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No, SA government hasn’t built 4 million houses – and Ramaphosa didn’t promise a million in Alex

This article is more than 5 years old

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa told Alexandra residents the government had built 4 million houses in South Africa and would build a million more.

  • The government has built 3.3 million “housing units” since democracy in 1994.

  • The media reported that Ramaphosa had said the million houses would be built in Alexandra. He actually said they would be built across the country.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recently brought his election campaign to Alexandra, after a week of protests about service delivery in the township.

The country is set to hold national elections on 8 May 2019.

The protests were widely covered by the media, as was Ramaphosa’s speech to angry residents.

“We have built more than 4 million houses and, here in Alexandra, I want you to know we are still going to build houses so our people can get houses,” Ramaphosa told the crowd.

A number of news outlets reported that he “promised to build a million houses for the residents of Alexandra”.

Has the government built more than 4 million houses? And did Ramaphosa promise to build 1 million in Alexandra? We checked.


“We have built more than 4 million houses.”



The latest housing statistics show that Ramaphosa’s claim is incorrect.

According to the department of human settlements, 3.3 million houses or “housing units” were built from the 1994/95 financial year to December 2018.

These include subsidised houses, rental accommodation, hostel upgrades and council houses where ownership was granted, departmental spokesperson Xolani Xundu previously told Africa Check.

Housing opportunities provided by the South African government from 1994/95 to December 2018
Housing units built3,263,331
Serviced sites completed1,141,259
Enhanced Extended Discount Benefit Scheme (EEDBS)369,330
Total housing opportunities4,773,920

Source: Department of human settlements

Almost 1.2 million “serviced sites” were delivered in the same period. These are plots of land supplied with water, electricity and sanitation. Nearly 370,000 units were also provided under the Enhanced Extended Discount Benefit Scheme (EEDBS).

This scheme “provides state subsidies to repair and/or rehabilitate and even demolish and rebuild, where necessary, government rental houses built before 1994 and then transfer houses into the ownership of legitimate occupants”.

In total, the government has provided 4.8 million housing opportunities.

But the statistics have not been independently verified. A housing expert previously told Africa Check that they should be “read with caution, as indicative rather than entirely conclusive”.


Ramaphosa promised to build 1 million houses in Alexandra



A number of news outlets reported that Ramaphosa promised to build 1 million houses in Alexandra. A recording of his speech shows this is incorrect.

Ramaphosa’s speech was carried live on SABC news, the country’s public broadcaster. At around the 20 minute mark he starts talking about housing.

“I am here with our minister of human settlements and, listen carefully, they have a programme for the whole of South Africa to build 1 million houses,” he said.

“One million houses will be built and, here in Alexandra, we will look into the issue of land so that when we build houses we build them in the correct manner.”

Ramaphosa has since tweeted about the misreporting, saying it was a “huge distortion”.

His tweet reads: “The ANC government intends to build 1 million over the next 5 years throughout the country. Every province will be given a target that they must meet. This is something that I would like to see and it is possible.”

Is there a programme to build 1 million houses?

Africa Check asked the department of human settlements if they had a plan to build 1 million houses over the next five years.

But the department’s spokesperson would not say if there was an official programme.

“If the president says we are going to build a million houses, we are going to build a million houses,” said Xundu. “It sounds like an instruction to the department.”

Director of research and advocacy at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, Alana Potter, told Africa Check that the goal was ambitious.

“Looking back on our track record over the last 25 years… to do a million seems like quite a big ask,” she said.

“It would require a really rapid land release programme so they’d really need to move fast to get that happening.”

Housing delivery has declined since 2009

The construction of houses peaked in 1998/98 when 235,635 units were built. Delivery has declined significantly since then, with just 86,006 units built in 2017/18.

No government administration has managed to build 1 million houses during their five-year term. The highest number of houses was built from 1999/2000 to 2003/04.

Delivery of housing units by South African government administrations
Government administrations (5 years)Housing units built
1994/95 to 1998/99709,057
1999/2000 to 2003/04758,342
2004/05 to 2008/09742,518
2009/10 to 2013/14625,358
2014/15 to 2018/19*428,056

Source: Department of human settlements

*Note: 2018/19 figures are for April to December 2018.

You can’t fact-check the future

We have determined what Ramaphosa said to the residents of Alexandra. But it’s not possible to fact-check if 1 million houses will be built - we’re not fortune tellers.  

Africa Check will log this commitment on our Promise Tracker. We’ll follow housing delivery in South Africa for the next five years and let you know if Ramaphosa keeps or breaks his promise.

Additional reading

Frequently asked questions about housing in South Africa

No evidence for SA government’s ‘truly amazing’ house delivery rate

Minister Sisulu is right – SA’s housing delivery has almost halved since 2006/07


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