Our only hope of creating an enabling environment for lower income households to access and create better opportunities is to open our towns and cities up to everyone.
The 600-page Report of the High Level Panel on the assessment of key legislation and the acceleration of fundamental change makes for inspirational reading.
The depth of historical and contextual understanding displayed therein, as well as its willingness to question previously held “sacred cows” like our ideas of property rights and the distortion of the role of traditional leadership in current legislation, gives the document moral authority and demands rigorous engagement.
Chapter 5 of the document deals with spatial inequality that is “a geography marked by segregation and deep inequities across space”. It looks at inequality between rural and urban areas, former Bantustans and commercial farmlands and within cities, between the core and the periphery. Every aspect deserves thorough engagement but I would like to focus on urban inequality as it pertains to unequal access to housing.
The report highlights deplorable conditions which persist to date as a consequence of spatial inequality. The way in which South African cities are spatially organised serves as a poverty trap in which poor people are confined to the periphery, yet life on the periphery reduces their chances of finding work. The country’s urban structure therefore deprives the poor of their socio-economic rights, which ultimately undermines social cohesion and equal citizenship.
One way to address these problems is through mixed income housing. This mode of housing delivery has massive potential to integrate lower income people into established neighbourhoods that can begin to address spatial inequity throughout cities.
There are several practical restraints ranging from mundane bureaucratic regulations and the fear-mongering and alarmist attitudes of developers towards mixed income housing to sincerely dismantle the geographic walls that perpetuate the status quo.
Those arguing that the City of Johannesburg’s proposal to compel developers to provide a minimum of 20% “low” and “low-middle” income housing units as part of broader efforts to foster urban integration in each new residential development will lead to a developer “strike” to the extent that developments will not be viable are intemperate reactions that seek to maintain urban spaces as they were during apartheid.
If developers are concerned about the financial viability of mixed-income developments, they should be part of the conversation about finding new ways of encouraging social integration in urban spaces.
It isn’t that there is no way, the problem is there is no will on the part of private developers and property owners. Under these circumstances it is the prerogative of the government to provide access to adequate housing as per Section 26 of the Constitution.
RDP housing was a start in the state’s compliance with Section 26. We know now that an inadvertent consequence of that policy has been to entrench apartheid spatial planning, and that this model has not done enough to encourage and enhance social cohesion and urban integration.
This spatial set up has led to the replacement of racial exclusion by socio-economic exclusion. Our only hope of creating an enabling environment for lower income households to access as well as create better opportunities is to open our towns and cities up to everyone.
At this time when our country is engulfed in the debate around land reform, we dare not forget that the inequality in urban spaces affects millions of South Africans.
We will need a visionary and expansive reorganising of our society in order to create the material conditions necessary to make the rainbow nation more than a theoretical, abstract and distant dream in urban spaces.
It’s time that private developers and property owners come to the party. DM
Solly Malatsi MP is DA Shadow Minister of Human Settlements
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