REMARKS BY THE TRADE AND INDUSTRY MINISTER, DR ROB DAVIES AT THE WINTER CAMPAIGN CLOSING EVENT IN KYA SANDS, NORTH OF JOHANNESBURG
As at: 18 June 2015
Despite commendable efforts by the government, the housing backlog for South African’s urban poor has grown tremendously. Taking into account the pace of delivery and the resources available as well as continued population growth, and rapid pace of urbanization, it could take the government decades to beat the backlog.
Johannesburg is a divided city where propertied middle-class residents and the urban poor live in existentially separate worlds. If the steady accretion of luxury entertainment sites, enclosed shopping malls and gated residential communities in the northern suburbs has come to symbolize the entry of middle-class urbanites into the culture of aspirant ‘world class’ cities, then the proliferation of overcrowded, resource-starved informal settlements on the peri-urban fringe represents the dystopian features of distressed urbanism.
The risk-prone environments of informal squatter settlements magnify the impact of catastrophic events like fires and floods, and the intersection of disaster-vulnerable settlement patterns with relaxed planning regulations and building standards, lack of preparation for unsuspected calamities, and inadequate crisis management creates entirely new artificial hazards. These unnatural disasters cannot simply be attributed to ‘bad luck’ or nature's destructive force.
Disaster-vulnerability and exposure to risk are unevenly distributed across the metropolis. By focusing attention on the catastrophic fires that regularly destroy shanty settlements in places like Kya Sands and Alexandra townships at the northeast corner of Johannesburg, it is possible to reveal a largely hidden structure of marginality and social insecurity that is a permanent condition of everyday life for the urban poor.
From statistics, the Kya Sands Informal Settlement houses over 16,000 people in over 5, 000 dwellings. The area has been affected by many fires in the past years. Approximately 900 homes were gutted by fire since 2006 with 570 in 2014, affecting over 2,800 residents. Previous vulnerability studies conducted put the area as a high risk for fires, given its size, layout, and high past incidents.
We should as government shoulder the blame in part, for the conflagrations and find proactive means to respond with speed and zeal. The reality is that our people are dying as flames engulfed their respective shacks and we can’t as government fold our hands and let residents bear the awful brunt of these continuing cycles of death and destruction.
Therefore, the work that both the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications and the (NRCS) and the National Consumer Commission (NCC) are doing in this respect and as part of their respective mandates should be applauded. It is through collaborative efforts such as this that we can respond adequately to the service delivery challenges affecting residents of informal settlements. Both theConsumer Protection Act and the NRCS Act emphasise the need for collaborate work with any regulatory authority on matters of common interest such the rights of consumers to fair value, good quality and safety. They state emphatically that the consumer needs to be protected from goods that are unsafe and have performance failure, are defective and hazardous and have a potential to cause personal injury or property damage to a consumer or other people.
There aremany suppliers who continue to prey on the ignorance of vulnerable and poor consumers. They provide products such as paraffin stoves that are sub-standard and do not perform in line with set quality requirements.Recent reports indicate that majority of vulnerable South African consumers still rely on paraffin apparatus for lighting their homes and for heating and cooking. It is unfortunate that these paraffin stoves come with some risks which increase if they don’t meet the specifications as set out by the NRCS.
We are also inundated with media reports during this period about fires that destroy homes and devastate a large number of consumers. Some of these calamities could easily be avoided if we can deal swiftly with unsafe and substandard products that are flooding our market.It is therefore important for industry and in particular, importers, to adhere to the prescribed rules and
The NRCS border inspections and a risk based approach enforcement activities, if augmented by enhanced collaboration with stakeholders such as the NCC, could maximize compliance with technical regulations and give effect to the Consumer Protection Act.
In 2012, the NRCS conducted a similar campaign in various informal settlements across the country and found that 93% households visited were using non-compliant paraffin stoves. The government is concerned that these unsafe paraffin stoves find their way to the market place and vulnerable communities. These products are not approved by the NRCS and do not have the mechanism to cut off fuel supply to extinguish the fire when they fall or tip off during use, among others and therefore, causing all these fires.
Many of the non-compliant products found by the NRCS originate from the Far East and are distributed across the country. A previous survey carried out by the NRCS in Durban found that the retail outlets at the malls mainly sourced their products from Gauteng, in about 52% of the cases surveyed while Durban contributed 12% of the sources, suggesting that there were major inland suppliers to these retail outlets i.e. in 64% of the cases.
Direct imports were about 14% of the cases while the balance, 22% of the cases, was attributed to unknown sources. This suggests that there are major distribution centers of these illegal products in Gauteng. It is important that the NRCS closes in on these distribution outlets to eradicate non-compliant products from the market.
Sometimes some of these products escape the authorities at the ports of entry because it is not possible to stop and search every consignment that comes through. However, the NRCS has on-going market surveillance operations across the country. The organisation has impounded and destroyed 7 959 non-compliant paraffin stoves and heaters valued of R797, 100 from the 2013/2014 financial year and to date which is highly commendable.
These activities could yield more positives results if we shift our focus to the beneficiaries of our activities which are the consumers. This winter safety campaign that both NRCS and NCC have undertaken to educate our residents of the danger of using unsafe products will go a long in saving the lives of our people.
ISSUED JOINTLY BY THE NATIONAL REGULATOR FOR COMPULSORY SPECIFICATION AND THE NATIONAL CONSUMER COMMISSION