Urban informal settlements are often extremely densely populated, yet they also often lack the most basic of services, despite many having existed for decades. Communities in informal settlements are some of the poorest and most vulnerable in South Africa.
One of the main aims of the UISP is to ensure communities are involved in the incremental upgrading of their own areas.
In 2017 the SJC began its informal settlement upgrading campaign. The campaign is part of the natural evolution of our work, as it deals with land, housing, basic services & a lack of accountability and transparency from government.
The legacy of apartheid spatial planning continues to exacerbate this. Despite some government efforts to resolve the urban housing crisis, poor residents are still waiting for decent, dignified housing as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The government’s solutions to the housing crisis tend to be large-scale housing sites which are often located far from the existing communities and facilities currently in place within existing settlements. To solve this problem, an “in-situ” approach is taken under the UISP. This means that housing is provided on the site of the existing settlement and households no longer need to be relocated away from their existing communities and support structures. In-situ upgrading is also supposed to improve residents’ tenure security, by giving residents the right to occupy and not be removed from the location where they live. They are therefore given security of tenure.
In order for in-situ upgrading to work, it must be done through a number of stages – with each stage improving on the last. This is incremental upgrading. The breakdown of a process into manageable stages means that upgrading should not negatively impact on the living conditions of the residents of the upgraded informal settlement.
This multi-stage process of upgrading is complicated, and the exact manner of upgrading will change on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances of each settlement. Communities getting on board is critical for the success of any in-situ upgrading project. Community members in the upgrading settlement must understand how the process will unfold, what the timelines are and, most importantly, community members must have a say in the plans for the way their homes will be developed.
Community participation is where government consistently fails, and the failure of government to seriously and substantively involve the people whose lives are affected by the upgrading process leads to delays, confusion, and anger.
Cape Town’s extreme physical segregation means residents of informal settlements far away from the city centre, such as Khayelitsha, are further away from economic opportunities and amenities, further entrenching class and race inequalities. Photo: Johnny Miller/Unequal Scenes