News / Africa

S. Africa Struggles to Provide Housing to Black Middle Class

A boy cycles in front of a house in the upmarket Diepkloof extention in Soweto, South Africa, February 2006 file photo.
A boy cycles in front of a house in the upmarket Diepkloof extention in Soweto, South Africa, February 2006 file photo.
Solenn Honorine
South Africa’s black middle class is growing by leaps and bounds - with a new survey showing it now outspends the white middle class. This is having a profound impact on the historical black township of Soweto where prices of land and houses have soared in recent years due to growing demand for better housing. 

Protea Glen, an extension of Soweto, is designed to accommodate the needs of the black middle class. It has all the same features as the housing of choice of most well-off South-Africans:  you need a special permission to enter the premises; it is guarded 24/7 by a private security company; it is surrounded by a tall electric fence; and its common areas boast neat lawns. 

Not what you would expect to find in the township of Soweto - where many of Johannesburg’s poor black population lived in shacks and segregated from whites under apartheid.

But because it is Soweto - the prices are still lower than other housing estates in and around Johannesburg and currently within reach of middle income families. The 91 homes here cost a mere $35,000 apiece.  And they have been purpose built for people like Kabelo Mengy Mokoatle, a math teacher, who belongs to South Africa’s burgeoning black middle class.

“I was interested living in the complex because of the security. As I'm a single parent I want to make sure that my son is protected if I'm not around," said Mokoatle.

Upgrade in lifestyle

Themba Mtambo, 42, bought his 48 square meter house two years ago for his family of five.

He grew up so poor in rural KwaZulu Natal province that he had to wait until he was 12 years old for his parents to be able to buy him his first pair of shoes.

As a project manager in a water supply company, he says he can now afford an upgrade in his lifestyle.

“Where I bought first, you find there are a lot of lower class people or whatever. And then you find that, if you want to think of moving in the line of business, you don't find people who are at the same level as you are. So I moved here, and most of us, if not all, are professionals," he explained.

From a desolate place synonymous with violence, poverty and political unrest, Soweto is slowly becoming a real city of two million people shared by shack dwellers, white collar workers and even a few millionaires. The Protea Glen neighborhood, which lies on its outskirts, started being developed in the 1990s as an alternative for the middle class. Today, the average household here earns about $1,200 a month.

Supply and demand

Peter Kalabane, who mans the local office of its development agency, Township Realtors, says that it is the last area where land is still available in the sprawling township.

"The future is bright," he said. "Unfortunately there is no more land to continue in the next five years or so. It will be filled up in the next 3 years.”

Because of high demand coupled with land scarcity, home prices in Soweto are one of the fastest growing in the country. 

The financing issue

Johann Grobler, who developed the Protea Glen estate, says that providing affordable housing for the growing middle class, which cost between $20,000 and $50,000 dollars a unit, is a challenge.

"It is definitely very difficult to produce houses, decent houses, in this price range," said Grobler. "I think however that the biggest challenge we have has to do with getting finance for those people. In South Africa 49 percent of the people have a bad credit rating at the moment, which makes it very difficult for people to get loans."

But banks are not to blame, says Nicholas Nkosi, head of the affordable housing division in Standard Bank, which owns a third of the mortgage market in the country.

"It's a question of financial literacy, how do we get people to save? It's almost like a cultural shift that needs to happen in South Africa," he said.

"I don't think it's the banks that don't want to lend. In order for the banks to lend, there's got to be a house. So what it will take will be the availability of land, of well-priced land.”

People in the black middle class still own far less, per capita, than their white countrymen. They are too rich to qualify for government-subsidized housing, but too poor to afford living in the affluent suburbs at the other end of the city.
Accommodation for them remains a challenge.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs