Housing Act charade

A 2001 amendment to the Housing Act saw the addition of Section 10, which makes it illegal for housing subsidy beneficiaries to sell their houses for a period of eight years.  Twenty years on, it is clear to everyone that the law has had no impact. The illegal sale of subsidy houses continues apace. In March this year, the Minister of Human Settlements noted on SAFM [1] that there are too many subsidy beneficiaries who are selling their houses to foreign nationals and moving back into shacks. The Minister noted that the Department cannot police the law and relies on whistle blowers in communities to come forward to report this kind of illegal activity.  The Minister also claimed that people are selling their houses for R20 000.

Perhaps the Minister needs to broaden her base of community informants. In our experience in Cape Town, RDP houses are being sold to decent families who are working hard, saving up and buying houses in good faith for R200 000, not R20 000. Beyond this, the sellers are not moving back into shacks, but are moving back to the Eastern Cape where they invest their funds in building houses. This should be a cause for celebration for the Minister.

Of course, one can understand why this might upset the Provincial MEC of Human Settlements in the Western Cape who might resent the outflow of money from his province to the Eastern Cape. His DA credentials might lead one to think he holds property rights as sacrosanct. Not so. Also in March this year, he went on a walking tour of Highbury Park Housing Project and issued a stern warning to people who have bought RDP houses [2]. No doubt that walk-around has been very effective and purchasers have followed his advice to report the sellers to the police and get their money back.

The stupidity of a law that prevents people from selling their houses is even more obvious in the context of the title deed backlog that exists in South Africa. According to the Department of Human Settlements, there are over 1.1 million title deeds that have yet to be issued to owners of RDP properties. These property owners have no option but to transact informally if they choose to transact. While some might call these transactions illegal, in reality, the bit that was well and truly illegal was the construction of the house to begin with. In some cases, there is no title deed because there is no registered plan, and there is no registered plan because subsidy houses were built in violation of SPLUMA and NEMA. If the private sector had built these houses they would have been demolished.

We can rant and rave as much as we like – about people selling their houses or the stupidity of laws that criminalise this. The reality is many thousands of decent people are living in houses that they paid hard earned cash to buy. They are not criminals. They are the people we should celebrate and support. They have invested in property, put down solid roots in the city and got on with their lives. They are not demanding a hand out from the government, or waiting for the State to give them a house.

It cannot be nice for them to hear the Minister calling for local informants to come forward to report them to the authorities or to see the MEC walking around issuing warnings. Clearly, this needs to stop. Government needs to take responsibility for creating an unenforceable law that is creating havoc in the lives of too many good people. At worst government should acknowledge the law as a bit of a blunder, turn a blind eye and let people get on with it. At best the law should be scrapped.

Author: Illana Melzer


[1] See Interview with Minister Mmaloko Kubayi by Stephen Grootes, Sunrise, SAFM, 15 March: https://omny.fm/shows/safm-sunrise-1/the-minister-of-human-settlements-says-that-she-s

[2] See Minister Simmers conducts impromptu visit at Highbury development 17 March 2022, available at: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/gc-news/71/5801