The number of informal settlements is growing. There is also very little capacity in government to implement informal settlement upgrading effectively.
The Department of Human Settlements made these startling admissions when it briefed Parliament on the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme.
There are more than 2 700 informal settlements nationwide and the number of households in informal settlements has increased since 1995, rising from 1 170 902 to 1 294 904 by 2011.
According to census data, the number of informal settlements increased in the Western Cape, North West and Northern Cape but declined in other provinces.
Informal settlement upgrading was identified by government as a key area of focus for human settlement development. The objective is to make these areas habitable and conducive to raising families. This means prioritising the provision of basic infrastructure, services and land tenure for informal settlement households.
The National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) provides technical support to municipalities for the development and implementation of upgrading programmes and plans. Capacity building and training of practitioners and community members was minimal but was a key part of the NUSP programme.
In assessing the feasibility of upgrading, many contributions from several organisations are required in terms of information, technical, human and financial resources. The support/upgrading is categorised in the following ways:
Category A: Imminent Full Upgrading (Rapid Formalisation, full services)
Category B 1: Interim basic services (Provision of interim services leading to eventual formalisation)
Category B 2: Emergency basic services (Provision of emergency basic services BUT leading to eventual relocation)
Category C: Rapid relocation to a site which is already available or imminently available
Between 2010 - 2014, 447 780 households, in well-located informal settlements, received access to basic services and secure tenure through HSDG and USDG funding. Between 2014 - 2019, there is a target to upgrade 750 000 households in informal settlements to Phase 2 services (Communal).
The capacity to undertake informal settlement upgrading remains a challenge for government. There is little awareness of UISP and use of the most appropriate subsidies and UISP at sub-national level. There is no real information on communities and how upgrading can strengthen livelihood strategies. Sectoral coordination was found to be weak.
Upgrading is an expensive and slow process that could take up to seven or eight years. In most cases, “greenfields” projects, which took about three years, were preferred. Greenfields projects “attempt to eradicate the housing backlog by creating opportunities for sustainable and integrated housing on well-located, previous un-inhabited or underutilised land. Households, who must be relocated from informal settlements, as well as backyarders living in overcrowded conditions and other special cases, are targeted as beneficiaries in these projects”.
Committee Members expressed concern about the ability of the Department to meet performance targets, especially in the light of the challenges, and because informal settlements seemed to be a “moving target”. New informal settlements were being established on a daily basis. Optimal use of the available grants was another concern for Members.
Meanwhile, SALGA has complained that the budget allocations made by National Treasury to local government are not enough and under the current economic conditions‚ it’s highly unlikely that all the municipalities across the country can provide basic services to the people.