It’s a scorching day in Khayelitsha. Even if it’s much too hot to stay in the sun, people are crowded in the middle of the streets, sweat trickling down their backs. The centre of their attention is Mr Bonginkosi Madikizela, minister of Human Settlements in the Western Cape, who is visiting a housing project. ‘When will sanitation be supplied?’ The residents ask him repeatedly. He promises them that he will make sure to fast-track it, before getting back into his car and driving away.
It’s not the first promise made by the government to residents of the townships of Cape Town. When apartheid ended, the government pledged to free houses and improved living conditions in informal settlements. However, many residents are still waiting to see change.
The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was implemented in 1994 by the ANC government to address the massive socio-economic issues rooted during apartheid. In his inaugural speech in 1994, Nelson Mandela mentioned the RDP as ‘the cornerstone of building a better life of opportunity, freedom and prosperity.’ According to the RDP framework, it aims to ‘mobilise all our people and our country’s resources toward the final eradication of the results of apartheid and the building of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future’.
The first priority of the RDP was to meet the basic needs of the people – areas like jobs, land, housing, water, electricity, telecommunication, transport, nutrition, health care and social welfare were all identified for development. The RDP policy framework described how it would ‘include programmes to redistribute a substantial amount of land to landless people, build over one million houses, provide clean water and sanitation to all, electrify 2.5 million new homes and provide access for all to affordable health care and telecommunications.’ The RDP promised to provide people earning less than R3,500 a month with a government-funded house and they highlighted that the programmes would bring peace and security for all.
‘Because of our history, after 1994, we decided to offer free houses to a certain category of our people, and that is catching up with us now. In any situation where you give something for free, the demand always escalates.’ – Bonginkosi Madikizela
Someone who has been occupied with these issues for a long time now is minister Bonginkosi Madikizela. He is responsible for the allocation of the governmental funds to the different municipalities and he makes sure the funds are in line with the policy of the Department of Human Settlements. When asked about the RDP, he says: ‘South Africa is unique. We are trying to do something that has never been done anywhere. Because of our history, after 1994, we decided to offer free houses to a certain category of our people, and that is catching up with us now. In any situation where you give something for free, the demand always escalates.’
With a large amount of people immigrating to the Western Cape, the pressure to deliver housing has also escalated. The population of the Western Cape province has grown by 46% between 1996 and 2011. Today the Western Cape faces immigration waves of more than 10,000 people a month. ‘The Western Cape is one of the shining examples of good government, that’s why so many people are immigrating. We are becoming victims of our own success, and this puts pressure on our limited resources. In addition to that, the cost of material is escalating. For the amount of money with which we built two houses back in 2011 where we build one house now,’ says Madikizela.
Nevertheless, the shortage of housing itself is not the biggest challenge faced by the Department of Human Settlements. Many houses are being sold or rented informally and illegally by the people as soon as they receive it. ‘It’s difficult to cope with the problem of people selling their houses when you still have the problem of joblessness. If people get jobs, they will be able to build their own houses with their own money, but how do you expect people to keep this beautiful asset while they have nothing on the table?’ explains Madikizela.
Consequently, the ministry wants to decrease joblessness; targeting job creation on the one side and education on the other (one of the challenges in South Africa is the lack of a skilled and educated workforce). ‘The construction industry is where many unskilled people are absorbed. Our ministry has created thousands of jobs by engaging unskilled people in the construction industry.’ Madikizela hopes that by doing that, it will attract more investors, leading to a more sustainable situation for the entire country.
In order to make the country more sustainable, the ministry partners with private companies and they have come up with a different approach: Instead of buying land and building houses on it, they advertise land and use it as an equity to development, which allows the government to leverage more income with the resources it has. They cater to the market of people who are slightly above the threshold of those who qualify for RDP houses. ‘Those people are the heartbeat of the economy, they are the taxpayers. If you focus on them, you can expand your revenues since the more taxpayers you have the more sustainable you are. This will in the end enable you to cross subsidise the poor.’ In this way, both the poorest of the poor as well as the ones that earn slightly more money will benefit.
The ministry is not only collaborating with the private sector, but also with a number of NGOs. One of them is Ikhayalami, a non-profit organisation whose primary aim is to develop and implement affordable technical solutions for Informal Settlement Upgrading. The project they are currently working on is called Empower Shack, which aims to develop a comprehensive and sustainable informal settlement upgrading strategy centred on four core components:
• a two-storey housing prototype
• participatory spatial planning
• ecological landscape management
• integrated livelihoods programming
When they first came up with the forerunner of the Empower Shack project, they faced many challenges at once. The government’s RDP was taking too long to meet the people’s demands, so they had to come up with a prototype, which could be quickly built and cost effective at the same time. In order to accommodate a whole residential settlement, they had to engage with the collective of the urban poor. ‘Between 2006 and 2009, nobody was interested in an upgraded shack, because they thought they would be getting an RDP house anytime soon,’ says director of Ikhayalami, Andy Bolnick.
It took years for Ikhayalami on the one hand to convince the poor communities in Khayelitsha to accept the protype and on the other hand to convince the government to collaborate with them. In 2012, Bolnick met Alfredo Brillembourg, architect and co-founder of Urban Think Tank, an interdisciplinary think tank aiming to deliver innovative yet practical solutions in the field of contemporary architecture and urbanism. Brillembourg was keen for collaboration with Ikhayalami and especially regarding the idea of a double storey house. ‘The way I thought about it was in terms of how I can help the poor. In the next 30 years we’ll have two billion more people, and they will be poor. And they will come into market and we have to consider them.’
‘Between 2006 and 2009, nobody was interested in an upgraded shack, because they thought they would be getting an RDP house anytime soon.’ – Andy Bolnick, Ikhayalami
The research for the optimal design and material started and they finally came up with a prototype of a double storey house. Fortunately, the Urban Think Tank received funding from Swiss Re. So far, the first four houses have been built. The ongoing pilot phase is focused on a cluster of 68 houses within the BT-Section of Khayelitsha. The distribution of tasks works very well. While UTT is responsible for the planning, the structure and the architecture, Ikhayalami makes sure the community is willing to engage in the project. ‘We are engaging the communities and letting them know about design, the aspects like a raised floor against flooding, reduced flushing, grey water management, the idea is hopefully making this a new model,’ says Andy Bolnick.
Madikizela is impressed by their work, especially by the fact that Ikhayalami manages to help communities upgrade their homes themselves to better conditions. ‘It’s a very good concept. We don’t want our people to be passive recipients of government intervention, we want them to partner with us, and Ikhayalami is encouraging that. ‘So how come that the Empower Shack houses still lack sanitation which is the responsibility of the city? To provide sanitation for three or four houses is not ideal in the opinion of the minister. ‘We don’t want to do this in pieces, we want to do an overall plan and strategy and improve the whole infrastructure in general. And this takes much more time. This infrastructure was built during the apartheid era, it’s extremely old. We need to have a more global view of this. Since we won’t be able to provide everyone with a free house, we need to identify the most deserving people and on the other hand at least try to improve the living conditions of the others by providing them with sanitation, electricity, water etc. The most deserving people identified by our ministry are the disabled and the old. They will never have the chance to get a job and look after themselves. That’s why sometimes the priorities between us and NGO’s like Ikhayalami differ.’
The different intentions of the different players involved in projects like Empower Shack is indeed one of the biggest challenges, Bolnick, Brillembourg and Madikizela agree. There are the residents who want to have a house as soon as possible, the NGOs want to see the development of a sustainable model of a house while the government wants to have the NGO activities fitting in with their own housing models. The collaboration between NGOs and the government is very important for both partners, but doesn’t always run smoothly. Madikizela emphasises the importance of the ongoing housing programme called Breaking New Grounds (BNG). ‘NGOs need to understand the plan of the government. We aim to avoid situations where NGOs have started with a project when they find the area they are operating in is not on top of the priority list of the government. I think we’ve got to marry the two, have a common understanding of where we go, why and when.’
The housing problem is challenging: There are the residents who want to have a house as soon as possible, the NGOs want to see the development of a sustainable model of a house while the government wants to have the NGO activities fitting in their housing models.
However difficult it may seem for the different parties to find a solution addressing the troubles South Africa faces right now, there are a number of NGOs actively partnering and contributing to the improvement of the living conditions in the poor areas. It is clear that the newly-elected ANC government made many promises, especially in the field of the RDP, which they couldn’t keep. It helped them win the elections and maybe still keeps people voting for them. But on the other hand, one must still bear in mind that apartheid ended only 22 years ago. It is unrealistic to think that a country can get rid of such a system of spatial engineering, which had been established for more than 50 years, within such a short period of time. Moreover, it is not only a problem of housing, but a complex nexus of problems deeply rooted in an oppressive regime. Apart from planning, communicating and partnering, trying to change this situation also calls for a good amount of staying power, or as Andy Bolnick says: ‘It’s all about engaging, dialogue and compromise. Working in that field is a challenge, there are so many different forces that pull you into different directions. The important thing is to keep going forward, keep flowing.’
Pia Schneider Pia graduated in communications last year and came to Cape Town to dive into South African culture and the spirit of the people. She is passionate about writing and politics and found that she can combine both in an optimal way. At some point, she hopes to return to Cape Town and continue her political analysis.
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