Following last week’s launch of the City of Johannesburg’s Rivonia Housing Project, concerns have been raised by the public and petitions have circulated. Alarmingly, concerns have also been raised by critical stakeholders who were apparently not included in the process thus far.
According to Ward Councillor Chris Santana: Regional Director Liziwe Ntshinga-Makoro, other relevant region officials and Cllr Santana were allegedly blindsided by the launch of this project.
During the launch, when Cllr Santana was asked to speak, he stated that affordable housing is essential in any part of the city of Johannesburg, and that in affluent areas it is costly for people to live in the areas in which they work. He said that a project such as this one is long overdue and he is happy it is coming, but added that he hopes it goes smoothly without glitches and without any tender fraud or corruption, as the country has had enough of that.
When clarifying these statements, Cllr Santana told us that it is indeed about time that social housing was built in such a way that people lived in dignity, but there are concerns over the project’s details and impact, and the fact that key stakeholders were excluded.
Were stakeholders excluded?
To have any stakeholders state that they were not informed of this very important and expensive project, that they were essentially excluded, raises huge concerns. Whether this was purposefully done or there was a severe break in due process and communication, this situation in deeply problematic. The public was unaware until the launch, which is also deeply problematic.
On the City of Johannesburg website, Regional Director is introduced as follows:
“Liziwe Ntshinga-Makoro, the director of Region E, believes prioritising Alexandra and other areas in the northern suburbs that are showing early signs of decay should form the core of the region’s mandates.”
Alexandra township is around 13km away from Rivonia. It’s population grew over the last decade from around 170,000 to around 750,000.
How is it possible that a project in Rivonia, which will house only just over 1000 families and cost R0.5 billion according to the COJ statement and R1 billion according to the COJ video above (and is estimated higher by regional sources), is launched without major stakeholders involved?
We await answers after an investigation into the matter.
Problematic presentation and rhetoric by the government around this project
Currently, the most worrying and dangerous part of this project is the wording and political rhetoric used by those who presented it at the launch.
Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Housing, Cllr Mlungisi Mabaso said “This development will go a long way in changing people’s lives and to show that we are doing our best for the residents of Joburg. Over 1 000 families will be housed through this project.”
The City of Johannesburg released a statement which included:
“In keeping with the City’s SMME support programmes, the project bears testament to a multi-dimensional socio-economic contribution in a structured manner that restores the pride and dignity of the residents of the City leading to the creation of new asset classes that will undermine the economic divide.
The Rivonia Social Housing Project is a pioneering initiative, which JOSHCO believes will foster social cohesion and further ensure that no space within the City’s boundaries is designated a racially exclusive enclave for any racial group.
The project rewrites the story of the human settlement mapping of the apartheid legacy which displaced the black population and subjected them to peripheral and barren lands. We are confident that through this groundbreaking project, the advancement of the City’s growth and development will be speedily actualised to the benefit of all.”City of Johannesburg press release, 15 April 2015
To state that Rivonia, or any suburb for that matter, is “designated a racially exclusive enclave” for a specific racial group is simply a lie, and a dangerous one at that. Rivonia is entirely mixed and there is no concept of racially exclusive areas in South Africa -that ended with apartheid.
By the statement that this project “rewrites the story of the human settlement mapping of the apartheid legacy which displaced the black population and subjected them to peripheral and barren lands”, we can safely assume that the “racially exclusive enclave” mentioned above, means ‘white’ or ‘non-black’ people. This places anyone who fits that description in danger.
The statement that this project “restores the pride and dignity of the residents of the City leading to the creation of new asset classes that will undermine the economic divide” is a cheap deflection from the government’s failure to restore pride and dignity and create economic opportunities for the people of South Africa.
Why forcing social housing into affluent areas cannot work
It is not to say that social housing should not be built in a way that people should live with dignity. That absolutely should be the case. The fact that government has failed to do this with housing which costs less than this to build and maintain means the problems don’t go away just because they’ve moved it elsewhere.
The property proposed for this development is on the corner of 12th Avenue and Stiglingh Road Rivonia.
The current infrastructure in the area – water, sewage, electricity, traffic congestion – does not always work too well as it is. Introducing 1077 units into this is precarious to say the least.
The Rivonia primary school would probably not be able to accommodate so many families, and it is unclear how schooling would be provided.
Safety and security
Unfortunately, time and again it has happened that with low-cost social housing we have seen less-than-ideal situations occur. For example: One person rents a unit meant for 1 or 2 people, and then sublets it to 4 or 5 others. We have also seen in the past that crime increases in these subletting situations. Those buildings are generally not looked after and begin to degrade.
How will administration for the tenants be monitored? Will Joshco or any other organisation involved be able to answer these questions and assure us that this building, which is far superior to other social housing buildings, won’t be abused?
The inevitable and immediate outcome is for surrounding property values to plummet. Whether through overcrowding, inability for the infrastructure to cope or through other concerns such as crime, this would be unavoidable.
The only outcome of property values dropping, is the value of the entire area dropping and resentment from those who have worked hard to be there. This does not bring social upliftment, it brings degradation to everyone involved.
Most impoverished South Africans are left out
If R1 billion is to be spent on this project for 1077 units, it means that essentially each unit has a cost of R928,500 associated with it. If it had to cost half of that, it would be R464,252 per unit. How that differs from other upmarket developments is a mystery. Can this fall under the umbrella of “low cost housing”?
According to the latest UN Human Development report, 1 in 5 South Africans lives in abject poverty. That is around 11,5 million people. How is this project justified for 1077 units given the problematic landscape of the project and given that around 43% the country is unemployed?
As mentioned above, Alexandra township is around 13km away from Rivonia and has a population of around 750,000. It is severely overpopulated, built informally, often has fires, sewage blockages and overflow and spread of disease, has people living in squalor and encountering violent crime.
The money being spent on this Rivonia Housing Project would go a very long way in improving the lives of many more people if it was used in a way that makes economic sense, such as the Alexandra Beautification project from which the City of Johannesburg’s Region E withdrew in February 2021, according to Alex News.
We await more information on the Rivonia Housing Project.