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.
“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.