Working towards a slum-free SA

2009-02-24 00:00

Studying the comments by the judge president of the Durban High Court, Judge Vuka Tshabalala, when he dismissed the application by the the Abahlali baseMjondolo (shack dwellers) Movement SA to declare the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act 2007 unconstitutional, it became clear that a slum-free South Africa is possible in our lifetime.

Legal representatives of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement, probably without proper analysis of the act, tried to portray this important legislation, aimed at fast-tracking housing delivery through the eradication of informal settlements and prevention of re-emergence of slums, as an inhumane and unconstitutional legislation designed to allow the government to embark on irresponsible evictions of homeless people.

To further its purpose, the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement has deliberately ignored our consultative and partnership approach since 1994.

We strongly believe that if the lawyers of the movement had familiarised themselves with the Breaking New Ground (BNG) housing plan and the Slums Act, they would have realised that the act is about the elimination and prevention of re-emergence of slums, not evicting people who are already residing in informal settlements. They would have learnt that since 2004, the government has been implementing a plan to eradicate informal settlements by 2014 and that this is being done in consultation with slum dwellers and other stakeholders.

Additional research would have highlighted the fact that the government, Slum Dwellers International and other associations representing homeless people have signed partnership agreements to work together since 2004.

To borrow from the judge president’s comments: “The province of KwaZulu-Natal must be applauded for attempting to deal with the problem of slums and slum conditions. This is the first province to have adopted legislation such as the Slums Act. The Slums Act … must be given a chance to show off its potential to help deal with the problem of slums … ”

The Slums Act is inspired by the principles of our housing plan, the Comprehensive Plan for Development of Integrated Human Settlements popularly known as Breaking New Ground.

The judgment allows all provinces that have developed similar policies to finalise their legislations as soon as possible. The act not only provides remedies and instruments to eliminate and prevent the re-emergence of slums, but allows provinces and municipalities to plan the growth of cities in an integrated and sustainable manner.

The act brings to a halt the tendencies by some beneficiaries of government-subsidised houses to rent out their shacks after they have received a house. Municipalities would be able to demolish the shack and thus continue our national effort to eradicate slums. The act also ends what is commonly called “shack farming”, which is when people invade land and build shacks for rental and thus create havens for criminals.

The act empowers provinces and municipalities to implement and monitor regulations that prevent invasion of open land that leads to informal settlements.

By dismissing the case the judge president has dismissed the scaring tactics of many academics and those who seek to instil fear among homeless people for their individual or academic benefits. The court has confirmed our commitment that if we stop the emergence of new slums and formalise current informal settlements, a slum-free South Africa is possible.

The judge confirmed our approach that development must be sustainable and in consultation with communities. The court has declared that the government has a housing programme that is constitutional, consultative and there is no reason for communities to fear its implementation.

The government at all levels understands the challenges of homeless people. As all provinces move to finalise their acts there is no reason to fear. This government is responsible, which it has proved over the past 14 years.

• Ndivhuwo Wa Ha Mabaya is the head of media services in the Department of Housing.

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