Since the current democratic government was elected in South Africa in 1994, a major initiative has been underway to build low-cost housing for the millions of South Africans who do not have houses, or who live in informal shacks. 2.4 million homes have been built since 1994; and the aim for the next 15 years is to build a further 3 million. However, the current backlog is estimated to be around 2.1 million; and is expected to grow over the coming years. Cape Town currently has a backlog of 260 000, and this grows by 20 000 each year.
The aim is usually to build low-cost housing as cheaply and quickly as possible, so that people are able to afford the homes, and move in soon. However, this means that the homes are often of a low quality, and little attention is paid to thermal comfort or efficiency. This leads to very poor living conditions, and excessively high rates of energy consumption. People living in low-cost housing have to pay more for heating and cooling (including heating water), which exacerbates the cycle of poverty. Coal and wood fires, and gas or paraffin cookers also cause health problems, especially of a respiratory nature. Ceilings in the houses are also sometimes made of asbestos, which again leads to numerous health problems, including tuberculosis.
South Africa is also facing a major energy crisis. The major national energy and electricity supplier – Eskom – is dealing with a massive shortage of resources which threaten its capacity to generate enough power for all those on its grid. This has led to rolling power-cuts and black-outs across the country in a bid to save energy. This often disproportionately affects those who do not have access to alternative energy sources (such as solar or wind power). Developing new power stations will take a number of years, and by the time they are built, the demand will still likely be beyond their capacity. The cost of developing these power stations is also exorbitant, and it remains to be seen whether the country can actually afford to do so. There are numerous initiatives currently being implemented by different groups across the country to attempt to ease the burden on Eskom, and generate new sustainable energy sources. However, this process is still in its infancy in South Africa, and the majority of people are still dependant on the main power grid. Alternative energy sources also remain expensive, and beyond the means of many people.