Apartheid’s ge­og­ra­phy haunts the na­tion

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Apartheid lives on in the ge­og­ra­phy of South Africa. And suc­ces­sive govern­ments at na­tional, pro­vin­cial and lo­cal level have, apart from mouthing rain­bow­na­tion plat­i­tudes, done vir­tu­ally noth­ing to deal with this poi­sonous legacy.

One as­pect of this re­al­ity should be pub­li­cised be­fore the end of the month, when Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane ta­bles her re­port on con­di­tions in Cape Town’s Masi­phumelele ghetto. She made an “on-site” in­spec­tion two weeks ago and, at one stage, had to be car­ried af­ter her high heels be­came stuck in the mix of mud and hu­man ex­cre­ment that con­tam­i­nates much of the lower, north­ern area of Masi.

Her visit came af­ter a long-stand­ing com­plaint to the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion by com­mu­nity ac­tivist Tshepo Mo­let­sane. There have been sim­i­lar com­plaints from sim­i­lar com­mu­ni­ties in many parts of the coun­try, so Mkhwe­bane’s re­port on con­di­tions at Masi should not be seen in iso­la­tion, but as one ex­am­ple of the squalid con­di­tions in which so many ci­ti­zens are forced to live.

How­ever, many of these peo­ple are gain­fully em­ployed in sur­round­ing ar­eas and earn “too much” money to qual­ify for any gov­ern­men­tal as­sis­tance where it is avail­able, and too lit­tle to buy a home out­side the ghet­toes. This point was high­lighted at a panel dis­cus­sion in Pre­to­ria last Fri­day, which was hosted by the Pub­lic Ser­vants’ As­so­ci­a­tion of SA (PSA) as part of the union’s 97th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions.

As a re­sult, the PSA is com­mit­ted to ex­am­in­ing how the union – and the labour move­ment as a whole – can step in to al­le­vi­ate the sit­u­a­tion, per­haps by in­vest­ing in “so­cial hous­ing”.

Jour­nal­ist and TV an­chor Mac­far­lane Moleli, who chaired the panel, pointed out that it was pos­si­ble to find un­em­ployed peo­ple liv­ing in an RDP house along­side a one-roomed shack oc­cu­pied by a teacher or nurse who had a job and was earn­ing enough to con­demn them to the “miss­ing mid­dle”. A num­ber of such peo­ple could be PSA mem­bers.

Cases such as these ex­ist in ev­ery ur­ban area. And the way out that is usu­ally of­fered is for res­i­dents to move from a squalid slum close to work to a bet­ter ser­viced area that is a great, and of­ten more ex­pen­sive, dis­tance from work.

Yet there is state, pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal land avail­able close to most ur­ban cen­tres – land that is sup­pos­edly held in trust for all ci­ti­zens. But it tends to be seen by politi­cians as an as­set to be sold, and even some­times as land that will pro­vide funds for very ba­sic ac­com­mo­da­tion in seg­re­gated ar­eas that per­pet­u­ate the ge­og­ra­phy of apartheid.

Sug­ges­tions that emerged dur­ing the panel dis­cus­sion that in­volved PSA gen­eral man­ager Ivan Fred­er­icks, Uni­ver­sity of Johannesburg aca­demic Dr Mzuk­isi Qobo and me, in­cluded in­vest­ing union pen­sion and prov­i­dent funds in bonded hous­ing, rental stock and re­tire­ment vil­lages for mem­bers. Such a move could pro­vide an ad­e­quate fi­nan­cial re­turn while ben­e­fit­ing work­ers and so start to de­stroy the spa­tial legacy of apartheid.

It could be done if politi­cians – our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives – pro­vided avail­able land at no cost for build­ing what Joe Slovo, the first hous­ing min­is­ter in the demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, called “real houses”.

And if the R1 tril­lion-plus in union funds was prop­erly al­lo­cated.

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