SA’s human settlements: 26 years of achievements and hindrances

by Ofentse Sefolo
SA’s human settlements: 26 years of achievements and hindrances

The singular task of the Department of Housing and Human Settlements over the last 26 years has been to make a complete break from the ugly past through developing transformative policies and programmes that will achieve a critical mass impact on the economic lives of the previously disadvantaged through housing development.

The vision is to ensure that through housing infrastructure, previously economically excluded communities can be provided with tangible assets, enhancing their livelihood opportunities and providing a pathway to participating more favourably in a market economy while squarely addressing poverty and homelessness.

Effectively, the aim was the twin tasks of, on the one hand, ensuring people are fully housed, and on the other hand, are given an economic tool through which they can participate meaningfully in the marketplace.

Over the years, the provision of human settlements has been an attempt at integration of services that respond comprehensively to human needs, a more evolved service provision ensuring people are located closer to efficient public transport and locating jobs near where people live. Spatial norms and standards were developed along with the upgrading of informal settlements where formal houses remained inadequate.

According to the Department of Human Settlements’ 25-year review, in 1994 the estimated housing shortage was about 2.2 million. There were about 300 informal settlements.

The 1996 Census indicated that 65% of households occupied formal houses, flats or rooms; 18% occupied traditional dwellings and another 17% lived in shacks (StatsSA, 1997). It further stated that just over half the population, at 54%, lived in urban areas.

Fifteen years later in 2011, Statistics South Africa indicated that the country had 14.5 million households where 11.2 million resided in adequate housing, 1.2 million in informal settlements, 713 000 in backyard shacks and 1.1 million in traditional ‘mud’ dwellings (StatsSA, 2011). Not surprising, but curious, was the fact that the highest percentage of households who lived in formal dwellings were observed in Limpopo (91.7%), Mpumalanga (86.9%), and Northern Cape (86%). Approximately one-fifth of households lived in informal dwellings in Gauteng (19.8%), which is a highly concentrated area. Traditional dwellings were most common in Eastern Cape (22.3%) and KwaZulu-Natal (14.4%).

According to Oscar van Heerden, an international relations scholar and fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA), the ANC government inherited an apartheid debt to the tune of US $23 billion. Three challenges remain.
1. From the outset, the ANC government operated within a context of resource constraints and low tax revenues, which impacted its high-minded aspiration of redrawing the state into a fairer and more equal society as per the Freedom Charter.

2. The second challenge, foreseeable but hard to measure, was the scale and rapidity of urban migration from rural communities into very few and concentrated urban areas. According to the World Bank, some 26% of South Africans have moved from rural areas to urban areas over the last 25 years.

3. The third challenge, a gift and a complexity that needed new tactics, was the evolving demographic dividend, a society becoming more urbane with elevated demands, a society becoming younger, but with the enduring legacy of black prejudice. This evolving demographic viewed the world differently from their parents and wanted a living arrangement different to that of their forebears, and a different partnership with the state.

Over and above these challenges, the state itself over the years has become mired by a plethora of internal challenges, corruption, programmes conceived but not implemented, lack of information and transparency, and ultimately a slowing down of housing development.

This inevitably affected society’s trust that government was able to meet its promises, it affected investor confidence for partnerships with the state and the state started losing its grip on its ability to commandeer its machinery towards its developmental goals.

The fourth problem is the ever-widening gap between policy intent and implementation of programmes. The issues of programme design, project syndication and challenges of integrating communities have been a huge burden. This has been made more difficult by a lack of institutional capacity, institutional weaknesses and poor planning, along with poor monitoring of the projects that have been finally syndicated and approved.

Despite a reasonable rate of delivery over the last 25 years of over 200 000 units per year and up to 250 000 in some good years, the rate at which the demand for housing has been escalating, both due to population growth and urban migration, has been exceedingly higher than could be met even by a high rate of delivery.

Even after 4.7 million houses have been built, the housing backlog remains at about 2.2 million.

The department has responded to the evolving population and its housing needs by setting up four main programmes:
• The First Time Home Buyers Programme, commonly known as FLISP or the ‘’Buy your own home’’ programme which is meant to provide a subsidy for first-time buyers, largely young black first-generation graduates and middle-class professionals who have struggled to be in a position to buy a first home.

• The Integrated Residential Development Programme that is an attempt to redraw city maps and bring people together through integrated housing units.

• The Social and Rental Housing Programmes for a specific income bracket.

• The informal settlements upgrading programme.

A lot of money has been pumped into these programmes and there is great and measurable success in different income brackets, although still not enough to meet the ever-growing need.

Evolution in funding framework
This need has inevitably required an equal evolution in the funding frameworks of housing development. Due to the move by many South Africans from rural to urban centres, an Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) was introduced to match the normal Human Settlement Grant. A much more customised and specific grant framework needs to be developed to respond to different municipalities and provinces.

Although not perfect, the current Housing and Human Settlements programmes have ensured that through economic spinoffs, the value chain, the supply chain and every single material needed to build houses is used to ensure broader participation of South Africans in their own upliftment. As a result, government housing development contributes around 8% of all jobs in the housing industry.

Monitoring remains one of the biggest challenges, especially in ensuring that syndicated programmes achieve their intended economic and social impact. It requires real time and accurate information provided by different agencies at regular intervals to know early where housing targets might not be met and what challenges need to be addressed to ensure they are met.

Government needs to look at and invest in more affordable housing solutions, that are both sustainable and meet the basic human needs.

The current measures in place to address housing needs are clearly not adequate. Housing is a moving target that grows yearly. Due to a flatlined economic recovery, the resources are even more constrained and limited.

Then there are the enduring challenges of corruption, poor workmanship and delays in delivery adding even more pressure to meeting the already runaway housing need.

A better partnership with the people is needed, requiring more leveraging of the people’s evolution, skills and resources, so that where the government can leverage such capacity and give people measured support, all parties can help fast track the resolution of landlessness and homelessness.

Yonela Diko is the spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. He writes in his personal capacity and can be followed on Twitter on @yonela_diko

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to Yonela Dika, Spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation for the information contained in this article.


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