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Lindiwe Sisulu and the myth of ‘welfare queens’

Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is no stranger to the spotlight. Despite being one of the highest-ranking female leaders in the ANC, the spotlight tends to follow her for all the wrong reasons. And that’s why I’ve always watched her carefully. The daughter of a political dynasty and a surviving doyenne in the continuous internal struggle for power in the ANC, Sisulu always manages to make her mark in all the wrong ways.

This past week she spoke to Independent Online, after admitting to the National Assembly that her department is lagging behind in its commitment to reduce the housing backlog faced by the country. In the candid interview, Sisulu stated that: “It never was the intention of this government to give free homes ad infinitum.”


In Sisulu’s attempt to spin a narrative about change at the department of housing, and promises of many more housing projects, she offered insights into her problematic views on the poor and the state’s responsibilities to its citizens. She went on to say: “What makes an 18-year-old think the state owes them a house? It’s a culture of entitlement … we can’t continue with a dependency culture.”

What this implies is that the people who do not have adequate housing and think they ought to have access to a roof over their heads are merely freeloaders. These freeloaders are expected to go at it alone — without any tools or assistance from the state. That poor South Africans must build a life for themselves despite a government that hasn’t been too fussed about job creation or the economy.

When the state fails its citizens, the citizens inevitably fail too. And someone should tell Sisulu this.

The minister makes it glaringly obvious that she hasn’t read her Constitution in quite a while.

To quote:

“Section 26 – Housing:

(1) Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.

(2) The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.”

Despite all of Sisulu’s assertions to the contrary, the government does have a duty to provide that “entitled”, “dependent” 18-year-old with a house. And they have to do it ad infinitum — well, as long as the Constitution remains unaltered. The government’s propensity for building, upgrading and furnishing ministers’ houses ad infinitum isn’t a constitutional duty. The more than R200 million spent on a palatial residence for President Jacob Zuma isn’t a constitutional duty. Adequate housing for all is though.

Sisulu’s remarks, which belittle the poor and perpetuate the (racist) myth of “welfare queens”, speak to the problematic nature of South Africa’s political elite. Sisulu was accused of spending millions on privately-owned Gulfstream jets to ferry her around during the course of her term as minister of defence and military veterans. This is not freeloading. This isn’t entitlement or dependency on the taxpayers’ purse. It’s merely the way things are done.

The way things are done, and the way the South African political elite lives has caused not a single crisis of conscience from within the cabal. But that doesn’t stop the elite from telling us that that we are the problem: we demand too much and do too little.

Luckily this narrative can’t survive, because it simply isn’t true. This isn’t a country of freeloaders; it’s a country of people who don’t have. And they have every right to expect the government they elected to give them access to the things that allow them to live with dignity.


  • Thorne Godinho has been a struggling freelance writer, blogger and editor for years. He completed his law degree at the University of Pretoria, and is embarking on an LLM focusing on the intersection between law and democracy at the University of Cape Town where he is a Claude Leon Scholar in Constitutional Governance. Thorne is a committed social liberal. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @ThorneGo.


  1. Jan Kriek Jan Kriek 18 July 2014

    Access to housing does NOT mean “Free”
    Thorne is the one to read carefully

  2. Mariano Castrillon Mariano Castrillon 18 July 2014

    “And they have every right to expect the government they elected to give them THE TOOLS TO WORK TOWARDS THE access to the things that allow them to live with dignity.

    This last sentence in Thorne’s article should have included what I have inserted in capital letters above.

  3. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 18 July 2014

    Why does an 18 year old think they are entitled to a free house? I couldn’t afford a house at the age of 18 and the bank wasn’t going to give me a mortgage at that age.

    Another question is, how many houses do they get? If they move from Mpumalanga to Gauteng, in search of work, do they get another house? What if they don’t maintain the house? Do they get a new one in 10 years time when the roof of the old one starts leaking?

    The problem with all this ‘free’ stuff is that it is not sustainable.

  4. Gary Smith Gary Smith 19 July 2014

    While this lady never seems to cover herself with glory, and even seems to have a spiteful edge to her, I have to agree with her assertion that we can’t continue with a dependency culture.
    In fact, until we break out of this mindset, we’ll never get the country working again! Sisulu may not have read her constitution too well, but, I submit, neither has this blogger. The “right to have access to adequate housing” does not translate into “a free house”. This is simply not sustainable in any society, and I suspect the constitution drafters were aware of this when they inserted the next clause: “the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.” This also doesn’t translate into “the state must pay for the free house”.
    But, until the ANC clarifies this (which they probably won’t), and then starts doing the right things to create employment – which will enable people to have access to adequate housing – this problem is not going to go away!

  5. Brian Brian 19 July 2014

    I didn’t read that interview but now you bring my notice to it, she has gone up in my estimations. Maybe if more ANC people said it clearly and regularly the culture of entitlement would eventually be overcome.
    The second generation ” right” in the constitution has to read in a very wooly way. It can’t possibly mean that everybody is entitled to be PROVIDED with a house. Especially of the type , in the place, and with the specifications as demanded.
    Grow up and think it through.

  6. Heinrich Heinrich 19 July 2014

    A few comments :

    The ANC is the “uber entitlement” titleholder. Chancellor House, Imperial Crown Trading, The Arms Deal. Official salaries and perks. Party privileges and abuses. Till Jesus comes.

    This beautiful lady is correct: the culture of dependency is not sustainable and should be eradicated.

    The Government is not supposed to create jobs. The free market should. Government should only create the climate for job creation. The less government we have, the better.

    Nothing is for free. Someone always pays.

    It is quite safe for Lindiwe to say these things now. The election is over.

  7. Mpumelelo Qiniso Mpumelelo Qiniso 20 July 2014

    Two things.

    1. Lindiwe is thinking and talking about a bigger picture here. Describing a beneficiaries of governmental support as “freeloaders” is incorrect. Lindiwe speaks about breaking the cycle and culture of dependence. How long can one live in a country where a guaranteed 30% of South Africa’s population will refuse to pursue employment, establish entrepreneurship or even finish school when this population knows that there is a house coming their way? Economically destructive and socially selfish.

    2. Someone somewhere needs to right about the real relevance and impact of the Constitution. The Constitution is a very liberal and ambitious document which is not always consistent with South Africa’s political, legal, social and even, macro-ethical dynamics. Lindiwe should not be entitled to give an 18 year old a house, if its does not make social, economic or ethical sense.

    Rights are a luxury in this country. That’s just the truth of it.

  8. Malcolm de Roubaix Malcolm de Roubaix 20 July 2014

    Be careful in interpreting the Bill of Rights! For me, #26 does not necessarily mean physical supply of housing, but generating the general infrastructure so tha its ideals may be realised. The qualification of financial possibilities is another key aspect.

    Of course, the writer is on the dot with her comments about the entitlement culture, and the lack of fiscal and financial discipline.

  9. thembinkosi thembinkosi 22 July 2014

    Sisulu is correct, all (including her and all else in power) can not have free housing and other perks infinitum, be it free security, that expensive food in parliament, having free accommodation all over the country. I agree because the most rich countries don’t give these free benefits to their ministers and presidents.
    The list of inequality is Infinite.

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