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1 million houses? Politicians make bizarre promises as they seek votes

Posted on April 29 2019 by Gert Minnaar in General

Outlandish. It means looking or sounding bizarre. And it’s a word that seems singularly appropriate at this time of frenetic electioneering aimed primarily at working people – employed and unemployed, urban and rural – who form the bulk of the electorate. Extravagant – outlandish – promises are the stock of the political elite as they seek the votes to install them at the parliamentary trough.

Take the guarantee by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the ANC would build 1 million new houses in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township within five years. One million houses? For a population of anything up to 500 000 people living on 800 hectares of land, which, government admits, has the infrastructure to only cater for 70 000 residents? The mind boggles. And older residents, among them trade unionists who were part of the militant Alex anti-apartheid resistance of the 1980s, have heard it all before. As recently as 2001, former president Thabo Mbeki announced a R1.6 billion Alexandra renewal project that promised between 50 000 and 66 000 new homes within seven years. What happened to the money and the project is still being investigated.

However, even more outlandish than the 1 million houses in five years promise was the pledge that came from Julius Malema’s EFF. An EFF government, they promised, would provide every informal settlement dweller with a proper house with flushing toilets, and hot and cold running water, within just two years. Of course, land also remains at the centre of present political discourse, especially when the ANC, the EFF and the self-appointed collective imbongi of North Korea, Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First (BLF) face off.Here it is that some of the more – no pun intended – outlandish comments are made, including an EFF promise to “immediately” give away to “the people 50% of all government land”.

There were classic examples of this in Durban last week at the Articulate Africa Book and Art Fair. The discussion about land featured ANC heavyweight and former KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu, the EFF’s representative in KwaZulu-Natal, Vusi Khoza; and his BLF counterpart, Thobani Zikalala. All three laid claim to being the first and most determined to see “land given back to the people”. They also mentioned food self-sufficiency, which seemed rather bizarre as the large audience was clearly made up almost exclusively of people living in urban areas. But land and its expropriation was the common theme, along with the need to amend section 25 of the Constitution. In the process, nobody, either from the platform or the floor, quoted from this section, which only once mentions land – in the second paragraph of the fourth clause.

Section 25 allows for the expropriation of any property, provided it is “for a public purpose or in the public interest”. And “public interest” includes “commitment to land reform” and to provide “equitable access” to the country’s natural resources. That one paragraph notes: “Property is not limited to land.” Perhaps because all parties want to woo the rural vote and still see traditional leaders as being able to determine the electoral choices of their subjects, there was no mention of what senior ANC members have termed the “Bantustan bills”.

Yet the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill and the Traditional Courts Bill are on the verge of being signed into law. Together, they reinforce the Bantustan Balkanisation of the country and remove from the general rule of law some 17 million people who live in what the apartheid state called “tribal homelands”. These remain the reservoirs of migrant labour, so it is not outlandish to suggest that the labour movement should take a stand against such measures.

-Terry Bell in the City Press of 24 April 2019