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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid