SA scrambles to finalise housing plan for populated areas: 'You can’t put a cost on human lives'

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Alexandra in the foreground is a sprawling township in Johannesburg.
Alexandra in the foreground is a sprawling township in Johannesburg.

A massive housing initiative is under way to reduce the number of people living in congested areas in a bid to fight the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

McIntosh Polela, spokesperson for the Department of Human Settlements, told News24 a team of senior officials is currently planning to move some residents to ease population density in certain areas.

The plan is currently in the consultation phase, Polela added.

There are 29 informal settlements across South Africa which have been identified for the project, including four metros in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng.

READ | Plan to make land available for people in 29 'heavily populated areas'

Five of these areas are extremely populated and have been given priority, Polela said.

He added that some residents might resist the move, but consultation with these communities is key.

“We are going to move people not far from their current places of their residence. Historically, residents have resisted moving, hence the need for consultation and moving them not far from where they currently live.

“Consultation is important because we are trying to convince residents that it is in their interest to be relocated,” he said.

The move will ideally last longer than the nationwide lockdown. The government will start by providing temporary accommodation, such as converted shipping containers.  

READ | Concern as desperate homeless people escape shelter

“The plan is to ease congestion from informal settlements – preferably for the long term, permanently even. For any emergency, it will make it easier to access human settlements once congestion has eased,” Polela said.

He added the department is working with municipalities to coordinate the move and avoid duplication.

While municipalities are “welcome” to have their own plans, they need to have the budget and inform national government “so we don’t cater for communities that are already catered”.

“We, as the national government, are overseeing the process, working with civil society organisations as well as municipalities.”

As for the cost, Polela said: “This is a moving target. You can’t put a cost on human lives.”

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