Municipal planning and interventions for the improvement of precarious housing conditions

Buffalo City’s first Integrated Development Plan (IDP) adopted in 2002 described the “rapid movement of people to urban areas and resultant explosive growth and multiplication of overcrowded, unsafe and unhealthy informal settlements” as one of the municipality’s major challenges (BCM 2002a). The Spatial Development Framework (SDF; BCM 2003a) and the

Duncan Village

Figure 17.2 Duncan Village: The largest and most dense cluster of informal settlements in Buffalo City, with approximately 15,000 shacks close to the city centre.

Source: Photo by Kienast.

Mdantsane buffer strip

Figure 17.3 Mdantsane buffer strip: Shacks on the fringe of the apartheid era township Mdantsane, at approximately 20 km distance from East London.

Source: Photo by Kienast.


Figure 17.4 Nompumelelo: Clusters of shacks attached to a post-apartheid low-income housing development near the affluent suburb of Beacon Bay.

Source: Photo by Kienast.

Housing Policy (BCM 2003b) included sections that were appreciative of self-help housing. Buffalo City Municipality (BCM) said it wanted to avoid “physically, socially and culturally disruptive” re-development schemes (BCM 2003b: 15) but the municipality was unable to develop viable alternatives. While it intended to conduct “a detailed study of urban informal settlements with feasibility assessments for upgrading to be completed by end 2005”, the municipality continued to pursue massive housing delivery, chasing the enormous target of “more than 5,000 units per annum by end 2004” (ibid.:59).

Buffalo City's housing policy under the paradigm of de-densification

In the first years of its existence, Buffalo City was bound by earlier plans and projects, which had been adopted by its predecessors, namely the Special Integrated Presidential Project for Duncan Village (SIPP), the Mdantsane/Potsdam Development Plan of 1998 and the Mdantsane East London Development Corridor Plan (MELD) of 1999.

The MELD Corridor Plan (ELTLC 1999) provided a comprehensive vision for the fragmented urban space between town and township, but was not able to redirect private investment into the area. By defining train stations in no-man’s land as “major nodes”, the plan provided justification for massive housing construction between Mdantsane and East London.2 Although land adjacent to the railway line did not attract any commercial investment, the area south of the railway line, known as Reeston became Buffalo City’s main recipient of low-income housing. Starting with emergency housing for the victims of the Duncan Village floods of 2002, Reeston, an area characterized by deep valleys and steep slopes, has gradually been developed with standard subsidized single-family homes and will eventually accommodate 9,000 households. Although three distributor roads connect the new neighbourhoods to the MELD corridor, due to the difficult topography and the almost total lack of amenities and commercial activities, they are even more dependent on the core city than the apartheid era township. As people living far from the

Reeston Phase 3 ("New Life")

Figure 17.5 Reeston Phase 3 ("New Life"): State-subsidized housing sprawl. Source: Photo by Kienast.

corridor have to pay two minibuses on their way to town, Reeston is a poverty trap for inhabitants who cannot even afford to travel where they may find work (see Figure 17.5).

The Duncan Village Local Spatial Development Framework (DVLSDF), which was elaborated between late 2003 and early 2008, provided further justification for housing construction at the periphery. According to various planners involved, the cumbersome evolution of the DVLSDF was mainly due to local political conflicts (interviews conducted 28—29 May and 10 June 2015). A more holistic perspective — the creation of multifunctional social infrastructure, the promotion of economic activities and a strategy which would “keep as many people in Duncan Village as possible” (Kay 2005:84) — was lost on the way. The final plan focused on the construction of 20,000 housing units, of which only a fraction was supposed to be built in Duncan Village itself (BCM 2009a). Since even pilot projects comprising a few hundred semidetached and rowhousing units have become a fiasco (Jeske Thompson 2016), almost 15 years after the start of the Duncan Village Redevelopment Initiative, its main “achievement” seems to be the removal of an unknown number of households to Reeston.

The provision of interim services

According to the 2001 Census, 22% of households in Buffalo City did not have access to a basic level of service with regard to water; 29% had no access to “basic sanitation”; 37% had no electricity tor lighting; 29% were not reached by weekly refuse removal (BCM 2007:76).To address these challenges, the BCM Water Services Development Plan of 2002 (WSDP) developed a “prioritised basic services backlog programme”. “Recognised informal settlements” were supposed to be provided with prepaid standpipes and either “ventilated improved pit latrines” (VIP) or communal toilets (BCM 2002b: 161).

The results of the Community Survey of2007 (see Table 17.1) suggest that Buffalo City made great progress with regard to basic water supply (+20%), which seems to have been achieved through a quick rollout of communal standpipes. At the same time, only 3,851 households achieved access to basic sanitation (probably people moving into new-built formal housing).

Table 17.1 Household access to basic services




Water (access to piped water in dwelling/ yard or within 200m)

Households with access % of households

  • 148,894
  • 78%
  • 204,151
  • 98%
  • 55,257
  • 20%

Sanitation (flush toilet, septic tank, chemical toilet, VIP)

Households with access % of households

1 35,672 71%

  • 139,523
  • 67%
  • 3,851
  • -4%

Electricity (for lighting)

Households with access % of households

  • 122,872
  • 63%
  • 154,877
  • 74%
  • 32,005
  • 11%

Refuse removal (1 x week)

Households with access % of households

  • 136,316
  • 71%
  • 147,487
  • 70%
  • 11,171
  • -1%

Source-. Census 2001, cited in BCM 2007:76; Community Survey 2007, quoted in BCM 2009b:78; last column: own calculation.

Thus, living conditions in the informal areas of Buffalo City remained appalling. This was especially true for Duncan Village where people relied on public toilets from the apartheid era and the so-called bucket system. Even if the redevelopment plan had been followed to the letter, many inhabitants would have had to wait a decade before they got a house. Yet, no interim measures were put in place. In May 2009, a study by the Eastern Cape NGO Coalition showed that, on average, 333 shack dwellers had to share one public toilet (Daily Dispatch, 19 May and 27 May 2009). In the next financial years, Buffalo City provided movable ablution blocks (BCM 2010:45; BCMM 2012a:59).Yet, according to activist media, lack of maintenance and security are the order of the day (Mbi 2015). It is thus no wonder that service delivery protests have become a common feature in the area (Mukwedeya 2016).

The other main concern is the lack ot access to energy, which forces shack dwellers to use paraffin for light and heating or embark on illegal connections. Both practices are highly problematic as shack fires and electrocutions destroy many assets and claim many lives. According to Bank (2011:216), the Buffalo City council “refused to electrify the shack areas (even as an interim measure)”. In the financial year 2009/10, 75,000 households were not connected to the electrical grid and the administration reported a dramatic increase of illegal electrical connections. Therefore, the council took a decision to pilot the electrification of informal dwellings in Duncan Village (BCM 2010:41).Yet, as the municipality depended on co-funding from national government, the electrification ot shacks only started in earnest in 2013/14. Since then, Buffalo City has provided several thousand informal settlers with electricity'. However, as shack dwellers used new street lighting as a point of departure for more illegal connections (BCMM 2015a:90f.), the future ot these programmes is still uncertain, while the “backlog” remains huge.

Coming to grips with the persistence of shacks

Despite the construction and handing over of more than 5,000 housing units in Reeston, the number of shacks in Duncan Village seems to have stayed the same (see Figure 17.6). In late 2016, the current portfolio councillor for human settlements explained:

we planned for the redevelopment of Duncan Village [...] but the challenge is the influx. [...] there is land invasion, which is the crisis in the whole metro. [...] As human settlements we are doing our job as per the mandate but we still have no control measures to stop people re-building shacks.

(recordert 16.11.2016)

Duncan Village (2013)

Figure 17.6 Duncan Village (2013): Persistence of shacks despite twenty years of postapartheid housing policy.

Source: Photo by BCMM.

In reaction to Minister Sisulu’s call for the “eradication of informal settlements”, in 2007 Buffalo City adopted a Land Management Policy, which pledged to eliminate “significant and high priority informal settlements by 2014” [emphasis added] while the remainder would be removed “as appropriate land and housing becomes available”. The development of new informal settlements was supposed to be prevented and existing settlements should be hindered to grow “in an uncontrolled manner” (BCMM 2011:91). The application of these principles required a detailed assessment and categorization of informal settlements, which had already been called for in 2003 (see above). Over the years, Buffalo City commissioned three studies to collect data and classify informal settlements inside the urban edge (BCM 2009a; BCMM 2012b; BCMM 2013a). It seems that those outside the urban edge have never been studied in a comprehensive manner.

The 2013 Spatial Development Framework (SDF) reported a total of 154 settlements within the urban edge containing 40,365 shacks and a population of approximately 155,080 (BCMM 2013b:79). Of these, 41 settlements comprising almost 13,000 dwellings were earmarked for “full relocation”; 58 settlements consisting of more than 15,000 dwellings tor “partial relocation & partial in situ upgrading” while only 39 settlements with little more than 2,500 dwellings were deemed fit tor “full in-situ upgrading” (BCMM 2015b:46). Since only a fraction ot the settlements was considered suitable for upgrading, municipal planners calculated that approximately 2,000 hectares of land would be needed to accommodate the dwellers (BCMM 2013b:79).The SDF included a list of 30 settlements that were recommended for “formalisation” (ibid.:84), a methodology that uses individual housing subsidies.

Winning laurels for rollover upgrading

The most prominent example ot this practice in Buffalo City is Second Creek. The state-subsidized housing development completed in 2014/2015 dealt with an illegal settlement on the fringe of a municipal landfill. The settlement had already emerged around the year 1990 and had grown to encompass approximately 300 dwellings. It was only prioritized after national TV coverage had

Second Creek

Figure 77.7 Second Creek: Award-winning redevelopment project in walking distance from the East London CBD.

Source: Photo by Kienast.

highlighted the environmental hazards and the human tragedy of the garbage collectors (Manyathi 2014). The project included the rehabilitation of the dumpsite, the construction of 265 standard houses on 150 m2 plots and the provision of basic sendees. As the area is just 3 km away from East Londons CBD and borders on a lower-middle class neighbourhood with a primary school, it is better integrated than many other state-subsidized housing areas. However, the only social and economic infrastructure in Second Creek are products of self-organization: a creche and so-called spaza shops that are operating from transport containers.Thus, it is rather ironic that Second Creek received the national housing award in the category “Best Informal Settlement Upgrade”(see Figure 17.7).

A site visit and conversations with beneficiaries confirmed that former garbage collectors have benefitted from the public investment. However, since the dumpsite is closed and waste is now disposed of at a regional facility, many of them struggle to make a living. Less than a year after the beneficiaries moved in, and despite governments eight-year moratorium on the transfer of subsidized housing, there was already talk about people sub-letting their homes. Besides the high risk of downward raiding in an attractive location, it is questionable whether Second Creek should be seen as best practice as the development occupies approximately three times the space of the original squatter. Obviously, this approach is not replicable in other, more densely settled areas and there are neither enough funds nor land nor organizational capacity to convert all of Buffalo City’s informal settlements in this manner.

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