Category Archives: Greg Ardé

All Africa: Durban Loses a Third of Its Drinking Water Before It Reaches Its Destination

by Greg Arde

Neil Macleod hurries into his office in downtown Durban. He’s in between meetings, and in true South African fashion, he’s running more than a bit behind schedule. Indeed, the sixty-something civil servant looks appropriately harried for a man whose job it is to save water in a city that loses over one-third of its supply before it reaches its intended destination.

A respected engineer, Macleod has spent his entire adult life working for the eThekwini municipality, the Zulu name for Durban. He is the head of water and sanitation in this balmy metropole of four million residents, part of a dwindling pool of skilled professionals working in municipal management whose job it is to make the money stretch.

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Mercury: Talking past each other on housing

Talking past each other on housing

The shack dwellers’ movement and the city are not on the same wavelength over what should be done with informal settlements, an issue which leads to continual bickering

October 12, 2007 Edition 1

DARTING through the pouring rain and dodging the puddles on the streets of Durban this week, most residents of our fair city cursed the bad weather and cherished the warmth and shelter of their homes.

This included the 800 000 people who live in 540 shack settlements scattered around eThekwini, and whose emotional experience of home is probably as comforting as the other 2.2 million residents of the city who live in formal housing.

Practically the homes of shack dwellers and other residents could not be more different though.

Ask Miloon Kolhari, the United Nations special rapporteur who was in Durban earlier this year.

He visited shacks in Foreman Road in Clare Estate to assess first hand the squalor residents experienced. The morning after heavy rains he slipped through household refuse, sewage and broken bottles that lined the alleyways between shacks made of bits of wood and plastic.

Unlike top city officials and councillors from the ANC in eThekwini, Kolhari listened to representatives of Abahlali baseMjondolo (the shack dwellers’ movement) and heard how difficult it was for the 7 000 people in Foreman Road to share a dozen toilets every day.

Abahlali members say the city is ignoring them, though officials dispute this.

The political leaders of the democratically elected council bristle at Abahlali’s claims, saying they have a mandate to govern and do so in the interests of the people.

There are claims that Abahlali is made up of agitators with “sinister” motives, though this is not spelled out.

The fact of the matter is that the interaction between Abahlali and the city speaks for itself: every Abahlali demonstration in Durban ends in bloody conflict and arrests.

The parties are talking past one another, or don’t have a forum for a meaningful exchange.

Last week the UN-linked Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions expressed its concern at the “persistent antagonistic attitude and repressive actions of the authorities towards the legitimate grievances of shack dwellers” in Durban.

Abahlali’s attempts to engage with the council, the centre said, were met with “unjust and counter-productive responses” from city officials and the police.

Popular cause

Abahlali has rallied thousands of people around a cause. Its movement has committed leaders and well-connected intellectuals who have harnessed the power of civil society and academic networks to highlight their struggle, which often embarrasses the city and galls its leaders.

For one, the spotlight thrown by Abahlali on the housing debate has revealed the folly of claims that Durban’s housing woes will be over by 2014. The city has built 120 000 low-cost houses since 1994.

It boasts a rate of 14 000 new houses a year. It would have to double its rollout to meet the existing backlog, let alone cater for the new people streaming into the city in search of jobs and to be closer to schools and hospitals.

In response to a list of questions sent to the city by The Mercury, the council’s head of housing, Cogi Pather, said Abahlali members had been offered housing in Newlands, but “apparently refused”.

Pather said there were more than 500 projects in the housing plan, including upgrades of informal settlements and new developments.

Pather said 80% of these were within the city’s “urban edge” with close access to transport.

Many recipients of low-cost housing abandon these dwellings, saying they are too far from work.

“The city has earmarked a mere 5% of all (shacks) households for complete relocation. This is only due to the fact that the land that is settled is unsuitable for a viable development. These are settlements on flood plains or unstable land, for example. This implies that the large majority of settlements within the city will be earmarked for in situ upgrade. However, the large number of the families residing in these settlements cannot be accommodated in a conventional single-stand project and hence the city’s initiative to seek more viable and affordable options.”

Pather said the city was commissioning an architectural consultant to develop high-density housing models to construct within the housing subsidy grant.

Earlier this year Mayor Obed Mlaba defended the municipality’s prioritisation in the R17.4 billion budget saying: “When one simply gives away houses to the poor who have no means of sustaining themselves or building communities, you had better be sure that you have other income-generating programmes (like the new 2010 soccer stadium) in place to pick up the slack.”

Nigel Gumede, the ANC head of the city’s housing committee, is on record as saying the city’s focus is on eradicating shacks.

He said previously that the more the city built houses the more it encouraged people to move into shacks, in the hope of securing state built houses.


In the 2007/08 budget, the council pledged R543 million for low-cost housing projects and R210 million for housing infrastructure, R60 million to upgrade hostels and another R112 million to supply water and electricity to new low-cost housing schemes.

Abahlali president S’bu Zikode says this was well and good, but what about residents of shack settlements like his in Kennedy Road, in Clare Estate, that have existed for more than 15 years, and are often the first port of call for rural KZN residents when they arrive in town?

The council’s refusal to engage widely around its plans for housing, he said, meant people could not immediately improve their living conditions, nor participate in solutions, including keeping an accurate register of who lived in shack settlements.

He said shack dwellers were terrorised by runaway fires and endured poor sanitation and infrequent refuse removal, which worsened daily.

Zikode said residents deserved clear and consistent communication from council on its housing plans, especially in light of the fact that more than 200 shacks had been demolished illegally since January.

“Six percent of the vacant land in the city is owned by council. This could accommodate up to 80 000 homes.

“We also believe the city should expropriate privately held vacant land in the city if there is no plan for it. There is an urgent need for housing. We respect legal land ownership. Expropriation would be a last resort, but land that isn’t being used should be shared.

“We have been calling for a partnership on housing.

“No one party is an expert on housing . . . if there was a collaboration we could get down to business,” Zikode said.

The shack residents’ call comes in the wake of some appeals from businessmen and non-governmental organisations in Durban, articulated in The Mercury earlier this week by columnist Imraan Buccus from the Centre for Public Participation who wrote about community protests, including those by Abahlali.

“The problem is not complex or difficult to understand – it is simply a lack of genuine public participation in local government . . . the one consistent problem is a technocratic top-down approach to policy formulation and implementation,” Buccus wrote.

Mecury: Eradication of slums could hurt poor

Eradication of slums could hurt poor

October 05, 2007 Edition 1

Greg Ardé

KwaZulu-Natal’s Slums Act, which proposes to eradicate shack settlements by 2014, could remove the only opportunity poor people have of gaining a foothold in the property market, an influential think tank heard in Durban yesterday.

The UK government-funded study into the market in informal settlements in three cities in South Africa was conducted by Urban LandMark, whose team was in Durban yesterday to release the findings of its research.

It studied property transactions in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, looking at sales in informal settlements, tribal land, shacks and Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) low-cost housing projects. It found that a shack sold for between R50 and R500, and it took up to 69 days and an additional R1 351 in transport and associated costs to secure.

On average, 25% of shacks were sold every five years, the study said.

Sales were driven by issues such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, study and work opportunities, and forced removals. The transactions were dominated by social networks and became available by word of mouth through family and friends.

Guests attending yesterday’s workshop said the research indicated that the government had erred in recently passing the controversial Slums Act in KZN, which called for the complete eradication of shack settlements.

Urban LandMark cautioned the government to think carefully about the housing arrangements that would replace shacks if it eradicated slum settlements.

“They are vital, and any land and housing plan for the city must make place for them. At the same time, poor people need a range of different claims to a variety of land in the city, in addition to shack upgrading and peripherally located RDP units,” Urban LandMark said.

The full study can be downloaded at the Urban LandMark site at It is interesting to see that landmark didn’t find evidence of Mabaso’s ‘slumlords’…on the contrary…

Mercury: Police rescue news team after fracas (Motala Heights)

Click here to see the Motala Heights digital archive

Photographer was threatened
Police rescue news team after fracas

The Mercury

September 04, 2007 Edition 1

Greg Ardé

Durban Metro Police had to rescue a Mercury photographer from Motala Heights, near Pinetown, where he was prevented from leaving the area after an argument with a local land owner.

The photographer said he had been bullied and his life was threatened.

At the time of the incident on Friday, he and a reporter were on assignment, covering the plight of residents of an informal settlement adjoining and on Ricky Govender's property.

Approached for comment, Govender said the reporters were "making up stories" to portray him as a "gangster". He denied threatening them, saying they had "confused" him with someone else.

"They are totally mistaken. I said they were trespassing . . . I paid R1 million for this property at an auction and I have been trying to develop it the legal way for the past five years . . . I don't have money to put up a fence . . . but the municipality says it is my responsibility to keep squatters off," he said.

Some residents say they live in fear of Govender, who wants to demolish the shacks to make way for a development. Last November, the high court interdicted the municipality from demolishing the shacks.

Richard Pithouse, of the shack dwellers' movement, Abahlali base Mjondolo, witnessed the incident on Friday, when the newspaper was trying to take photographs of industrial waste allegedly dumped near the homes.

While the photographer was taking pictures of residents, including a 6-year-old child, two men came running towards them, shouting.

The men threatened to "f . . . up" the photographer.

The photographer said two men had asked him who had given them permission to take photographs.

"Richard Pithouse said we were living in a democracy and we could take any photographs we wanted," the photographer said. "They continued to shout and get aggressive . . . at this point, the ladies (including the reporter) and the child moved away."

"Richard and I were cornered by three men, who continued to shout and swear at us . . . they demanded the camera and pushed and poked me, all the time refusing to let Richard and I pass them. One of them then forcefully and violently took my camera away from me, and took out the memory card," he said.

The reporter telephoned her colleagues at the newspaper, who consulted lawyers and contacted the police, who travelled to the scene.

Pithouse said in an affidavit that one man had told the photographer that they would "find him and have him killed" if The Mercury ran a story.

"He said he had shotguns in his house, and that he had the support of the Pinetown SAPS and Jacob Zuma. He stressed how well connected he was and mentioned Zuma's name a couple of times."

Pithouse said one Metro Police officer had drawn his weapon when they arrived.

An argument had ensued, during which one man claimed that the Mercury team was trespassing. The Mercury team contended there were no signs to indicate they were on private land.

There was a tug-of-war between a constable and one of the men over photographs that had been printed off the photographer's memory stick. The police ordered the men to return the memory stick or face charges of theft. They did so.

"The Mercury team was escorted out of Motala by the police," said Pithouse. This was confirmed by the Metro Police.

Click here to see the Freedom of Expression Institute statement that makes reference to the threats against Mercury journalists by Ricky Govender, dubbed the Mugabe of Motala (on account of his attitude towards both the media and shack dwellers).

Are We Doing Enough to House the Poor in Durban?

Are we doing enough to house the poor in Durban?

This story appeared on May 4 in The Mercury

Unveiling the eThekwini Municipality’s R17.4 billion budget, Mayor Obed Mlaba has taken issue with critics who complained that Durban was spending R500 million on a new soccer stadium instead of building more houses for the poor.

Mlaba defended the city’s spending on major infrastructure like the stadium, saying: “When one simply gives away houses to the poor who have no means of sustaining themselves or building communities, you had better be sure that you have other income-generating programmes in place to pick up the slack.”

On top of the R500 million the city is spending on the new stadium, it would like to spend another R2 billion on infrastructure to showcase Durban during the 2010 World Cup.

Before his budget speech on Monday, Mlaba asked councillors to observe a minute’s silence for the three people from the Kennedy Road informal settlement who died when a fire swept through the settlement at the weekend.

The settlement is one of scores dotted around the city that are home to an estimated 800 000 people who live in about 200 000 informal houses.Mlaba said he was optimistic that the city would be able to double the number of houses it built annually, from 16 000 to 32 000.

He did not specify how this would be done, but said: “Doubling the number shouldn’t be a problem . . . We want to move away from apartheid planning and draw people closer to their places of work.” Mlaba said building houses was not the task of the government. “The ideal situation would be where the government is not building houses. We are doing so because of the negligence of the last government.”

ANC councillor Nigel Gumede, who heads the city’s housing committee, said: “We have to double up production and we will do that with the assistance of the National Housing Agency. We are also contemplating establishing our own housing company to spearhead the delivery of houses.”
Gumede said that the council had become a victim of its own efficiency.

“We should discourage people from building new shacks. Our focus is to eradicate shacks, but (by building houses) the message to people in the townships is to move into shacks.”In the 2007/08 budget, the council has pledged to spend R543 million on low-cost housing projects and R210 million on housing infrastructure, while R60 million is being spent on upgrading hostels.

City Treasurer Krish Kumar said another R112 million had been budgeted to supply water and electricity to new low-cost houses.

He said the city’s expenditure on housing this year was 5% more than last year’s.

S’bu Zikode, the President of Abahlali baseMjondolo (a movement of shack dwellers), asked Mlaba or city officials to present their plans to shack dwellers.

“For two years we have been asking the city for its housing plans and for the lists of people who will get houses. We have asked for this information before and we get complicated policy documents in reply. The city needs to answer simple questions, like where is it building houses and for whom. It needs to tell a grandmother if she will get a house and when, so she can make alternative arrangements if she isn’t going to get one.”

Zikode said that the province’s Prevention of the Re-emergence and Elimination of Slums Bill did not talk about upgrading informal settlements. Instead it was about relocating people from work opportunities, which went against stated ANC policy.

DA Caucus Leader John Steenhuisen endorsed Zikode’s call for open discussion on housing.”

This affects us all and yet the ANC tends to regard it as their turf. We would like to explore different options, like maybe prefabricated structures to accommodate people temporarily, ones that are fire-safe and can be re-used when people move to formal houses. Unless we do this, the goal of clearing slums by 2014 will be a pipe dream,” he said.