Our current housing & spatial strategy needs radical change in our cities

Picture: Matthew Jordaan

In 2014, the ANC reported that it had built over 3.3 million houses, transferred over half a million public rental houses to occupants with the supply of clean water and electricity also accompanying these integrated human settlements.

The challenges remain though, especially for a sprawling urbanising country such as South Africa. Two years before the fifth democratic national elections, 13 percent of South Africans continue to live in informal dwellings. The highest concentration of informal dwellings being found in North West, Gauteng and the Western Cape; rather urbanized provinces. As a result, we see the migration of people from the rural areas into urban and peri-urban areas contributing significantly to the mushrooming of informal settlements.

The same house-hold survey conducted by Statistics South Africa indicated the level of standard of living with 83 percent of White headed households living in formal dwellings with six rooms or more; whereas the figure is only at 35 percent of African headed households. On average White headed households have nine rooms in the dwellings while African headed households only have on average five rooms.

White headed household dwellings on average are therefore double the size of dwellings headed by Africans. This indicates the continued disparities of the past despite the significant progress made in introducing formal dwellings. These disparities are evidenced not only in the size of dwellings but also whether the dwellings is state-subsidized, headed by children or by females. Female-headed households are more likely to be state subsidized than male headed households.

The question of state subsidized housing came into the spotlight given the quality of housing. On average 15 percent of respondents of the household survey had problems with the quality of their house either in respect of their roof or walls. Eastern Cape respondents responded mostly about the quality of state housing whereas respondents from Gauteng complained the least.

Given that only 15 percent of respondents complained about the quality of state housing, it suggests that the quality is not really a challenge when discussing ‘affordable low cost housing’. Rather, there is an aversion to what this low-cost housing will do on the value of surrounding property and the changes it will bring in a particular area.

In other words, objections to affordable, state subsidized, low cost housing means more working class, Black people coming into the area. Hence, the slow pace for integrated human settlements.

This sentiment, of keeping poor Black people out, was evidently displayed in thejudgement passed by the Cape High Court against the residents of Bromwell Street. Acting Judge Leslie Weinkove believes that when people are unemployed and have no spending power they did not deserve to live near schools or public transport routes. He questioned why unemployed people should be living near the city.

Weinkove notes in in his judgement: “…Where you have got a person who is not working, who has not got an income, what do you do? What is the point of them being near a school? What is the point of them needing transport? Where are they going to go? They have not even got money to spend anything.”

A just urban plan suggests the opposite of what Weinkove believes. The poor or working class should live closer to amenities and opportunities of work than those who can afford to live on the peripheries of the city and who can afford to travel in every day. Instead, Weinkove perpetuates apartheid thinking in evicting poor Black people from the city, as the apartheid government did with the community of District Six, and throwing them in the outskirts of the city. The poor are not to be seen or heard from.

Weinkove’s judgement and thinking thrives in a city and province like Cape Town and the Western Cape, where the provincial government has been fighting tooth and nail to keep poor Black people out of the city surrounds. Vast areas of Bo-Kaap and Greenpoint have seen projects of gentrification with poor neighbours often being forced out of the area in order to sell their properties for astronomical prices.

Patrcia De Lille, Mayor of the City of Cape Town, also believes that class plays a role where one lives. In South Africa, where class and race are intertwined, De Lille believes that “…if you want to choose where you want to live, then unfortunately you have to pay for it yourself…” In a city and province, run by a party who believes that the poor must be kept out, this means the poor, who are in the main Black, will always be thrown away in the outback of the city; far away from everything especially opportunities.

This is also seen in the Western Cape government’s handling of the sale of the Tafelberg site. Adamant that the provincial government was not interested in developing the site into a development for low cost housing, the sale went through despite protestation from the national government and local civic groups.

In particular, the National Treasury, under the new Minister Malusi Gigaba, condemned the sale given that proceeds were cited to fund administrative offices instead of funding more pressing social needs such as integrated human settlements in the City and Province. Noteworthy is that National Treasury under previous ministers were always full of praise for the City and Western Cape government.

Research done by Lemanski in 2007, titled Global Cities in the South: Deepening social and spatial polarization in Cape Town, points out that despite Cape Town’s attempt to compete and be recognized as a global city, its contradiction inempowering through local economic development at municipal level on the onehand and their eviction of the people should be reaping the benefits of this development hamper access and success to these local economic development initiatives.  

Therefore, the research suggests that part of the drastic rise in property value in areas surrounding the CBD and the subsequent ‘cleansing’ of the city of people such as the residents of Bromwell Street or the refusal to accommodate working class Black people in Tafelberg is because the large investments going into the CBD where residents and workers already benefit from existent opportunities. Yet, hardly any investment, comparative to the inner city, is made into areas on the outskirts of the City.

Going towards its 54th National Conference, the ANC is suggesting a more efficient regulatory framework for integrated human settlements. However, government must learn from the past and ensure that housing and settlements are not just built on the outskirts of town and cities but has a more integrated and accessible economic approach for people.  As the government transitions, it must ensure radical economic transformation is translated into investments where people live rather than maintaining investments into areas formed by apartheid’s spatial planning.

Muhammad Khalid Sayed, ANC Youth League Western Cape Provincial Chairperson