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Human Settlements Minister acknowledges the challenges faced by inhabitants of informal settlement

March 24, 2013

Against the background of many protests about housing delivery, National Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale delivered a speech in which he acknowledged that some of South Africa’s (ever increasing) informal settlements have become “internal refugee” camps, here is an extract from his speech:

“It is common place, understandably so, for a perception to permeate the public psyche that Human Settlements, essentially encompassing residential housing, is about digging soil, mixing concrete, brick and mortar, dirty overalls of construction workers whose slogan is: thatha-lapha-beka lapha-xova-lodaka!

Humankind since time immemorial has always had the quest to satisfy three basic human needs: food, clothing and shelter. Regrettably, across the world, the struggle to achieve these fundamentals remains elusive to many millions of people out of the total population of humanity’s seven billion inhabitants. In two days time, our country will be celebrating Human Rights Day.

The right to shelter in South Africa has its historical and philosophical genesis encapsulated in the now celebrated 1955 Kliptown manifesto of liberation – the Freedom Charter. In respect of decent human settlements it declares as follows:
“There shall be housing, security and comfort!

All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed and bring up their families in comfort and security. Unused housing space shall be made available to the people. Rent and prices shall be lowered… Slums shall be demolished and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centers. The aged, the orphans, the disabled and the sick shall be cared for by the state. Rest, leisure and recreation shall be the right of all. Fenced locations and ghettos shall be abolished and laws which break up families shall be repealed.”

The 1976 United Nations Habitat Conference held in Vancouver, Canada, echoed this material statement by resolving that “…the condition of Human Settlements largely determine the quality of life, the improvement of which is the prerequisite for the full satisfaction of basic needs such as employment, housing, health services, education and recreation…”

It is noteworthy that this year the Department of Human Settlements will be hosting the United Nations Habitat Conference in South Africa where delegates from across the world will exchange better ideas on this burning question.

To give effect to the housing demands of the Freedom Charter, our country’s Constitution, the supreme law of the land, directs that:
“Everyone has the right to access to adequate housing and that the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, with its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of this right.”

The primary responsibility of achieving this right lies with the Department of Human Settlements.

In 1995, our first of Housing Minister, Joe Slovo, convened a special housing conference at Botshabelo, Bloemfontein involving all relevant stakeholders – government, labour, business and civil society – which resulted in the Botshabelo Accord. At that conference he declared that:
“Government strives for the establishment of viable, socially and economically integrated communities which are situated in areas allowing convenient access to economic opportunities, health, educational and social amenities and within which South Africa’s people will have access on a progressive basis to: a permanent residential structure with secure tenure, ensuring privacy and providing adequate protection against the elements; and portable water adequate sanitary facilities including waste disposal and domestic electricity supply”

In his 2009 inaugural State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly, President Jacob Zuma on changing the Ministry of Housing into that of Human Settlements said:
“We will proceed from the understanding that Human Settlements is not just about building houses. It is about transforming our cities and towns and building cohesive, sustainable and caring communities with closer access to work and social amenities including sport and recreation faculties”.

It is insightful to recognize the critical role played by many thinkers, including common people throughout history around the question of decent shelter for all. One of the ground breaking theoretical expositions is attributable to a German social scientist, a scholar, a consummate researcher, a philosopher and businessman – Frederick Engels.

Also known as an esteemed collaborator of Professor Karl Marx, another German philosopher and economist, he published in 1844 his now celebrated work entitled: The condition of the working class in England, a detailed description and analysis of the appalling conditions of the working class in Manchester where his family factories were located.

In another special contribution to the discourse on the need for public housing policies called: The Housing Question, he pointed out that, “the way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous, they are headed into great cities where they breath a fouler air than in the country side which have they left…How is it that the poorer classes can remain healthy and have a reasonable expectation of life under such conditions? What can one expect but that they should suffer from continual outbreaks of epidemics and an excessively low expectation of life?”

Challenge of Housing in South Africa:

Housing is not a theoretical equation, it is not something abstract, it is a crying pain for many people in our country. The utilization of apartheid spatial planning for purposes of entrenching colour-bar segregation, achieved the evil objective of dehumanizing society by creating racialized residential areas.

Therefore the biggest challenge confronting the Department is to root out this scourge, and to establish deracialised residential spaces in villages, suburbs, towns and cities of our country, where various types of housing products – rural stand alones, densified urban housing development, clusters, flats, rental stock and densified high rise units are constructed, keeping in mind good quality products and affordability.
In a word, the humanization of Human Settlements.

There is no way that the Johannesburg – SOWETO, Pretoria-Mamelodi, Durban-Mlazi, Cape Town-Kayelitsha, Port Elisabeth-New Brighton situations, to name a few, can be perpetuated. Even worse so this unique housing challenge in South Africa is grossly compounded by the phenomenal growth of informal settlements. These are essentially shantytowns which litter across all provinces particularly around the more affluent Metros and municipalities. This therefore results in a situation of undesirable urbanization which is driven less by economic growth and more by the rural-urban migration of the poor and jobless.

Effectively therefore we are confronted with a crisis of an internal refugee-like situation of people who are driven by poverty from the country side which is further complicated by the inflow of poor and jobless migrants from other parts of the world, particularly from fellow African countries. The locations of informal settlements are growing inasmuch as the persons inside these shack settlements is increasing rapidly.

This imposes increased service delivery pressure upon resources like electricity, water, sanitation, health services and housing, all of which were never budgeted for around the perceived affluent municipalities. Let alone issues regarding crime prevention, socio-economic and political stability. It stands to reason that somewhere, somehow, someday something must give as evidenced by the recent sporadic unacceptable xenophobic incidents.

Limited government budgets by themselves are not the solution. A much more comprehensive approach is required as captured in the new National Development Plan underpinned by the government strategy around the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission. The objective of this method is the comprehensive and strategic, integrated projects-approach towards overall national socio-economic development.

However, such development hinges upon an economy that is performing optimally as opposed to the current low GDP economic growth rate percentage and the unacceptably high unemployment figures particularly amongst young people. Nevertheless it is within such an integrated approach that Human Settlements Vision 2030, with an emphasis on housing for the youth, who are future potential home owners, is situated.

As your motto says: For Tomorrow!”

This speech was delivered as part of the launch of the country’s first Chair for Education in human settlements development and management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
The Chair aims to make a significant contribution to the education and training of undergraduate students in the new Bachelor’s Degree in Human Settlements Development (BHSD). Matriculants and those interested in specialising in human settlements at a University level will be able to study for this degree at NMMU from 2014.

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