Access to housing – glass half full or half empty?

The crux of South Africa’s liberation struggle was the restoration of the dignity of the oppressed. An issue that goes to the heart of the restoration of the dignity of our people is the issue of housing, which remains a challenge to the government. In terms of Shedule 4A of the Constitution, housing is a concurrent competence between national and provincial government. However, municipalities play an important supporting role.

In the Grootboom case,  the Constitutional Court stated that housing entails more than bricks and mortar; it includes appropriate services such as water and sewage removal. These services fall squarely within  the sphere of local government. The Court also emphasized that all spheres of government are responsible for implementing particular parts of the housing programme. In terms of the Schedules, municipalities, must provide the services  (including water, sewage removal), thereby ensuring enjoyment of the right to housing.

Msunduzi Municipality, like many others across the country, are facing the challenge of ensuring that all its residents have a roof over their heads. The only way the municipality can achieve this is by adhering to policies and the legislation that demand municipalities to provide support to provincial and national governments in terms of the provision of housing. Commenting on the issue, Mayor Njilo said: “Ours is no different from what is taking place in other municipalities where there is also a need for housing. As the municipality we acknowledge our obligation when it comes to access to housing.  We view access to housing as a fundamental socio- economic right, hence we work with stakeholders inside and outside government to ensure that we fulfill our end of the bargain.

The Mayor went on to express his misgiving about the status quo, which he said is rather unfortunate and beyond the control and powers of government. “The truth is that the government came up with a policy framework that had good intentions and came from a good place. Unfortunately the unfavourable economic climate has made it almost impossible to attain the dream we had set to achieve. However, we will not relent in the pursuit of providing for our people, because they deserve better,” said the Mayor.

The Mayor went on to explain how the housing challenge and indigence go hand in hand.  He added that the municipality does have an indigent policy, which is not a charitable intervention on the side of the council but it is in line with laws of the country,  based on genuinely caring for its people.

The Constitution guarantees social economic rights to all without discrimination. All members  of the community , especially the indigent , must have access to services. In the Grootboom case the Court emphasized that government must pay special attention to those in desperate need to meet the standard of reasonableness. The Systems Act  require that a Municipality’s Credit Control and Debt Collection Policy makes provision for indigent debtors consistent with national policy on indigents.

This, Njilo said, ensures that there are interventions in place that deal with indigents within Msunduzi, who he said are also human beings with rights.  He also expressed his distress about a lot of people not knowing about the indigent policy that is meant to benefit them, which means that they end up being left out.

“As a caring government, at Msunduzi we have a policy that looks after indigents and we want the people of Msunduzi to know about it so that those who qualify are not excluded,” he concluded.

The objectives of  the Msunduzi Indigent Policy are to:-

Close the gap between indigent and non-indigent citizens of Msunduzi Municipality, through the targeted assistance with free allocations of electricity, water and other services, together with broader based access to community services;

Provide a framework within which the Municipality implements a lifeline service to indigent households in respect of their municipal accounts;

Determine the criteria for qualification of indigent households;

Ensure that the criteria is applied correctly and fairly to all applicants.


Criteria for Applied Indigent Status

                      To qualify for “Applied Indigent Status”, a household must comply with all the following criteria:-

  • The total household income must not exceed the amount approved by council from time to time.
  • The applicant must be a South African citizen.
  • The applicant must not be the registered owner of more than one property.
  • The applicant must be a resident of Msunduzi Municipality and have a registered account with the Municipality.
  • The requirement of being registered as an account holder does not apply to households in informal settlements where no accounts are rendered, nor in rural areas where no accounts are rendered.