The Department of Human Settlements (DHS) in South Africa is wrestling with an overwhelming predicament: a staggering number of incomplete and blocked housing projects. Despite the rollout of the ‘National Unblocking Program’ in 2021, an initiative designed to breathe life into these stagnant projects, a colossal 3,445 of them remain blocked or incomplete across the country.
In some regions, residents have been left waiting for housing promises to be fulfilled for up to a quarter of a century.
Financial Consequences and Corruption
The issue of blocked projects, characterized by zero progress for at least 12 months after initial payments, has resulted in substantial financial losses for the state, potentially escalating into billions of rands. The crisis is particularly acute in the Free State province, home to 770 blocked projects. Corruption has been cited as a plausible contributing factor to this predicament, prompting Mmamoloko Kubayi, the Minister at the helm of the DHS, to call for an investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) in March 2022.
Funding Allocations and the Role of Construction Mafia
For the 2023/24 financial year, the DHS has earmarked significant funds for provincial and municipal grants, a strategic move to counteract these issues. However, legal experts suggest that the so-called construction mafia, notorious for inflating costs and causing delays, plays a significant role in these project impediments. This organized crime group is also implicated in infrastructure damage and investment loss.
Signs of Progress despite the Crisis
On a brighter note, Sihle Zikalala, the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, has reported the completion of R21.4 billion worth of projects for human settlements and road structures. Furthermore, the DHS has successfully unblocked 320 projects. These positive developments, although dwarfed by the scale of the problem, signal a momentum that could potentially turn the tide in this housing crisis.