above.
In Botswana, the Housing Corporation provides very decent housing for its members.
Fifthly, the state should devise a mechanism for the provision of free housing for the elderly, the infirm and those too poor to afford renting or building their own houses under the site-and-service option.
This suite of options should help in the acceleration of the provision of shelter for our citizens in a manner that reduces too much reliance on the scarce state resources at the same time as it gives our people space to participate in their own home building. The joy and pride that will flow from this for citizens is priceless.
I strongly suspect that the spirit of hard work has been slipping in South Africa since the advent of democracy 23 years ago. Even the number of local people running general dealer shops in both rural and urban areas has gone down significantly. All over the country, dealer shops are being rented out to foreign nationals, especially Bangladeshis, whilst the former owners and their offspring stay at home.
Many South African families in the rural areas are employing young men from the neighbouring countries, to weed their fields and herd their cattle, whilst their sons and daughters sit at home doing nothing!