By Pinky Khoabane
Mmashela Anna Mabelane is ill and destitute. She turned 60 this year and lives with a young man who can barely take care of her medical needs. She depends on her pension and a neighbour, whose only wish is for Mabelane to get assistance for her medical bills and general well-being. He’s also trying to help her recoup the money owed her by First National Bank (FNB).
Mabelane is one of the victims of FNB’s discrimination case which goes to the Equality Court in March next year. She and many others were denied the benefits of an interest rate cut on their home loans. The overcharges on her mortgage loan are in excess of R 60 000.
Whenever there was a decrease in interest rates, Saambou’s low cost housing clients, whose book was bought by First National Bank when it went bankrupt, were not given the benefits. Their counterparts in the high income housing market got the decreases.
In the public hearings into Housing, Evictions and Repossessions conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), it was decided that the principle of Ubuntu should be the key value in dealing with issues of housing, especially among the poor.
Among the findings was the recognition that role players in the housing sector (banks, estate agents, sheriffs, courts, and the police) lacked Ubuntu.
What is Ubuntu?
“The concept of Ubuntu is premised on the principle of ‘umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu ‘ which translates into, ‘I am because you are or you need me in as much as I need you, therefore let us take care of each other so that we can continue to co-exist.’ This value is found in all South African ethnic groups and all South African languages”
To highlight this point of the aggressive approach of role players in the housing market, the conveners used an example of a family that lost a house as a result of incapacitation despite their loyalty of over 15 years.
“The value of the house was R60 000 at the time when the owner became incapacitated and was unable to honour his/her commitments in terms of the bond. The service providers and state institutions evicted the family regardless of their circumstances. The issue that needed to be tested against the values of Ubuntu was whether the service providers considered Ubuntu when they evicted the family who has been loyal to them for the past fifteen years, but due to poverty and death was unable to pay the last R10 000 spread over five years after it succeeded to pay R90 000 spread over fifteen years”.
The hearing found that there was collusion between sheriffs, banks, and bulk buyers. The house was sold to the bulk buyers at R11000.
Over-and-above Ubuntu, it was recommended that banks implement the triple-bottom-line approach, which considers the communities and the environment in which they operate.
In effect, what this means is that FNB should not be dragging its customers through the courts and delaying the process of paying them out what is duly theirs. They overcharged them and they should be doing the right thing and paying up. Mama Mashella should not have to live in the indignity of begging for help when she has over R60000 in a bank which makes billions of rands.
What the Constitution says about housing….
The right to have access to adequate housing is a central right in our constitutional democracy. Without housing, other rights, including the right to an environment that is not harmful to one’s health and wellbeing, access to healthcare, access to social services and water are also jeopardised. The right to housing is a basic human right and is key to ensuring that people live with dignity. It is an indispensable means of realising other human rights. In South Africa, the right to housing is enshrined in the Constitution under Section 26 (1) and (2).
The Commission is obliged by its constitutional mandate to promote respect for human rights and to promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights in terms of Section 184 of the Constitution. Section 9 of the South African Human Rights Commission Act 54 of 1994 (Human Rights Commission Act) empowers the Commission to investigate and to report on the observance of human rights and to take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated.