Interaction with the Finnish Ambassador and a delegation from Finland Committee on Housing and Environment

Human Settlements

09 March 2012
Chairperson: Mr B Dambuza (ANC)

Meeting Summary

The Committee hosted a delegation from the Finland Housing and Environment Committee delegation. The two Committees shared experiences and challenges during their interaction. After a briefing from the Department of Human Settlement’s policy unit, the Finns asked questions about the provision of the subsidised housing. They wanted to know about the ownership guarantees to the housing recipients and what happened to property when owners moved to another town. They also wanted to know whether the 40 square metre was enough to accommodate large number of people in all households. Members concerns were mostly around the enormous challenges faced by the Government to provide services such as housing, electricity, water, sanitation, education and health to poor people.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said that there had been a lot of policy and legislative reforms since the dawn of democracy in 1994. Before 1994 the majority of South African citizens were excluded from owning property due to the apartheid policy. The current Government had inherited a huge housing backlog. There were a large number of people who were living in informal settlements. Government had undertaken to upgrade and reduce densification in those informal settlements. President Jacob Zuma had changed the name of the Department of Housing to Human Settlements, because he identified a need to provide sustainable human settlements.

The Chairperson asked Members to introduce themselves and then asked the delegation about the purpose of their visit to South Africa. She then informed the delegation that the Committee functioned as a unit irrespective of political party affiliations. Members discussed as equals in a meeting situation.

Mr Juha Vatainen, Chairperson of the Finnish Committee on Housing and Environment explained that his Committee discussed issues as equals with the sole purpose of benefiting the whole country. The delegation was in South Africa to learn from the country. Finland was a small country compared to South Africa. The latter was ten times bigger than Finland. Finland could learn from the South African experience and what its future plans were. After briefly introducing his delegation he mentioned that he was the oldest person with the least experience.

Ambassador Tiina Myllyntausta, Finnish Ambassador to South Africa, acted as an interpreter. She said that she had been in that post for the past two years and was very glad to be in South Africa.

Department of Human Settlements (DHS) briefing
Mr Martin Maphisa Deputy Director-General: Policy, Research and Monitoring, DHS, went through the policy approaches relating to housing in South Africa. The introduction of the comprehensive plan for the development of sustainable human settlements had signalled a shift to a demand driven approach. The Constitution stipulated that everyone had a right to have access to adequate housing.

Norms and Standards
Mr Maphisa mentioned that the Department made sure that the quality and the durability of the houses adhered to norms and standards. The National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) was a regulatory body of the home building industry. It ensured that the houses could withstand extreme weather elements.

2,3 million houses had been built since 1994, accommodating 11 million people. The expenditure on housing had increased to R26,6 Billion from R22 billion the previous year. That budget was meant to address the backlog of 2.1 million people that were on the housing waiting list.

Housing Subsidy
The housing subsidy was the primary assistance measure for the National Housing Programme. It was R55, 706 for households earning from R3 501. Those households that earned from R3 501 to R15 000 could apply for a subsidy linked to loan agreement with a financial institution. The government also offered the basic social services package for the poor including free water, free refuse removal, sanitation and 100 kilowatts of free electricity.

Planning Aspects
The City planning was the responsibility of local municipalities, and the planning systems were democratic and inclusive of civil society. The Integrated Development Plans (IDP) required that all municipalities prepare them diligently, and these IDP’s were based on inter sector co-ordination.

Social Aspects
The Expanded Publics Works Programme (EPWP) was aimed at providing training and employment to the unemployed. These people were provided with skills and on the job training when they were building the houses, and could be used for purposes of qualification and job seeking.

Environmental Aspects
The human settlements were planned around sound environmental guidelines. The settlements had to be energy efficient and north facing to absorb more sunlight. The units also shared walls to provide insulation and prevent heat loss. Water efficient designs ensured that houses were built with correct layout of plumbing system that complied with norms and standards of water drainage.

A Finnish Member of Parliament asked whether the people who occupied the houses owned them, and whether they had any certification that proved that the houses belonged to them.

Ms M Borman (ANC) replied that housing recipients owned the property and they had title deeds. She added that the owners were eligible to sell their houses only after they had lived in them for eight years.

The Chairperson explained that when the economic situation of the owner had improved significantly to be able to buy a better house, then s/he could hand over the property to the municipality.

Mr Vatainen enquired about measures used to ensure that the 40 square metre house was enough to accommodate the number of people in a particular family. He also asked what happened when the property owner migrated to another city.

The Chairperson replied that South Africans tended to live in extended families. The Government did not regulate the number of people who lived in a single property. When the owner moved to another part of the country, the property could be rented out or left with members of the extended family.

A Finnish Member asked how foreign nationals were accommodated within the subsidised housing scheme.

Mr Maphisa explained that naturalised foreign nationals i.e. those who were South African citizens qualified for state subsidy.

The Chairperson replied that the Constitution stipulated that any person legally living in South Africa could rent or buy property anywhere in the country.

Ms M Njobe (COPE) concurred with the Chairperson regarding the number of people who could live in a particular household. Some household owners sometimes hosted relatives from rural areas who came to the cities and towns looking for work. She recommended that the Committee and the Department should look at the issue of the number of people per household.

Mr Maphisa explained that there were lots of families that were living in the backyards of the other people’s properties. Some people lived in backyards because the number of people exceeded the capacity of the house to accommodate them. Utilities like water, sewerage and electricity were therefore unable to cope with the large numbers of users. In the rural areas the problem was the non existence of infrastructure. The President had mentioned in the 2012 State of the Nation Address that rural infrastructure development would be a priority.

The Chairperson mentioned that South Africa was very serious about complying with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and housing was one aspect of the MDGs. Gender balance and youth played an important part in the provision of building tenders, so that contractors reflected the demographics of the country. In the past shoddy planning did not take into consideration the co-operation between the different government departments. The Department had to work hand in hand with the Department of Water Affairs, Eskom and the Department of Transport.

Mr Vatainen thanked the Committee for sharing their experiences and mentioned that Finland was experiencing problems with climate because it was too cold in that country. There were similar problems with South Africa as the Finish Government had to provide housing for the poor and the middle classes. He then handed a token of appreciation to the Chairperson. He had been told that Africans were people who liked music and said that the Members could also listen to the CD of Finnish music.

The Chairperson promised the Finns that her Committee would undertake a study tour of Finland in the future, to look at solutions to the housing challenges.

Ms Njobe mentioned that she had visited Finland in her previous life as an ANC delegate during 1984, to attend a Conference for Women Trade Unionists. The slogan for that conference was “The working man in Finland is a woman” She was surprised to discover that the majority of MP’s were women in the Finnish Parliament. Those women participated actively in the proceedings. Gender mainstreaming in that country was a practiced reality. The South African government on the other hand was faced with many historical challenges, such as health, education, unemployment and housing. All those problems correlated with race and class divisions. The Finnish delegation would see this as it toured the country. The majority of people who needed housing were the black working class. She was surprised that housing planning in the Scandinavian countries had to provide space for washing machines, dryer, dishwasher and a fridge. South Africa still had a long way to go before every citizen had access to proper housing.

The meeting was adjourned