The xenophobic attacks that took place at the end of May in Johannesburg were located in particular spaces in the city: in shack settlements, in the vicinity of hostels, and in inner city suburbs. These are housing environments that have been neglected by the state. They are characterised by severe overcrowding, deteriorating services, high levels of poverty, rampant unemployment, ongoing racial segregation and the daily struggles of poor people forced to compete with one another for increasingly scarce resources. In these places ethnicity and national identity were used to legitimise the wholesale theft of people's houses. In this way the housing crisis was inextricably linked to the xenophobia crisis.
The problem is not that the state has neglected housing delivery, but that the state has tragically misinterpreted housing need. There is a fundamental mismatch between the government's modernist vision underpinning housing policy and the messy, postmodern reality of today's urban milieu.
The underlying assumptions of this modernist paradigm are full employment, social stability, aspirations to orderliness, impermeable nation states, nuclear family arrangements, and homogeneity. In contrast the postmodern conditions of our time include high unemployment, mobility and migrancy, intensified trans-national flows, new household arrangements that are very rarely nuclear, and hybridity.
STATE HOUSING DELIVERY
Housing delivery has been one of the strengths of the new government. Some 2.6 million houses have been delivered since 1994, making housing one of the state programmes benefiting the greatest number of people.
The most visible manifestation of state housing delivery is in the form of ‘RDP’ houses, orderly rows of standardised, mass-produced units on the peripheries of our cities. In these environments, there may have been enough money to deliver the housing unit, but not enough to build garden fences, pave the sidewalks, or provide social facilities, schools or clinics. Numerical targets have been emphasised at the expense of location, condemning these settlements to remote urban areas and distant rural towns. In many instances this location is selected not to meet livelihood needs for employment and infrastructure but because delivering housing is a form of political patronage.
Access to this housing is severely circumscribed.