South Africa’s 3 000-plus informal settlements are usually unwelcome in the areas where they have popped up almost overnight, but the fact is that they are here to stay – until the government’s upgrading drive reaches them or the private sector steps in to make a difference.
Informal settlements are the outward sign of disadvantaged people’s yearning for adequate housing; a fundamental human right. As such, these communities need to be heard and rescued from the poverty trap – a worthwhile challenge for CSI managers prioritising sustainable development.
In 2021, the government allocated R10 billion for the upgrading of settlements over three years; however, change cannot come soon enough. While waiting since 1994 for an overburdened government housing programme to catch up with them, some staunch comrades have already passed away, leaving the younger generations stuck in flimsy shacks devoid of running water, power, sanitation and security. Here they battle the burdens of infectious diseases, harmful pollution, destructive fires and high crime rates, as well as stress and depression.
An estimated 13,5% of South Africans reside in informal settlements in substandard living conditions which also impact others. In the adjoining suburbs, resentful home owners fear losing out on their property investments due to the proximity of the settlements. Watercourse contamination, toxic smoke and reports of crime and raging fires have come too close for comfort. For the settlements and their neighbours, the quickest solution may be in-situ upgrading in line with the principles of the government’s Upgrading of Informal Settlement Programme. A safer, healthier and more dignified settlement would pose no threat to property investments – and CSI can tip the scales.
While many lives have, thankfully, been transformed by CSI, investment in the upgrading of informal settlements will deliver multiple benefits including improved prospects of self-sustainability. First off, water and electricity provision would enable small business start-ups while also improving health and safety amongst the shacks. Upgrading case studies have even highlighted mitigating impacts on crime and violence.
These benefits would be a big step forward in restoring livelihoods, well-being and dignity to millions of shack dwellers across South Africa, from the Western Cape to Limpopo. Importantly, they would also help the larger community accept them as rightful citizens who deserve respect and support instead of discrimination.
This year, our Minister for Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe N Sisulu reiterated that for settlements on safe ground, the first choice is to upgrade in situ. This includes consolidating the occupation rights into formal tenure and providing access roads, water reticulation, sanitation and electricity including street lights. City of Johannesburg has already spent some of its housing budget on upgrading areas in Diepsloot, Ivory Park, Alexandra and Orange Farm. There are, however, many other settlements of various sizes in urgent need of upgrading.
Providing access to basic services, followed by incremental upgrades to housing and infrastructure, would be more economical than relocation to new housing developments. From the viewpoint of those living in informal settlements, in-situ upgrading has some significant advantages. Within their appalling environment, residents have nevertheless forged meaningful social networks (benefiting their customer bases), support groups and leadership structures that they depend on, and proximity to their workplaces is also key. The latter is, in fact, one of the main reasons for urban migration.
CSI programmes which upgrade settlements in situ, while preserving the community’s social structure, may be preferable to relocation which can fragment community bonds and disrupt livelihoods. Collaboration with communities at every step of an upgrading is therefore vital in determining issues, needs and aspirations, ensuring buy-in and fostering a sense of empowerment. Engaging with the Department of Human Settlements, local authorities, NGOs and even estate agents will help increase funding to the area and ensure a successful upgrading.
Initial steps would include the establishment of a project committee comprising community representatives and community-based organisations, to consider all options. Community surveys can provide important insights while professional input regarding legislation, building requirements and other technical matters is key.
Upgrading projects completed in some informal settlements such as Langrug, Franschhoek and Lamontville, Durban have delivered significant benefits. CSRNEWSSA would be interested in hearing from readers about other success stories, or communities lagging behind in South Africa’s upgrading programme.