The Department of Human Settlements’ vision of human settlements policy is as relevant now as it was in 2004 when conceptualising it began, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu emphasised during a pre-budget vote media briefing, on Tuesday.

A significant element of the policy was the need to ensure housing developments were close to cities, with public land to be used for this purpose. “With new legislation for land expropriation in the pipeline, we will make sure that we are first takers in the queue for expropriated land,” said Sisulu.

“We are also required to create access to housing finance and, for this reason, we have established the Human Settlements Development Bank.”

Sisulu, however, lamented the impact of a constrained financial climate on the department’s ability to implement its policy objectives and, as the population grows and demands housing, the department’s resources had become diminished.

“We also have to make sure that we work better and embrace the possibilities offered by new technologies. That will make us more effective and hopefully our response to our communities much more impactful.”

In the vein of working smarter, Sisulu indicated the department’s commitment to restoring its relationship with the construction industry.

Therefore, it will be hosting an indaba with the industry in the near future and it has plans to propose legislation that will provide the requisite power to restructure the environment of operation and remove the frustrations the construction industry has to contend with.

Sisulu highlighted that, in 2004, the department reframed its approach to housing development and took on the concept of human settlements as opposed to housing. This entailed an approach of building integrated communities with all amenities, while removing the segregation of Apartheid spatial planning.

“We were building cities and increasing our output. We were partnering with the private sector, especially the banking sector and calling these partnerships catalytic projects,” she said, adding that this approach had resulted in more than two of these projects in each province, with varying degrees of success.

One such successful project was Cosmo City, which consists of 12 000 units, with mixed typologies that range from fully subsidised houses to bonded houses and rental units.

Meanwhile, Sisulu asserted that working with the private sector for funding and with empowered construction companies had contributed greatly to the department’s success on a number of projects.  

However, she indicated that this success was hampered by the country’s ageing infrastructure, urbanisation accruing at a faster rate than the department can manage and tensions between South African born citizens and foreign migrants.

In this regard, she noted that the department would “work smarter” by using real-time technology to help detect land invasions and the illegal construction of houses, and to monitor its construction sites to ensure that its building regulations were adhered to.

Sisulu said government’s decision to include responsibilities for the departments of Human Settlements and Water and Sanitation under one Ministry was a “bold move”.

She averred that the departments would, together, deliver on the thoughtful, judicious and cost-effective oversight of the establishment of all variants of human settlements which include the provision of water and sanitation.

“The message I want to send is that it is not business as usual.”

Sisulu recalled the housing crisis highlighted during the last election, with this putting the department on the back foot, as citizens’ expectations far exceeded the delivery milestones achieved by the Department of Human Settlements.

She noted that the department would pay particular attention to the matter of military veterans, and aims to ensure that 30% of any social housing project should be allocated to student accommodation.