Notes from the ABM workshop in Pinetown on Sunday, 27 February 2011

Click here to see some photographs of this workshop.

Notes from the ABM workshop in Pinetown on Sunday, 27 February 2011

Speakers: Shamita Naidoo (Motala Heights) and Marie Huchzermeyer (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)


Shamita found out that most of the land at Motala Heights is owned by the eThekwini Municipality and the National Housing Board but the National Housing Board didn’t even know that they have the land at Motala Heights.

Years ago, some of the land was given to the poor to make a livelihood on that land but now some of these landowners are trying to make money from that land by renting it to others and asking for high rents.

The councilor says that Motala heights cannot be developed because it is on DMOSS land. [Note: DMOSS stands for “Durban Metropolitan Open Space System” and it was previously known as “eThekwini Environmental Services Management Plan” (EESMP). DMOSS land is important for biodiversity and environmental conservation more generally.]

Last month Ricky Govender, a notorious local business man, destroyed the Nazareth temple by grading the area, claiming that it his land.It is against the law to destroy any site of religious worship (but the temple at Motala Heights was destroyed anyway).

Shamita also found out that there was a decision already in 1986 that Motala Heights should be used for Housing. But despite this decision, development never happened. It is therefore important that communities don’t wait for development to happen or to wait until Abahlali leaders start fighting for it but each community must get active and take the issue in their own hands.

Development means:
1. Roads
2. Water
3. Electricity
4. Sewage
5. Housing


Motala Heights is a microcosm of the issues that most informal settlements face – threats of removal, pressures for land to be used for ‘more profitable’ purposes. We all need to learn from the experience Shamita shared. It seems that as soon as informal settlement communities struggle for permanent rights to land and for improved services, they make real enemies.

The Informal Settlement Upgrading Program has been designed for those situations where land has been occupied and used for other purposes than planned (according to the zoning of the municipality). The idea is that in these situations (that is: in informal settlements) in-situ upgrading is better than building RDP houses. In other words, the program acknowledges the importance of in-situ upgrading and the (national) Government’s aim is to upgrade 400,000 shacks by 2014 and every province had to commit themselves to their respective share. Originally, however, the National Housing Code 2004 stated as a goal that all shacks should be upgraded until 2014.

Obviously, 400,000 is only a small proportion of what is needed and the problem is that the poor are not included in deciding which settlements are prioritized in the upgrading. This is currently decided in a top-down process and provinces and municipalities will always choose those settlements that are easiest to upgrade, which means that it might not be the neediest ones.

Marie stresses that it is the merit of AbM that the Government committed itself to the upgrading, especially by successfully challenging the Slums Act, because in its decision, the Constitutional Court ruled that feasibility of in-situ upgrading (Chapter 13) must be checked before anything else can be done in an informal settlement. This means that eviction and relocation is not allowed unless in-situ upgrading is not possible.

However, in 2009 national Department of Housing re-wrote its Housing Code. What was Chapter 13 is now Part 4 of the 2009 Housing Code. This is available on Unfortunately there is an important step backwards in the new upgrading program: in order to qualify for the ‘upgrading subsidy’, a number of formal conditions must be met. This is a step backwards because in the 2004 version, formal requirements could be suspended to the benefit all of the people who do not have IDs or other documents or for other reasons did not qualify for the subsidy. It used to be an inclusive area-based subsidy, rather than depending on the individual’s qualification for a housing subsidy,.

Another problem with the upgrading program is that municipalities use the promise of upgrading to prevent settlements growth by asking the community to prevent any new shacks to be added to the settlement or else there will be no upgrading at all. In this way, the community is easily divided and thereby weakened (as has happened in the recent case of the Hangberg settlement in Cape Town as well as earlier in Kennedy Road).

Marie asks the workshop participants how important it is to cater for growth when doing upgrading and the meeting agreed that it was important to consider especially the growth of the families that are already living there.

There are some people consultants who have suggested that informal settlement upgrading should be de-linked from the national housing subsidy and that municipal money should be used for the upgrading instead. It is then restricted to interim basic services and interim tenure rights. But the problem with that strategy is that in practice it translates into temporary solutions, not very different from being in a Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), with a certain level of basic services but still waiting for a permanent solution. The assumption in these proposals is that one day the households will move to formal housing. But there is little evidence that formal housing is rolled out in the right locations and at the right speed for this to be a promise in which people can put their trust.

The other problem is that municipalities are currently selecting a few settlements for this so-called ‘upgrading’, rather than applying the principle of investigating feasibility of permanent upgrading for every informal settlement as soon as possible. There still is a difficult struggle for most informal settlements against relocation and for in situ upgrading. This should not be the case.


Question regarding Intake view raised that they are also occupying the land that belongs to the private land owner. So they were asking if they could get the same maps as the Motala. Shamita advices them that she is willing to assist any community.

The workshop was then closed and Marie suggested that we need to have another such workshop to unpack some of the other issues further.