City of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: SUPPLIED
City of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: SUPPLIED

The trouble with Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba is that he often doesn’t know what he is talking about. But like other politicians in the Trumpian mould, that doesn’t stop him talking.

Mashaba’s comments over the past week about housing and foreigners are wrong because they do not have a basis in fact; and they are in conflict with the Constitution. They are, however, very worth discussing, as the problems of housing, the inner city and migration are all difficult and increasingly intractable problems, which need better solutions.

An indispensable place to start, though, is with the facts.

Mashaba has made two points: the bad buildings in the inner city have many foreign inhabitants. In his mission to clean up these buildings and expropriate, sell or develop them, the tenants will be evicted. He says the city is not responsible for providing emergency housing for evicted foreigners.

Second, he says, the city’s meagre resources – its housing budget – will not be used to provide housing for foreigners. These resources are for South Africans only, he says.

The Constitution says that "everyone has the right to adequate housing". It does not distinguish between citizens and anyone else. The courts have reinforced this interpretation with judgments that compel city authorities that evict residents to provide emergency housing for everyone.

The National Housing Code, which flows from the National Housing Act, says a similar thing. Its policy binds the city specifically to provide emergency housing for citizens and foreigners alike.

On the allocation of government-subsidised housing, the code is less generous. The most common form of state-subsidised housing, the RDP house, is reserved for South Africans and permanent residents, it says. But it is silent on other types of housing
that draw on government funds: social housing, which usually comprises rental units; institutionally subsidised housing; and the upgrading of informal settlements.

As Mashaba has indicated that the backbone of his housing policy will be the upgrading of informal settlements and the provision of new rental stock — which he has implied will be privately owned — much of what he plans to do will and must be available to foreigners too.

While he can call on the Department of Home Affairs to process and remove those who are undocumented and illegal, foreigners whose documents are in order are free to live on his doorstep and, under some conditions, at his expense.

While these are the facts, the outcome is not necessarily a good one for SA and here it is possible — although politically very incorrect — to have some sympathy for Mashaba and the many ordinary South Africans who in the past week have called in to radio shows and so on to support him.

SA has a dysfunctional migration policy that has allowed millions of economic migrants to enter and stay in the country under the guise that they are seeking political asylum. Asylum seekers are legal migrants up until the time that their case is adjudicated. As the system is bogged down by the weight of tens of thousands of applications, this can take years.

Accompanying the large influx of migrants over the past two decades has been the breakdown of law and order in parts of SA, in particular in the inner city. For years, a situation has been tolerated in which criminals have been able to hijack buildings and extort ridiculous rentals from the most vulnerable, both local and foreign. Along with this, and the breakdown in law and order, have come all sorts of other crimes: human trafficking, drug trafficking and extortion.

These are big and difficult problems that the antiforeigner ranting of an emotional and uninformed mayor does little to solve and much to worsen.


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