Context for the experience
There was rigid state control of access to land and housing based on strict racial criteria. The regulations were designed to regulate, control and segregate the living environment of a dispossessed peasantry. There were 13 bodies dealing with housing and each one was run on racial lines.
Market forces were expected to bring an equilibrium in the supply and demand of housing. Squatters were considered as ‘economic refugees’.
This was a decade of open social conflict between the white minority government and the oppressed black majority.
The apartheid reform process caused class divisions within the black society to widen due to: repeal of anti-urbanization legislation which led to rural-urban migration and increased squatter settlements. By 1991, 40% of South Africa’s urban population was living in slums.
Insurrection by the urban poor which resulted in a stoppage of the government’s basic provision of services and housing to the black urban areas. NGOs have had a difficult time because of state harassment. CBOs became active in their struggle for better conditions. Religious organizations were not as restricted as the other organizations, thus they managed to provide basic services to the poor (paternalistic welfare).
This was the period of political emancipation and non-racial democracy. In was also in this time that political prisoners were released and the ban on liberation organizations lifted.
CBOs, under the umbrellas of the South African National Civics Organization (SANCO), found it difficult to move fast due to their continued strategy of ‘political liberation first, social emancipation after’ and little experience of CBOs in interacting with the government.
In October 1992, 12 simple Housing Savings Schemes (HSS)were set up by the People’s Dialogue organization to provide credit to the poor. In 1994 they had increased to 259 involving 13.504 people and then became known as South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF).
SAHPF was not only involved in savings but also in other different programmes run by the Federation depending on the situation existing in an area.
The HSS acted in the Federation survey and to enumerate the settlements, identify land, allocate sites, negotiate for tenure, desing the houses, determine income and affordability levels; build houses, and control their own housing loan fund.
During 1991 – 94, the alliance strenthened the federation in terms of numbers and capacity. It also built up linkages by creating a partner organization in India, the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF).
Prior to April 1994, the Alliance had no contact with the government.
In June 1994 a full day dialogue was arranged with all the actors. The Minister of Housing, Joe Slovo, attending the meeting. International NGO experts from India, Thailand, Namibia, Mexico, Brazil and England were also present.
A model of people-centered development was presented at the above meeting. The Minister agreed to release 20 m Rand to the uTshani Fund. Unfortunately, the support for the officials, the civil servants responsible for policy implementation, was not forthcoming. Thus protracted negotiations had to take place. The R20m loan was converted into a R10m grant.
In October 1994, Slovo called for a National Housing Summit in which the sectors involved were expected to pledge their support for the emerging new housing policy. The participants had certain fixed ideas concerning housing standards. The alliance radically differed by saying that homeless people provided 90% of the housing stock in South Africa. A bottom up approach was the one they were opting for.
The Alliance also linked up with the Land Affairs Department by inviting the Minister Derek Hanekom to open a conference on evictions in the Eastern Cape Province.
After Joe Slovo’s death, two new advisory bodies to the Housing Ministry were launched. The Federation agreed to sit on both these bodies.
The visit to India was an eye opener for all who went.
In May 1995, the Alliance turned its attention to the Ministry of Safety and Security. This was done to train them on protocol to follow in cases where evictions could be avoided.
Connections were also made at the provincial level in almost all parts of the country.
In October 1995, a model house was built in front of the World Trade Center at the time of the All Africa ministerial meeting, in preparation for the Habitat II Conference.
People’s Dialogue is a network which links black communities in illegal and informal settlements. In 1991, People’s Dialogue, some sectors of South Africa’s grass roots liberation movement, a small group of professionals committed to people’s power, and a social housing movement from India came together to form Housing Savings Schemes (HSS). In 1994 HSS came to be called the South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF). It is made up of 20,000 very poor homeless families, belonging to 250 autonomous organizations. After the elections of 1994, People’s Dialogue associated itself with the Federation, in order to build bridges between the Federation and the Government with which it had been in contact for some time. The new association is called The Alliance.
The central government known as the Government of National Unity (GNU) through its two departments – the Housing Ministry and the Land Affairs Department (LDA) – were the main partners of the Alliance. The Ministers (the late Joe Slovo and then Sankie Mthembi-Nkondo) were very receptive to the Federation. Two sections deal with housing:
The Ministry of Housing is responsible for the development of policy and the distribution of resources. In January 1995 two advisory bodies to the Ministry of Housing were launched: National Housing Board to advise the Minister on policy, and housing support initiatives together with officials from the national and provincial departments of housing.
The LDA is mostly concerned with the legacy of apartheid and rural issues. Land restitution via Land Claims Court was its initial target and now the focus has shifted to urban land reform.
The provincial or local government is responsible for the implementation of policy and transfer of resources.
In May 1995, the Ministry of Safety and Security was contacted through the Minister to influence the protocol to be observed in cases where evictions could not be avoided. Changes were made to the protocol which the police were expected to follow.
Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD). This organization recognized the need of the homeless to come together to solve the pressing problem of land and decent, affordable shelter. Since it was not as restricted as the NGOs, it played a key role in bringing about a dialogue amongst the various actors. It raised funding from MISEREOR and set up a conference comprised of 150 squatter leaders, NGO and CBO leaders from Thailand, India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Zambia and Kenya, and a few government officials. The gathering was called ‘A People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter’ based on a similar Korean conference held in 1989.
Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC ) and National Slum Dwellers Federation in India (NSDF), through one of its organizations, Mahila Milan, participated in the dialogue and organized an exchange programme whereby the South Africa Minister of Housing, Sankie Mthembi-Nkondo, and the Minister for Land Affairs, Derek Hanekom, visited India and saw what the pavement slum dwellers had achieved in terms of shelter through manageable credit schemes.
The government/non-government link is between the National Government or the Government of National Unity (GNU), the NGOs, and the Communities formed into the Federation. The central government has provided funds for housing which have gone into the Federation’s uTshani Fund.
The GNU has been very receptive to the shelter ideas of the Alliance, the focus being on people’s housing. The GNU has also, through the relevant Ministries, made it a point to visit other countries to see the effectiveness of people centered approaches in the provision of housing.
The link with the provincial government is only in terms of disbursement of funds allocated to the uTshani Fund by the Ministry of Housing. There is no direct link.
It is the communities themselves who have the potential and capacity to improve their housing and neighbourhoods.
To be successful in the housing project, all stages in the provision of shelter from planning to finance, should be left to the communities themselves. This can be clearly seen in instances in which the Federation’s efforts have worked where the government had failed e.g. in provision of credit. Initiatives of the Federation should not be ignored.
Positive interaction between the government and the communities is beneficial to both as the communities benefit in terms of finance and legal standing and the government benefits through gaining new insight on housing construction which is not based on stereotyped ideas.
Interaction at the national level has more impact than at the provincial level as all the communities in the country benefit.
NGOs and CBOs should not wait for policy to be made and implemented before attempting to influence it. This is verified through the experience of building a model house in a venue where the visual impact of the Federation’s work led to further dialogue between the NGOs and government, outside the World Trade Center in Jonnesburg during the All Africa Ministerial meetings in October 1995.
Exchange programmes are an eye opener for all concerned.