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Western Cape has tried a new approach to housing — and it’s bearing fruit

Western Cape has tried a new approach to housing — and it’s bearing fruit
Shack settlements like this one in Mfuleni, Cape Town were once thought to be temporary. But government policy has to adapt to and accept that they are permanent, according to the author. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

The programme accepts that informal settlements are a major part of our cities.

Over the past five years, the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements has scaled up its support of informal settlements. With eight organisations, it has implemented the Informal Settlements Support Programme (ISSP) in municipalities across the province.

The programme accepts that informal settlements in our cities are permanent and that the state does not have the funding to stop their growth by building enough houses.

The Western Cape Government has said that despite “previous convictions” informal settlements are a “permanent feature of the provincial landscape and cannot be eradicated in a short space of time” and with government’s funding and capacity.

The ISSP anticipated a shift by the state, away from subsidising the building of houses and towards serviced sites. It included organisations to develop partnerships between municipal government and informal settlement communities to improve living conditions.

To date 14 municipalities in 52 informal settlements, consisting of about 40,000 households, have benefitted in various ways. These have included detailed surveys and maps of settlements, the establishment of community structures that take part in municipal decisions, upgrade plans, providing much-needed services, working with the public works programme to recruit and train residents to carry out upgrades, community based planning, and conflict resolution training.

The ISSP has shown a new approach to informal settlement upgrading with a focus on often neglected towns in the Western Cape.

In Cape Agulhas Municipality, enumerations of informal settlements in Bredasdorp, Struisbaai and Napier helped the municipality develop upgrading plans for each settlement, and will lead to state-funded upgrading projects starting in several informal settlements.

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In Villiersdorp (Theewaterskloof Municipality) an enumeration of eight settlements (4,500 structures) identified almost 2,000 households that had no access to sanitation and still used the bucket system.

In Worcester (Breede Valley Municipality) the ISSP programme established community leadership structures for approximately 4,600 informal households in Zwelethemba informal settlement. Now, community leadership is actively involved in plans for settlement upgrading and held officials to account. Also, 15 EPWP workers were selected and trained in specific areas related to informal settlement upgrading.

The uptake from municipalities has varied, with some embracing the shift and others resisting change. Resistance stems from entrenched hierarchies, relationships with external contractors, and patterns of practice that have existed for decades under the old housing subsidy approach.

A lack of clarity from national government as to how the new site and service approach to informal settlements will be implemented has led to uncertainty and confusion at the municipal level.

The ISSP should be recognised for what it has already achieved and it should be supported so that it continues. The experience of the ISSP must inform the national debate; it offers concrete suggestions on how a site and service driven programme could be implemented.

There is a desperate need for projects to demonstrate how informal settlements can be upgraded. Projects need to rebuild strained relationships between poor communities and local government. Project sites can become learning centres for neighbouring communities, municipalities and their officials.

Several municipalities have shown the political will to proceed. Capacity is often lacking but with the support of specialised organisations, such challenges are not insurmountable. The energy is there on the ground. The state needs to show the same commitment as the people. Municipalities must accept the support offered to them. Only a partnership between these communities and municipalities can provide a sustainable outcome. DM

Noah Schermbrucker is programme co-ordinator for Peoples Environmental Planning who participated as one of the eight non-government organisations in the ISSP programme.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s. 

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Only in the Western Cape could this pro-active action take place. Viva DA!

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      If the DA is so good, why do they only come forward with this now? I suggested this within the ranks of the DA while I was still part of it, more than 20 years ago. It is obvious that the DA actually tends to take the lead from the ANC and then just pretend that it comes from them. It is the same as with the morally totally flawed open-air toilets in Kayalitsha about what, 16 years ago; Helen Zille then justified it by pointing out that the ANC has done it somewhere. And it is the same with this; as the article recently suggested, the government actually resolved that this is the future of housing that they will be working towards. But at least the DA is giving some substance to the vision, something that the ANC in turn is apparently lacking. Maybe this is an indication of which coalition should take SA forward from 2024 – one between the DA and ANC.

      • Paddy Ross says:

        Not sure why you require four consecutive comments to make your point but the DA must have done something terrible to make you so upset?

      • Eyes Wide Shut says:

        Eish! At least it’s being done. And I hope it works and makes the people in the Western Cape live better lives. But your beef with the DA needs to be taken up directly with them, I think. Coalition with ANC only if the DA holds the purse strings and military/police.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      At last some common sense is starting to dawn onto SA’s politicians! But let us get a few things straight – the current RDP housing provision strategy only exists because of the ANC’s ideological commitments and it is not really meant to uplift people or to benefit the poor. So to stop building houses and rather to see that more stands are provided, that they are properly serviced with WORKING toilets and that the necessary quality controls are present with EACH house being checked, and if it is not OK, to then rectify it, more effort and money should be spent on that. And if the public wants to use shacks for housing, let them do it! The only condition is that it must be safe, especially with the connection of electricity. In this article and the one in GroundUp I see a reluctance to realise that the vast majority of persons in need of housing does not have a reliable source of income and therefore can’t rely on loans; they will have to upgrade their houses as they go along, with money that they accumulate. Yet both articles still seem to assume that everyone will immediately start to build brick houses or something. In the townships I have seen amazingly beautiful houses from corrugated iron, that would make the community poorer if it has to be demolished. Besides, if the construction of houses is left to the owners of stands, they will then have the freedom to construct it according to their wishes. As Sisulu said, the money can then go to provide properly services stands.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      . . . But let us also get back to basics regarding where the real money has to go into regarding the provision of accommodation. Firstly, before anything else is done, EACH AND EVERY municipality should be compelled (by law, if it is not the case already) to start surveys into the influx and outflow of residents into each and every town and city in SA. This information must be of such quality that it is sufficient to make a reasonable projection of how much housing is needed ten years onward. Then this information should be used to source stands without delay in order to give the municipality the time to source money and proclaim enough stands with proper quality services (which must be checked – each stand) for the projected number of families. Take note that it is not sufficient to only do this per municipality – it has to be done for every town, because those who rely on public housing are mostly not affluent enough to travel large distances to work/school and back. The finances required for this must not be underestimated – it can give permanent work to thousands of people for the thousands of towns/townships in SA. Then some assistance with the quality of construction and the installation of sun geasers in each dwelling should be subsidized, and dare I say that, to alleviate Eskom’s problems, maybe sunpanels and batteries too. The provision of the dwelling itself can be left to the public – I don’t see any shortage of skills in that in the townships.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      . . . Another area where a lot of finances will have to go into is in the timeous upgrading of infrastructure – access roads, electrical (including substations and electricity generation), sanitation capacity (and with this I specifically refer to increased capacity of the sanitation plants), water (including dams, bulk water pipes, pumps, everything), more schools, community halls, creches, police stations, hospitals, etc. Because my experience is that this normally does not happen, and that is why the municipalities are not in a position to pay Eskom, Eskom does not have enough electricity, there is a shortage of water, the sanitation water runs in the streets, the roads gradually are becoming extremely congested in the bigger townships, a shortage of school classrooms and teachers exist, the SAPS is not able to keep the towns and townships safe; and so on. A lot more money (meaning HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of rands) should be prioritized into these areas. As far as I know these areas are main source of frustration to the public, not their inability to construct their own houses. And then after this has been rectified, while a certain standard of safety for shack dwellings can be set, persons who want to upgrade that house to a proper wood or brick house can then be assisted as suggested. But we have to take note of the required standards that the people themselves want and can afford. Currently the ignorance of the political class towards that is their biggest sin of all.

      • Menahem Fuchs says:

        Can I suggest that rather than trying to get your views across by using the comments section on someone else’s article, you submit an op-ed to DM – I’m sure they will be open to publishing it. I cannot comment on whether your views are worthwhile or not, but I can tell you that they are lost here and come across as reactionary rather than constructive.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      . . . Lastly more attention should be given to the monitoring of who comes over the borders, because a lot of the housing and stands seem to come into the hands of illegal immigrants. I am not saying we should become zenophobic; all I am saying is that if someone wants to enter SA, it should be in the legal way through the front door of the customs on our borders, so their entrance is documented and their presence can then be accommodated through more capacity of services (of course then it will greatly enhance the cause of law and order and many other issues too, but here it is the proper planning and provisioning of housing that is relevant). Fact is that every illegal immigrant that comes over our borders a need for housing is created that are not going to be planned for. It also means that a lot more money should go into the planning of far bigger capacity for our customs offices on the borders and even assistance for our neighbouring countries with larger capacity of the same; or we come to an agreement (maybe that has already been done) inside the SADC region to merge our customs so there is only one office for both countries, the one you are leaving and the one you are entering. As far as I know this has already been done at the new bridge between Botswana and Zambia over the Zambezi – so why can’t it be done here also? All that is needed for that is some political will and vision.

  • firstgraham says:

    This is the only way communities will survive in SA, waiting for services from the Government is like the definition of insanity, doing the same things and expecting a different result. Having just visited the W Cape for 4 weeks holiday it was like being in a different country compared to Dustbin, sorry I mean Durban. There is a completely different vibe in CT which comes from a different leadership focused on service delivery and doing what’s best for the community at large. As always it starts from the top, there must be a willingness and capacity to do the right things, to want to serve the customer – your community. They will reward you with positive support, their money and their vote. Such a simple process really Mr President, you should try it.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    A fantastic approach! Making a start and learning as you go what works is exactly the way to engage everybody, empower the poor and move forward. I really hope this inspires other provinces to take steps to improve people’s living conditions.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    Excellent! If you cannot resolve the problem in the best way, the Western Cape has not given up and just left it unresolved, which is the norm, but has adopted a new approach, which might not be optimal, but at least it makes life in the communities supportable.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    I must say I am disappointed with our polical fraternity that they only now discover that this approach is the best one for our housing needs. I have suggested bacically the same thing already more than 20 years ago.

  • Joe Soap says:

    This is what happens when politicians focus on problems and their solution, and not on their own self-enritchment.

  • Ben Davy says:

    I’m surprised the article doesn’t mention Blikkiesdorp, a terrible violation of human dignity committed by the Cape Town planners. In order to let street people vanish for the benefit of international visitors of the FIFA World Cup, an inhumane TRA was created that, unsurprisingly, became permanent. Blikkiesdorp is not a township created during Apartheid, but a concentration camp created post-apartheid under the eyes of the DA. It’s high time to provide dignified housing to the unfortunate residents of Blikkiesdorp and to dismantle the cruel settlement.

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