Protesting for better lives

2010-03-27 00:00

“CITIES without slums”, with former president Nelson Mandela as patron, is the slogan of the World Bank and United Nations (UN) programme for human settlements.

By 2020 the living conditions of 100 million slum dwellers must have improved.

Probably emulating World Bank and UN thinking, the South African government insists that informal settlements, or squatter camps, will be eradicated by 2014.

The unsightly areas will be an embarrassment during the hosting of the Soccer World Cup later this year.

Politicians are using strong words like “eradicate”, “eliminate” and “zero tolerance” — which are creating fear and resentment among squatter camps’ residents.

Experts say both of these expectations are pipe dreams. In South Africa, squatters are likely to increase rather than decrease. The sooner that is acknowledged, the sooner solutions can be found.

THE world’s more than one billion slum dwellers are increasing rapidly and will double in the next 30 years. The urban population is growing by 200 000 people a day, or six million a month.

Rapid urbanisation, especially following major political changes, creates greater expectations than any political system can meet. This often leads to political violence. South Africa will experience this increasingly.

Rapid urbanisation occurs particularly in Third World countries. In sub-Saharan Africa 72% of the urban population live in slums.

AFTER the abolition of influx control in 1986, but especially after 1994, many hopeful people started streaming to South Africa’s cities and towns.

Illegal immigrants started descending on South Africa, particularly from other African countries.

This will continue for many more years. Only half of the black population are urbanised. The resources in the former homelands in particular are becoming increasingly depleted and families are increasingly following migrant workers to the cities.

Furthermore, there is an inability and unwillingness to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.

The number of squatter camps has increased from about 300 in 1994 to 2 600.

More than half of the black population lives below the poverty line. The unemployment figure stands at roughly 25% and in the past year more than one million jobs evaporated, giving many people no option but to settle in squatter camps.

Minister Tokyo Sexwale’s pronouncement that farmers have driven “millions of black people” from their farms, and that this is the reason for the squatter camps, reveals that he is seriously uninformed.

In his state of the nation address President Jacob Zuma quietly moved the goalposts when he announced that 500 000 households in informal settlements will have been upgraded by 2014.

Rapid urbanisation in the future will take place mainly in big cities surrounded by growing squatter camps. Gauteng’s population will grow to 15 million by about 2020.

The greatest concentrations of poor people are in southern Gauteng as far as Sasolburg; northern Gauteng (Mabopane-Winterveld); the Cape Flats; Durban-Pietermaritzburg; and at Polokwane.

Open spaces are being increasingly occupied in urban areas and large numbers of people sleep in shelters in urban areas overnight.

EXPERTS say it is not — either financially or as far as available land is concerned.

The erection of more than 2,7 million houses since 1994 at a cost of more than R100 billion, providing housing for more than 13 million people, is laudable.

People can understand the government’s desire to eliminate the estimated 1,5 million backlog of houses after 1994. The erection of houses is popular among politicians worldwide because it is a tangible demonstration of progress.

This housing programme has contributed a great deal to relieving poverty.

But is a formal house a newly urbanised person’s greatest priority?

First and foremost people come to cities to find jobs. A house ties a worker down. Between 2001 and 2006, three million people moved around between South Africa’s large urban areas.

Housing backlogs will be difficult to eliminate because of the following factors:

Urbanisation is occurring more rapidly than anticipated. In the Western Cape the immigration rate is more than 10% per annum.

Households are multiplying rapidly as children leave their parents’ homes and the chances of obtaining a free house increase.

Available land is become increasingly scarce and more expensive. There are long delays with rezoning. High density is inevitable, but at higher building costs.

Building costs are escalating rapidly. At current financing and with a housing shortage of 450 000 it will take more than 20 years to eliminate backlogs in the Western Cape, for example.

There is much criticism: free houses create a spirit of dependency; people who would otherwise have seen to their own housing are sitting back; corruption is increasing; and recipients are selling or renting out their houses and returning to live in squatter camps.

Poor building quality has necessitated the complete rebuilding of 40 000 houses. Land is being illegally occupied and demands then made for housing.

So waiting lists are growing longer and patience shorter.

There are many success stories regarding the clearing and upgrading of squatter camps.

There are also cases of the uprooting of communities that are being moved even further away from their places of work.

WORLDWIDE the provision of low-cost housing and the elimination of squatter camps is becoming difficult.

Researchers mention the paternalistic attitude of many urban authorities who say that the development of squatter camps is undesirable.

The acceptance of squatter camps as an unavoidable reality in the urbanisation process has led to a major mind shift worldwide.

This new thinking can be summarised as follows:

• Accept squatter camps as an integral part of the urbanisation process.

• Home security is more important than home ownership.

• Make land with basic services like sanitation and water available timeously where people can settle in order to prevent illegal occupation of land.

) Economic and social integration, involving all three levels of government in linking rural areas, as well as squatter camps to urban areas, is the key.

) Plan with people instead of for them.

) Move away from providing housing to supporting people in building their own.

) Upgrading of squatter camps is preferable to eliminating them and uprooting many people.

The above all points to the need for rethinking and unpopular decision-making.

) Danger signs are everywhere in cities and towns.

In 2007, rural development was identified as a priority, which is diametrically opposed to the World Bank’s advice, which recommends urban development as the greatest chance for successful development.

) Globally, strong political leadership, will power and a commitment to achieving spatial planning objectives are the cornerstones for successful urban development. The National Planning Commission is able to fulfil this role to a great extent.

) Ever higher security fences around wealthy residential areas and adjacent growing squatter camps of corrugated iron, cardboard and plastic promise nothing good for the future.

)

What makes South Africa any different from the rest of the world and particularly Africa?

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Will government achieve the objective of eliminating squatter camps by 2014?

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Is the policy regarding the provision of housing sustainable?

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What lessons can we learn from the rest of the world?

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