Cape Town's planners have to allow for more - but better - informal settlements, says real estate chief executive
Mike Greeff, Chief Executive of Greeff Properties, has drawn attention to an alarming report, now being regularly aired as an audiovisual presentation by Gerry Adlard of the African Centre for Cities which is associated with the University of Cape Town.

The report indicates that South Africa is sitting on a time bomb as a result of our inability to face up to serious problems that, month-by-month, are becoming more apparent in our informal settlements: two-thirds of Cape Town’s residents are now officially classified as poor and a staggering 40% are living in inadequate housing. Discontent here, the report indicates, could well erupt into violence if better delivery and remedial action do not become more evident.

Setting the scene for his lecture, Adlard said that worldwide 32% (1,06 billion) of the total population of this planet (6,6 billion) now live in slums or informal settlements.

In sub-Saharan Africa 265 million (35%) of the total population of 747 million are now officially classified as urban dwellers and of these 187 million (72% - double the standard world average) live in slums or informal settlements. Forecasts indicate that by 2030 the world’s urban population will have grown to 650 million, i.e. 2,5 times its 2000 level.

In South Africa this urbanization process is taking place at a faster rate than almost anywhere else, with 56% of our 50 million people living in towns and cities. This urban population is growing a rate of 3% per annum (with the growth in the small towns being even faster).

Cape Town itself now has a population of close on 4 million, i.e. almost 1 million households. According to Professor Simon Bekker of Stellenbosch University, this figure is growing annually by some 50,000 people (i.e. ± 16.000 households) as a result in-migration (the move to the cities) and by 11,000 people per annum as a result of natural population increase.

Furthermore, the terrible truth is that 77% of people in Cape Town’s informal settlements live below the official poverty line which the Census authorities in 2001 set at a monthly income of R1,600 - what it is now is anyone’s guess.

“In the circumstances,” said Greeff, “job creation clearly must increase - and this can only come about once South Africa emerges from its recession. Here too, however, there are difficulties because the majority of Cape Town’s unemployed are, the report shows, “under skilled” for the vacancies that are becoming available but “over skilled” for basic manual jobs.

“As a result employers in many sectors are short of workers with appropriate skills and therefore invest in more sophisticated plant or in foreign labour to meet their needs.”

The report also shows, said Greeff, that any idea that Cape Town’s rapidly increasing urban population will eventually be housed in decent subsidised homes is now unrealistic - no matter how much good will and additional funds are allocated in this direction.

“The current situation is that 200,000 extra households are now living in formal housing (or its yards) designed for one family only while another ± 150,000 families are living in informal settlements. The total backlog on formal subsidised housing, therefore, is in the region of some 400,000 homes.

“As the annual supply of subsidised housing (the only housing that the poor can afford) is 6,000 to 8,000 units, the backlog in subsidised formal housing is likely to increase by nearly 20,000 per annum.”

Where, therefore do “the rest” of Cape Town’s people go? Obviously to informal settlements - and these, said Greeff, have to be accepted by the more affluent sections of the population as part of the solution.

Here too, however, there are problems because, for obvious reasons, the authorities cannot allow squatting on, or land invasions of, much of the open ground - even if they actually own it. Furthermore, shacks in informal settlements often cannot be extended, either because this is stipulated in the owner’s property rights or because they are already packed cheek-by-jowl close together.

As a result, while those who were the first “in” now legally own their shacks, all others are forced to pay them, or owners of subsidised formal housing, high rents to find somewhere to live.

“Adlard’s report,” said Greeff, “shows that because extensions to informal settlements have been so difficult to achieve, on average every ten poor households now have another eight living with them - and this figure can only increase.”

Adlard, said Greeff, has also shown that often the major threat to those living in informal settlements often comes from others in the area who were there earlier either in subsidised formal housing nearby or in the original shacks and who, understandably, resent the downgrading of their area and the strain on basic services such as sewerage that the later arrivals cause.

A further major difficulty facing those in informal settlements, said Greeff, is the often inconvenient location of such communities - they are far from places where work might be found and lack schools, clinics, crèches and other social services. Often even one or two hours’ walk will not be enough to find a place where work might be available.

Asked what he suggests might alleviate the situation, Greeff said that the first step has to be acceptance of most existing informal settlements and the allocation of new areas with suitable buffer strips for new settlements under controlled conditions.

A second step, he said, could be the recognition that private enterprise firms with RDP development experience have to be encouraged once again to become part of the delivery process. Their track records have in many cases been far better than those of the municipalities. This, however, Greeff believes, should be done under the watchful eye of a vigilant state “guard dog” who would have the power to act fast and mercilessly in the case of corruption or exploitation.

“The picture is not altogether gloomy,” said Greeff. “One of the encouraging statements in Adlard’s report is that informal settlements initiated with the correct controls and with the services already installed can become attractive workable communities. It is not so much the settlements themselves as the severe overcrowding in them that has always been the fundamental problem.”

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