Diepsloot exposes gaps in urban policy outlook

Posted On Friday, 16 July 2004 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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RECENT pictures from Diepsloot brought back disturbing memories of township unrest from the 1980s. Certainly the parallels are far more visual than real.


Property-Housing-ResidentialStill, beyond the reports of murky political intrigue, important social and economic developments underpin the problems in Diepsloot.

Specifically, massive rural-urban migration, focused on Gauteng, means rising pressure for shelter and services. Meanwhile, housing policy contributes to unemployment by locating most low-income settlements far from economic opportunities.

According to census data, between 1996-2001, the population of the Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni metropolitan areas rose 4,1% a year twice as fast as the national population.

By 2014, if these trends continue, these two metropolitan areas will be home to almost a fifth of the country's population.

Migration reflects, above all, the continued impoverishment of former homeland areas. Last year, according to the Labourforce Survey, a third of the adult population lived in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Eastern Cape which make up most of former homelands.

They still face appalling circumstances. Unemployment in these regions runs at 54%, as against 36% for the rest of the country. In other words, more than 50% of those wanting paid employment could not find it.

Even among the employed, about 70% earned less than R1000 a month it is twice as high as in other parts of SA.

This situation is hardly surprising. Apartheid systematically deprived the homeland areas of government services, infrastructure and investment. Overcoming that legacy must be central to national development policies.

Too often, though, the economic and social specifics of the former homeland areas are now subsumed in bland generalisations about rural poverty.

Because of mass migration, there has been almost no change in the extent of informal housing, although government has funded more than 1-million houses for the poor. In both 1996 and last year, according respectively to the October Household Survey and the Labourforce Survey, 13% of the urban population lived in informal housing. Formal housing climbed from 69% to 76%, while traditional housing dropped from 19% to 12%.

In urban Gauteng, given unusually fast population growth, informal housing actually rose from 16% to 21% of all housing. Formal housing fell from 83% to 79%. In part, this outcome reflects low state spending on housing about 2,5% of the national budget, compared with the international average of about 5%.

However, it also underscores the need for more systematic responses to internal migration.

The housing programme itself should do more to ensure efficient and liveable urbanisation. Yet the current housing strategy has failed to challenge the apart- heid tradition of low-density suburbs and townships.

That imposes high costs, as infrastructure must extend further distances and workers face an uncertain and dangerous commute to work. The housing strategy incorporates a model of fairly small, low-density, single-family housing. Moreover, because individual subsidies are small, developers can afford only land far outside towns.

The result is worsening urban sprawl, typified by the rows of reconstruction and development programme houses in Diepsloot.

Again, the data in the Labourforce Survey illustrate the problem. In September last year, an urban family in a subsidised house was more likely to live more than 30 minutes away from a clinic, hospital, welfare office, secondary school or post office.

The distance from amenities goes hand in hand with worse access to jobs and markets. While the new housing does little to improve residents' incomes, however, it brings formal services at a cost of about R100 a month.

Gauteng has been unusually responsive to these issues, and is trying innovative strategies to build more efficient communities. Yet housing is basically a national competence. In any case, Gauteng cannot tackle the underlying migration situation by itself.

Indeed, there are no easy answers to the distortion of settlements left by apartheid. To start with, we need a fundamental redirection of the housing programme that prioritises establishment of more efficient cities.

More broadly, SA needs a strategic vision on spatial development. Such a vision can form as the basis for a more effective and inclusive approach to employment growth, housing and services for the poor.

We cannot accept the persistence of artificial and impoverished rural slums. Yet povertystricken, underserviced, polluted and inefficient urban agglomerations hardly make an attractive or sustainable alternative.

Makgetla is a Congress of South African Trade Unions economist.

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 14:16

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