Second United Nations Habitat Assembly

By Calvin Augustine

The right to adequate housing in South Africa is enshrined in our Constitution. The Constitution obliges the state to take reasonable steps to ensure that this basic human right becomes a lived reality. 

This right has also been enforced through our courts in the Grootboom case where it specified that priority should be given to those who live in extreme conditions of poverty, homelessness or intolerable housing. 

Access to adequate housing is a nexus that has a domino effect to a suite of other rights which includes but not limited to the right to public participation, equality, human dignity, and access to information. The undeniable link means that achieving access to housing can have a multiplier effect on achieving various other rights.

Since 1994, housing and basic services to all South Africans regardless of race was prioritised through the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Census 2022 reveals that there has been a steady increase in the number of households from approximately 9,1 million in 1996 to 17,8 million in 2022. A deeper look at the Census results reveals that there has been an upward trend in households residing in formal dwellings, from 65,1 percent in 1996 to 88,5 percent.

South Africa has over the past 30 years complied with its international obligations and provided sustainable human settlements to improve the quality of household life for the poor. South Africa is also signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  

South Africa has also actively participated in international forums in contributing towards solutions to deal with the provision of adequate housing to the poor. South Africa last year participated at the Second United Nations Habitat Assembly held in Nairobi, Kenya. The gathering is convened every four years and it brought together representatives from 193 member states, civil society, and other stakeholders to find solutions towards human settlement and sustainable urban development. Some of the issues discussed at the Assembly included sustainable infrastructure and planning, disaster risk management, climate change, smart cities, biodiversity management, and localisation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

South Africa used the Assembly to obtain global support for the Global Action Plan launched in South Africa in 2020 to accelerate the transformation of informal settlements and slums to 2030. The Global Action Plan on Informal Settlements and Slums brings together multiple stakeholders to foster international cooperation and assist with implementation efforts at country level.

UN-Habitat is in the process of developing a Country Programme that is based on mutually agreed priorities for the purpose of providing focused technical assistance to South Africa. The Assembly provided an opportunity for member states to provide progress in ensuring adequate and affordable housing. 

South Africa has been recognised by UN-Habitat for its achievements in providing adequate housing and upgrading informal settlements. Of note is the progressive legal and policy framework governing the right to housing. Furthermore, we have established a comprehensive housing programme, which seeks to redress the legacy of apartheid and grant eligible beneficiaries a variety of state subsidised housing options.  

Government has provided close to 5 million housing opportunities however, we are still experiencing a significant housing backlog. During the 2022/2023 financial year over R14 billion was allocated to provinces through the Human Settlements Development Grant. Over R7 billion was allocated to Metropolitan Municipalities through the Urban Settlements Development Grant. Furthermore, over R4 billion was set aside for the upgrading of informal settlements with KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng combined receiving over R2 billion.

In the previous financial year 2021/2022, over R13 billion was spent, yielding 89 540 housing opportunities, including housing units, affordable housing, and serviced stands.

While we have made steady progress in upgrading informal settlements, we recognise that more still needs to be done. There are over 2700 informal settlements and the majority of these settlements are located in land that is not ideal for human settlement. The illegal occupation of land puts lives at risk and government has taken a stand against these unlawful acts. 

There is ongoing collaboration with municipalities to discourage the illegal occupation of land and communicating the consequences of hampering government special planning of sustainable human settlements programmes.

As we continue to work to ensure that, the right to adequate housing becomes a reality we call on everyone to play their part to ensure that we build the South Africa envisioned in the National Development Plan.