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Matchboxes for sale


Last month the government decided to sell 500 thousand houses in the townships all over South Africa. Everybody is now talking about this big news. Some say the big matchbox sale is good news. Others say the sale is not such good news.

In this story Learn and Teach looks at the big house sale on the Witwatersrand. We look at the facts and we look at the problems. And we asked some community leaders what they think about the big news.

The West Rand Administration Board (WRAB) started selling nearly 50 thousand houses this month. They are selling houses in Soweto, Meadowlands, Diepkloof, Dobsonville (Roodepoort}, Kagiso (Krugersdorp) and Mohlakeng (Randfontein).

The government will also sell houses on the East Rand. But the big sale has not started yet-on the East Rand. And people say four years may pass before the sale starts there.

If people buy houses, they will own the houses for 99 years. They will not pay rent for the houses. But the people will not own the land. They will pay a site rent every month.

The WRAB houses cost between R500 and over R2 500. But you must add about another R600 to that price. The extra money is for all kinds of things like survey costs, right of leasehold, registration fees and stamp duties.

People can buy houses for cash. Then they get a 25% discount. Or they can buy houses and pay WRAB off every month. But then they will not get the 25% discount.

People who lived in a house for over five years get another 5% discount. If the house costs under R2 500 they can get another 5% discount. And if they sign to buy this year, they get another 5% discount.

Only the registered tenant of a house can buy the house. If the registered tenant does not want to buy then nobody else can buy the house. Lodgers cannot buy the house­ even if they pay all the rent. If the tenant wants the lodgers to buy the house then they can go to WRAB and they can get special permission. People don’t have to buy houses. The administration boards can’t kick people out of their houses if they do not buy. But then these people must still pay rent. And WRAB says rents will go up very much from June next year.

The government wants people to buy houses. What do people think about these big plans to sell houses?

“For many y

ears we lived in this township. We were always scared of losing the roof over our heads,” says a tenant in Orlando. “If I lose my job I can’t pay rent. Then I’m out on the streets very quickly. And the kids are left homeless. So I will try to buy this house. “

“Most people will want to buy their houses,” says Popo Molefe, a member of the Soweto Civic Association. “WRAB says openly that rents will go up very much. So how can we call on people not to buy houses. This is the only way not to pay high rent. “

“But the selling of houses has big problems,” he says. “We must remember that the sale was not the choice of the people.

“The buying of houses will divide people into two groups. Those who own a house and those who rent a house. This will weaken the peoples’ unity in the townships. So our organizations must be ready. We must try at all times to unite people. We must unite to fight things like high food prices, high electricity bills, no jobs, bad transport and no houses.”

Tom Manthata is also from the Soweto Civic Association. He agrees with Popo Molefe. “People wiII buy houses because they need a place to stay,” says Tom Manthata. “But the sale of houses will not help in the end. The biggest problem is not buying or selling. The problem is the shortage of houses. The selling of matchboxes will not make houses for the thousands of people who have no houses.”

Some people say the sale of houses will make the community councils stronger. “The sale of houses is a way of getting more money for these government bodies,” says a lecturer from Wits University. “The community councils will collect taxes and site rents – and they won’t have to pay for fixing the old and broken houses in the townships.

Community leaders are also worried about something else – people may lose their houses if they don’t buy. The Rand Daily Mail wrote a story about this last month. The paper said that a man on the community council in Kagiso already has a secret list of empty houses.

The Black Sash is also worried that lodgers will try to buy houses for tenants who are old, poor or jobless. Then these people wiII have no power over the houses and the lodgers may easily push them out of the house.

The Black Sash says people must remember one thing: They do not have to buy their houses and if they do not buy, their houses cannot be sold. They must only buy from WRAB. They must not buy from people who say they are estate agents.

All over the country organizations are talking about the sale of houses. Some are saying, “Don’t buy. Others are saying; ‘Buy. But make sure that the house is fixed before you buy.”

Some trade unions want their bosses to buy land so that workers can build their own houses. They say more people will get loans this way.

The Soweto Civic Association says: “people paid rent for the old houses for many years. These people paid for the cost of these houses many times over. Now they must get the houses free”.

So people all over the country are talking and thinking about the problems of buying houses.

“But the biggest problem is not buying or selling”, says Tom Manthata of the Soweto Civic Association. We say to the people: ‘Let there be houses for all’.

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