In 1994 the ANC revealed a radical policy decision that was going to leave a massive impact on our society and its urban fabric. They promised to provide houses for all South Africans who had been deprived of dignified housing, and initiated the Reconstruction and Development Programme to bring this dream, among other tasks, to fruition. I cannot fault the sentiment of this dream, for I don’t think anyone would not like to see every South African happy in a home.
This dream has been the biggest challenge the government has faced. However, despite significant successes in the first decade of democracy, it has failed to stop rampant corruption. They have also failed to undo another crucial injustice of the apartheid regime – its spatial planning. This planning resulted in people living far away from their places of work, forcing them to spend hours commuting to economic centres to work and shop.
Today, this legacy is still with us, and needs fresh thinking if we are to make our cities open, liveable and attractive for all to work and live in. Many investors tell me that they have fat balance sheets to invest, but are deterred from investing because of crime. It’s a Catch 22 situation, and I’m determined to break the deadlock.
If we are to start in the centre, then we need to accelerate the inner-city renewal that is already taking place. My administration will mobilise every city property available, and engage constructively with the business community to transform derelict, abandoned and under-utilised buildings into proper housing for a variety of income levels. Mixed-use will be strongly encouraged, so that buildings are a dynamic mix of housing, shelters, schools and businesses. Urban spaces must include properly maintained parks, playgrounds and safe streets.
Archaic and complicated zoning practices need to be simplified and streamlined if we are to ensure a healthy pace of development. Common sense should dictate how our cities are laid out. We should give everyone the right to build up to three storeys in order to encourage density, particularly if surrounded by taller buildings. Commercial zoning should be highly flexible, so that we don’t end up with sterile CBDs which are empty at night. This should be combined with a building approval system that turns around applications in a week.
I do feel that our current affinity for sprawling security estates and mega-malls is not going to build the open society that we dream of – nor are they going to undo the legacy of apartheid spatial planning. Our suburbs should be a happy mix of townhouses, apartment blocks, and businesses which are accessible from the street. While we as South Africans do place a great priority on a four-walled building with a pitched roof and garden, we need to change our thinking and our priorities if we are to transform our cities and our society.
We must move away from the city planning which put the car first, and move to planning that puts people first. This means public transportation that runs at all hours, and follows routes which people need. It also means well lit, wide pavements on both sides of the road, with traffic lights built to enable pedestrian access. Rea Vaya should be rolled out along every major route in Johannesburg, and must work with the Gautrain and taxis. People should be able to walk and ride in safety between their homes and destinations.
We must also acknowledge that we simply don’t have the budget to give every person a house. In-situ settlement upgrading and construction of rental stock must become our new priority – based on the latest contemporary research, and not heart-tugging, hollow political promises.
I believe that housing is more than simply four walls and a roof – it is the basis for creating a home and a safe space to live. This need is universal, and dignified housing is a right which every South African should be able to realise. We mustn’t see informality as illegality, but as a reality which can be addressed by assisting people with upgrades – upgrades which can form the basis of future formal housing.
I promise that my administration will provide housing that reflects this new thinking, and which proactively changes the face of housing in Johannesburg forever. Not only is it the right thing to, it is a beautiful thing to do. It is, in fact, a new vision of society for our great city. DM