Reflecting on Heritage as We Build for the Future

During September, heritage month, we collectively look at the traditions, ideas, and assets inherited from the past. South Africa’s complex story means that these reflections can be painful and raw for many who lived through the experience and who are still affected today.

As we approach our centenary, Communicare’s own heritage is deeply intertwined with the story of our country. The organisation (initially founded as Citizens Housing League Utility Company) was formed in 1929 with a mandate to provide affordable homes. This mandate of providing affordable housing has remained at the centre of our purpose but, where once the mandate only benefited indigent white people, Communicare now provides affordable housing across all racial groups.

Notwithstanding the circumstances of its establishment, the Citizens Housing League Utility Company addressed the housing needs of various people during its existence. During the apartheid era, within the constraints of segregation imposed by the government, it created housing developments for people classified as Black and Coloured and later also started developing housing for the Older Persons.

As the organisation and the country changed, the organisation’s name changed three times (in 1964, 1981, and 1990). Over the ages, the organisation’s social enterprise model took on different shapes. Communicare’s income was boosted by running general stores, operating a construction company, providing utility services, and by building houses for sale on the open market. These different approaches over time assisted Communicare to sustain its discounting of rentals to people with low incomes.

After South Africa emerged from the toxic regime of apartheid, the organisation publicly issued an apology for any role it had played that contributed to creating segregated housing and pledged to promote transformation and integration. Renewed in its purpose to create housing solutions for all, and for those who most need more affordable homes, the organisation harnessed the assets it had accumulated to build a new future with people’s development and inclusion at its heart.

This heritage and the assets Communicare own today allows the organisation to continue operating as a social enterprise improving housing access. Carefully managing our market portfolio, we can channel funds into the delivery of more affordable housing in areas close to economic opportunities. This increases the number of homes available for people with low incomes who were previously underserved. These homes are either regulated social housing, built-in collaboration with grants from the government, or they are apartments built independently by Communicare where rentals are discounted to fulfill our mandate to provide more affordable housing.

As we work to address historic imbalances, the story of our history continues to be interwoven with the South African story. Today Communicare’s tenants reflect the diversity of the country, with people of colour now located in well-resourced neighbourhoods. The organisation’s supply chain is dominated by empowered businesses, contributing to the country’s economic transformation. Communicare commemorates heritage month with renewed purpose to create homes for families who have long deserved access to dignity, opportunity, and a brighter future.