Apartheid’s geography haunts the nation
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.