We cried about Apartheid, but we are crying today still because we see nothing better.
Veliswa Boma wakes up at 4:45 in the morning. Her house, a patchwork of corrugated iron sheets and cardboard panels located on the outskirts of Joza, a township in South Africa, is dark and cold. She rises from the tattered mattress on a dirt floor and squeezes the mattress together to keep the layers from separating as she lifts it and leans it behind a refrigerator used as a cupboard. She then bends to collect the plastic bags lining the floor, shoving them in a corner of her shack near the bucket used as a toilet.
Light creeps through holes in the thin walls and through slits in the two-inch piece of wood barricaded against the opening of the shack to resemble a door. Veliswa's breath clouds the air in front of her as she carries the four damp blankets she slept beneath to the other side of the shack in five steps down, and adds them to the pile of blankets on top of her teenage daughter and her fifteen month old granddaughter, both still asleep in the darkness. Then she slips on dirty shoes, picks up two plastic buckets and walks out into the dull light of the morning to fetch water from the tap ten minutes away.
Twenty years have passed since the end of Apartheid, and Veliswa is just one of the millions of South Africans still in need of proper housing. The forty-three-year-old single mother has been on a waiting list for government housing for close to two decades. Her mother was on the list before her, but died before getting a house, and with each year that passes, Veliswa grows more fearful that she will not get a house in her lifetime and that her children and grandchildren will be left in the same situation that she is in now.
The "Waiting List" is somewhat of a mythical arrangement everyone talks about. The belief is that a "waiting list system", with a housing "queue" exists somewhere, organized on a first come first serve basis. People patiently wait for their name to reach the top of the list, operating on the assumption that the longer a person has been waiting, the better chance he has of receiving a house as one becomes available. Various municipalities throughout South Africa established Anti-Land Invasion Units to prevent people from jumping ahead in line and to warrant the eviction of people from land, houses or buildings that they may occupy.
According to Kate Tissington, a senior researcher at SERI, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, politicians and government officials reinforce this idea and create the illusion that they are policing a rational, equitable system, however, "the reality is that there is no single queue. There is no waiting list. Instead there are a range of highly differentiated, and sometimes contradictory, policies and systems in place to respond to housing need."
In connection with the Community Law Centre (CLC), Tissington and a team of researchers at SERI spent significant time and resources investigating the housing demand and allocation process in South Africa before reaching this conclusion. Their findings, published in a report entitled "Jumping the Queue", Waiting Lists and other Myths: Perceptions and Practice around Housing Demand and Allocation in South Africa shed light into the housing crisis in South Africa and the corruption and misinformation surrounding state-subsidized houses.
While the government has constructed somewhere between two to three million RDP (Reconstruction and Development Program) Houses, the back-log of people waiting for a house continues to grow, as does the frustration of those who are left waiting.