Category Archives: Lauren Royston

Business Day: Making up lost ground in SA’s informal settlements

The report from this conference is online here.

Making up lost ground in SA’s informal settlements
Published: 2010/11/15 07:32:29 AM


IN THE midst of current debates about access to information and media freedom there are important political developments happening around another vital part of South African society. And no, it’s not the National Health Insurance or public sector wages (although these are critically important).

We’re talking about the upgrading of informal settlements.

According to Statistics SA, as of mid- 2009, 13,4% of households in SA lived in informal dwellings. There are more than 2700 informal settlements consisting of about 1,2-million households.

In spite of a progressive upgrading of informal settlements programme being in the National Housing Code since 2004, informal settlements have been characterised as sites of illegality, and shack dwellers treated in a heavy-handed and undignified manner. In recent months Hangberg residents, and members of the shack-dweller movements, Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Landless People’s Movement, have experienced this treatment in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

A far cry from the “eradication” discourse that has characterised informal settlement approaches in the past, the upgrading of informal settlements programme highlights the importance of assisting people with tenure security and access to services on site, and states that relocation is a last resort — to be undertaken only in exceptional circumstances on a voluntary, co-operative basis.

It’s about land and services first, houses later. This is the message the National Upgrading Support Programme — a partnership between the Department of Human Settlements and the Cities Alliance, set up to support the implementation of the informal settlement upgrading programme — is seeking to reinforce through, among others, the creation of a “community of practice”, a forum of public-sector practitioners in which lessons can be learnt and capacity-building can take place.

It is at the municipal level that pressures are most acutely felt, and where the planning for development takes place, including identifying informal settlements for upgrade and setting targets for delivery using municipal planning instruments — integrated development plans and their associated “housing chapters”, or housing-sector plans.

The accreditation of municipalities with the housing function is under consideration for the metropolitan municipalities and some of the secondary cities. Depending on the accreditation level, municipal autonomy over the application of the provincial housing subsidy is set to increase. This should give local planning in the housing sector more teeth and reinforce the municipal priorities.

As a result, however, communities living in informal settlements need to be “on the list” or “in the integrated development plan ” if they are to have any hope of upgrade in the foreseeable future (or at least the five-year term of office, which is the planning horizon of municipal plans). If they are not, then there are no other options, as they are excluded from the “normal” residential property market. Unless people register on the housing demand database (a new name for a housing waiting list) and wait patiently for houses to be built or their name to come up, they are identified as queue-jumpers at best, and very often as illegal. Clear, open and well- understood rules for inclusion on these lists are essential, as need far exceeds what the government is able to supply.

Reality, as always, is complex. Implementation of the upgrading of informal settlements programme has been slow or poorly conceived, and plagued by various obstacles, not least the lack of capacity at the local level as well as political will to do incremental settlement upgrading for poor people on what is often very well-located land. For some officials and politicians, this smacks too much of historical “site and service” schemes and does not have the immediate political clout that cutting ribbons on houses does.

Further, identifying informal settlements for upgrade is often the subject of much less obvious processes than the rational allocation of resources and participative planning methodologies envisaged in policy. This is a particular risk in a local government election year, when delivery promises are routinely made, sometimes to specific communities.

The question of access and inclusion — of being on the list, or in the integrated development plan — is not new but it was recently reinforced at a workshop in Johannesburg organised by LANDfirst, a network of civil society organisations advocating a pro-poor approach to land access that emphasises incremental settlement, together with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA. This event brought together community-based organisations, social movements, nongovernmental organisations, think-tanks, lawyers and academics working on informal settlement upgrading and managed land settlement, as well as the Department of Human Settlements. The issue of informal settlement identification — of being on the list — was given a new emphasis because of a shift in our development context.

Earlier in the year we heard President Jacob Zuma and ministers Tokyo Sexwale and Edna Molewa talk about the government’s plan to provide tenure and services to 400000 households in well-located informal settlements by 2014. This is central to Zuma’s signature outcomes-based approach to service delivery.

Recently, the delivery agreement for outcome eight — sustainable human settlements and improved quality of household life — signed between Zuma and Sexwale has entrenched this objective. The next step is for Sexwale to sign agreements with provincial MECs, and for the identification of informal settlements for upgrading to be finalised.

As promising as the renewed emphasis on on-site upgrading appears to be, for those at the workshop a priority question was about how the process for the identification of informal settlements for upgrading is taking place. Transparency, flexibility and the involvement of community organisations, social movements and other civil society groups should be critical to this process, as with the upgrading process in general. The workshop identified the need to create a national platform for discussion on informal settlement and land-access issues, as well as the need to bridge the gap between community needs and technocratic “delivery”. A call for dialogue between all parties and enhanced collaboration between different role- players on the ground, was articulated.

We need to identify and learn from a range of “good practice” happening throughout the country, in order to replicate these at scale. The political space being created by current developments is welcomed by many who have consistently campaigned in various ways for the implementation of the upgrading programme over the years.

The creation of equitable towns and cities that provide dignity and quality of life for all inhabitants is not a pipe dream.

However, to become a reality, it requires the collective buy-in and energy of local government officials, communities, social movements, planners, engineers and nongovernmental organisations.

The right kind of policy instrument is in place. The political space appears to have opened. A programme of support has been established. The time is now, and we cannot afford to make the same mistakes again.

– Tissington is research and advocacy officer at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA. Royston is tenure theme co-ordinator at Urban LandMark.

Business Day: Victory for engagement in relocation from San Jose

AN IMPORTANT chapter in the lives of 450 residents of the Johannesburg inner city drew to a close recently, when they voluntarily moved out of “San Jose” in Berea and 197 Main Street in Johannesburg. In 2003 and 2004, the city had declared both buildings unfit for habitation and made a court application to evict the residents.

The residents moved into the converted MBV Hospital in central Johannesburg and the Old Perm building in Hillbrow.

There, they have water, electricity, sanitation and shared cooking and ablution facilities. The city made the buildings available for a rental which will be no more than 25% of the residents’ household income (which is, on average, about R600 a month).

The city, which spent three years trying to evict the residents, has now become their landlord.

On taking leave of the unit he had been sharing at San Jose, one resident borrowed the words of Martin Luther King Jr, proclaiming “Free at last!” as he took the last of his belongings downstairs.

Free indeed. He left a building that was on its last legs, with no water, no electricity and no security. The only thing going for it was that it was better and safer than homelessness — this man’s only other option in the absence of state assistance.

The relocation came at the end of a court battle during which the residents were represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Webber Wentzel Attorneys.

In March 2006, Johannesburg High Court Judge Mahomed Jajbhay dismissed the City of Johannesburg’s application to evict the residents on health and safety grounds because the residents had nowhere better or safer to live.

In a judgment on appeal against that decision handed down in March last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered that the residents be evicted but that temporary emergency shelter be provided at a location to be determined by the city.

In a further appeal against the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling, initiated by the residents, the Constitutional Court refused an eviction order and directed the city and the residents to engage meaningfully with a view to resolving their differences.

During that period of engagement, the city dropped its initial refusal to provide alternative accommodation to the residents. It offered, and the residents accepted, temporary homes in the MBV and Old Perm properties, until suitable permanent housing solutions could be developed for them.

While it prepared new homes for the residents, the city would reconnect the residents’ water supply at San Jose and 197 Main Street and supply portable toilets, refuse removal services and fire extinguishers.

The agreement was endorsed by the Constitutional Court on November 5 last year.

But preparing new homes for the residents was to take much longer than initially thought. It would be another nine months before the city completed construction work on the two buildings.

During this time, the residents and their advisers worked on the social process of allocating people in diverse existing household configurations to the new buildings. The trick was to match people and households to residential rooms that were either internal subdivisions of former open-plan office spaces or were once hospital wards of different sizes and shapes.

Decisions about the particular building a resident would move to and with whom they would live were difficult and in some cases controversial. The active participation of all of the residents, mediated through a committee, was vital to ensure everyone’s reasonable needs were met.

All the residents had the opportunity to inspect the rooms that they were to occupy in advance. There followed a process in which residents made representations on the suitability of the accommodation and requested alterations to the buildings themselves or the rooms that they had been allocated. Securing agreement on the final state of the buildings and individual residents’ destinations was a time-consuming process. It was, however, essential to maintain community support for the relocation.

The engagement process between the residents, their representatives and the city continued through winter. The residents’ frustration at the delay in preparing the new buildings for occupation was heightened by cold weather and rising paraffin prices.

Inexplicably and without notice, Johannesburg Water disconnected San Jose’s water supply three times during this period. Each disconnection was swiftly followed by a fulsome apology from the city’s chief lawyer and an immediate reconnection, but this did little to reassure the residents that the city was taking the process seriously.

Firm evidence of the city’s commitment, however, came early last month, when it confirmed that the Old Perm and MBV properties were finally ready for occupation.

The move took place between August 23 and 26. Sixteen-storey San Jose emptied one floor at a time, starting at the top. Security guards were posted outside the building from the start of the relocation, as were housing officials, who were co-ordinating the move from the city’s side. The city provided trucks and movers. As the residents had insisted, there was not a “red ant” in sight.

Two residents’ committee members were the last to leave San Jose. As they completed their last floor-by-floor check, and bade their own farewell to a place they had called home for 10 years, the security guards stepped inside.

The San Jose and 197 Main Street relocation has established a beachhead for the poor in the inner city. Around a third of the inner city’s population is too poor to pay for decent housing without some form of state assistance.

The MBV and Old Perm properties are tiny oases of public housing in the middle of what is, for the poor, the desert of the inner-city residential property market. They are also a symbol of what the state can do when it stops making excuses and starts delivering.

What was labelled “impossible” by the city just a few short years ago has now been achieved, largely through active and (mostly) positive engagement with the poor communities. Ironically, it was the difficulty the city had with the idea of engaging with poor people that formed much of the basis for its reluctance to implement an inner-city housing programme in the first place.

Ultimately, though, the MBV and Old Perm buildings are monuments to our constitution and the socioeconomic rights entrenched therein. For without rights to stand on and courts to enforce them, the residents of San Jose and 197 Main Street would have been on the streets years ago.

# Hathorn, Royston and Wilson have been advising the San Jose and 197 Main Street communities on their housing rights for several years.