The National Development Plan and the future of subsidised housing in South Africa

Professor Phillip Harrison gave a very convincing account of how the government envisions the future of South Africa through its newly drafted paper – The National Development Plan, which was handed over to the president in parliament on the 15th of August.

The NDP is essentially a developmental vision from national government, and aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by the year 2030. 

cartoon by Zapiro, Mail and Guardian © Zapiro 2012. For more Zapiro cartoons visit

I attended a seminar at Wits University in Johannesburg, on Tuesday afternoon (21 August), in which Prof. Harrison (who was one of the people commissioned to draft the report) reviewed the future plan but from a spatial context, which in extension fits perfectly well within the housing theme.

The plan is centred on five core pillars: economic development, infrastructure investment, rural development, environmental sustainability and lastly, human settlements.  Prof. Harrison described how all five pillars fit into the spatial dimension of the plan.

Economic development is about strengthening the active labour market. Part of this recognises workers’ movement to and from work and this demonstrates the need for investment in transit-oriented developments. Another important aspect of the plan is labour market mobility – so people can easily move to areas where there are employment opportunities.  This means that housing markets must include enough rental accommodation.

Chapter 8 of the plan outlines the human settlement ‘conundrum’, stating that while more than 3 million housing units have been delivered since 1994, the housing deficit just keeps increasing. The plan argues that we cannot sustain the current subsidised housing delivery approach of rolling out houses for free. (Interestingly, this is not a new assertion – the Minister of Human Settlements has also been quoted as saying this).  It seems like the current RDP subsidy programme will one day end, and alternatives to low-income housing delivery need to be thoroughly investigated. Prof. Harrison said that the current subsidised delivery approach is producing dependant, inactive citizens and noted also that it has reinforced apartheid spatial patterns. New approaches to housing financing and delivery are thus needed where citizens can take greater responsibility for providing their own shelter.

However, with nearly 60% of South Africans living in poverty, it is unrealistic to expect households to meet their needs without any support.  Some kind of subsidisation is needed. Prof Harrison argued that addressing the housing challenges requires a cumulative “process of reform guided by a long term perspective”. We have great policies in place that address the shortfalls in housing developments, such as Breaking New Ground and more recently Outcome 8, however implementation lags far behind.

The plan sets out three areas of focus for future policy reform: the housing subsidy programme, the gap market, and Informal settlements. The focus on the subsidy programme proposes moving away from top structure investment, while simultaneously keeping in line with the Constitution and being able to find sustainable ways to provide housing for that 60% of the nation that otherwise cannot house themselves. Within the gap market, the plan seeks to promote the role of the private sector by reducing the risk for the sector and incentivising them to engage at an increased scale. One of the biggest problems with housing in South Africa and beyond is the proliferation of informal settlements (as I write this there are protests in Marlboro– North of Johannesburg- following a massive eviction programme of more than 100 illegal built shacks). When the informal settlements upgrading programme was introduced, it provided a refreshing way of dealing with informality, and the programme was supported by the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP). The NDP recognises and supports the NUSP but critiques it for lacking in creativity.

Many people at the seminar were skeptical that the NDP was just another plan to get people going until yet another plan was revised. The plan was seen as being utopian and depicting what is already known and seemingly far out of reach. One thing that the vision acknowledged was that South Africa had policies in place that are world class; the problem is implementation on the local level. Nonetheless, the plan is welcomed and hopefully this time around we will be able to build a South Africa we can all proudly call our home.

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4 responses to “The National Development Plan and the future of subsidised housing in South Africa

  1. when is the government going to make land available for housing?I have been at a meeting of the development action group(dag) recently and
    what i have found is that irrespective race, colour, religion or creed our short comings and needs are what we have in comin. The government needs to make land available asap.

    1. Hi Abdul. I think what we need is a wide range of options. For some people, access to serviced stands would be just what they need to start their housing process themselves. For others, backyard rental might be appropriate and towards that, local government could provide support in making building plans available for free. There are so many interventions that government could make that wouldn’t be as expensive as the blanket provision of subsidy housing. And, it would put the individual or the household – or indeed the community group in some cases – in the driver’s seat. The problem I see on this blog is that people are forever having to wait for government to do something before they can participate in meeting their own housing needs. If government made it possible for individual action, our housing process would be much more effective.

    2. Hello Abdul. Before any discussion on this topic, one have to understand that majority of land in South Africa is privately owned (70% of land) and 20% is owned by the government and 10% is owned by the monopoly. So as much as land is in abundance in South Africa for housing, the main problem is that it is privately owned. So in essence, the private owners of land are charging high costs of land. Another challenge that government is facing is that as much as it willing to buy land, the private owners are unwilling sell.

  2. I fully agree with what Abdul says about the housing. Here is to much corruption going on by our local municipality’s the people who desperately are in need of housing does not receive any due to the people who works at our local municipality’s there’s to much racism too. There’s lots of people who receives housing from the government but rents in out to people and mostly to foreigners which tell’s us that they are not really in need of that house but more of a money making scheme which I really disagree on, give the houses to those who would appreciate it and that needs it for their own use. My grandma’s house the local municipality shoud’ve renovated it the Lady with the name Caroline Woods was there with people taking photo’s so that they could start with the renovation that was plus minus 6 to 7 years ago what did they do up till now nothing but people who applied after us houses are completed how do you understand that can someone bring clarity to this matter!!