Part one of our housing series examined the challenges faced by the Department of Human Settlements, and in part two we read of various strategies aimed at improving operations in the department. Part three features a Corruption Watch reporter who has become the victim of human settlements' bungling.
When John Twala* heeded a call from his local municipality of Westonaria to apply for a housing subsidy, his hope, like that of thousands of others who do the same across the country, was that he too could one day have a home to call his own.
That was in 1997. According to records of the human settlements department, he was awarded a subsidy and should have started occupying the property in 1998 soon after it was built. Sadly, this has never been the case. In fact, Twala only discovered two years ago that it should have been, when he decided to re-apply for a subsidy after moving from his old township.
Twala is a father of two, unmarried, but wanting to provide for his family. His is a story that highlights the importance of knowing one’s basic rights.
I applied for an RDP house at Westonaria municipality in 1997. Following my application, I would attend community meetings regularly to get updates on the housing project in our area. This was how we all got to know about the status of these projects and when people were likely to get their houses. For a long time I did this diligently, just to check on the status of my application. I then had to move from Westonaria to Kagiso in Krugersdorp. I was no longer able to attend the community meetings in Westonaria and I had lost hope. In any case, after many of these meetings, there was still no clear indication of when we would be allocated our houses.
A family emergency necessitated Twala’s move to Kagiso in the early 2000s. He had to go there to look after his brother’s house while he was away. Should the Westonaria house become available, he thought, he would be notified and decide then what to do since he was now obligated by his family’s needs.
When his [brother’s] kids were all grown, I felt I needed to give them some space and moved out. In 2010 I went on to re-apply for a house, this time at the Krugersdorp housing office, because my understanding was that the first application had probably fallen through. When I showed them my ID book they checked it against their system and told me I already had a house allocated to me in Bekkersdal. I asked them when I was allocated a house and was told I had even stayed in Simunye ext 1. I told them I had never stayed at the address they gave me. I was given a print-out as proof that a government subsidy had indeed been issued in my name around 1998.
So according to the Department of Human Settlements, Twala had already benefited from a housing subsidy as far back as 1998, only a year after he had first applied.
Sixteen years a home owner – but he never knew
I was told I did not qualify for a second application. They suggested that I go to the local housing office in Bekkersdal, at the municipal offices there. When I got there I was told they do not have electronic systems and computers, everything is done manually. This did not explain much, so I went back to Westonaria. The official who assisted me said because she had not been employed there at the time of the allocation, she could not answer to something that happened then.
Twala sat with a problem encountered by many South Africans on the housing beneficiary system : he had been allocated a house but not only had he never stayed in it, he had no idea who could be occupying it and why. After repeated trips back and forth between the Westonaria and Krugersdorp offices, he took the matter to a higher level.
I then decided to take the matter to the Gauteng provincial office on Sauer Street. Again I was told it’s the Westonaria office that should solve my problem, and I told them I had already been there. I really did not know anymore where to go because I was being sent from pillar to post. That was when I phoned your office [Corruption Watch], because there seems to be no solution and now I do not qualify to apply for another house. They say I have a house but I have nothing that shows that.
Tracking down the truth
During one of the visits to the Bekkersdal office, Twala was told something interesting by an official. Although his stand was in an RDP settlement, the property built on it seemed to be bonded and therefore belonging to a bank.
The official said they had gone to check on the stand and found it to be a bonded house. I asked how is it that a bank can buy a stand for the development of a bond house within an RDP settlement and have it be the only one. I do not know how it appeared to be a bond house, but the stand is in an RDP settlement. When I asked them what I can do, they said there was nothing they could do. You see the Bekkersdal office is the local one and they are the ones who normally help solve housing complaints, but I was surprised to learn that they could not help me. They kept saying that they do not have computers so everything is done manually.
His next stop was the Johannesburg deeds office. With the document he received from Krugersdorp confirming that the subsidy was granted in his name, Twala was shown the details of the person in whose name the property on his stand was registered.
I thought before I throw in the towel I should go to the deeds office in Johannesburg. I needed some confirmation on who the stand and house are registered to. I was told the house is in my name. I asked who the owner is. It turned out that the title deed was in someone else’s name, so I asked myself if the stand were his, then how come my name appears on it according to the Pretoria housing office. The print out I got was from the same system that the Pretoria housing office uses. I asked myself did he perhaps get himself lawyers who helped him or if there was some fraudulent handling of the file at the Westonaria office.
Corruption Watch contacted the Westonaria municipality’s human settlements office to investigate Twala’s case. His first appointment with the office has been set for the near future. We will update readers on the developments of the case.
*Not his real name