Development Watch

Expect more land invasions as ANC becomes unstuck on urbanisation

Rondebosch Common next?
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The failure of the ANC-led government since 1994 to deal effectively with rapid urbanisation could play a decisive role in its undoing.

In the build-up to next year’s local government elections it could be expected that there will be a continuation, and even intensification, of the present phenomenon of invasions of vacant urban land.

The developing situation, which arose because of the failure to come to grips with the process of urbanisation, promises to have a substantive impact on next year’s local government elections. Many disillusioned ‘newly’ urbanised voters might just cross a psychological barrier next year by, for the first time, voting for a political party other than the ANC.

If this does indeed happen, it will also have a profound impact on future national and provincial elections.

Since coming to power in 1994 the ANC-led governing alliance has not done any better in dealing with the unavoidable process of urbanisation than its apartheid predecessor, the National Party.

Decades-long process

The process of accelerating urbanisation has been building for many decades in tandem with an economy that has been modernising since the 1950s. It picked up considerable momentum towards the end of the 1890s as the sun was setting over the apartheid system.

In the early 1980s already, there was one formal house for every 3,5 white people in South Africa, and only 1 formal house for every 43 black people.

During even the ‘softer’ version of apartheid – called separate development – most employment opportunities remained in the ‘white’ cities. Many black people, mainly men, moved to the cities in search of work, leaving their families in the ‘homelands’. Besides the social problems associated with separation of families, pass laws made it illegal for many black people to live or rent houses in the ‘white cities’.

By 1989, Gauteng, the then PWV region, had 412 000 formal houses in black townships, with 422 000 shacks in their backyards and 635 000 shacks on vacant land.

In a 1994 HSRC report, Derik Gelderblom and Pieter Kok of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) reported how the abolition of ‘Influx control’ in 1986 changed the dynamics of urban migration.

In the absence of an urbanisation strategy, a situation developed which saw South Africa’s Witwatersrand having the third worst living space, after Lagos, Nigeria, at 5.8 persons per room. Housing standards, measured in terms of access to water and electricity, it was the worst at 28% followed by Kinshasa at 33% and Lagos, Nigeria, at 50%. A similar situation existed in terms of services like education.

Twenty years after the ANC took over, in another HRSC report, published in September 2014, Ivan Turok and Jaqueline Borel-Saladin conclude: “... the provision of urban infrastructure has outstripped population growth, resulting in better access to essential services and reduced backlogs. In contrast, the provision of affordable housing has not kept pace with household growth, so more people than ever are living in shacks.” (Our emphasis.)   

According to a 2011 South African Institute of Race Relations report, the country was reaching the stage where two-thirds of its population lived in urban areas, moving from 52% in 1990 to 62% in 2011.  

This was due to the post-apartheid freer movement of people and higher economic growth in urban areas, attracting people searching for employment.   

Social dangers built

As a November 2012 Leadership article reported, after the transition to democracy “many unemployed in the erstwhile homelands migrated to the major cities in search of work and better opportunities. On the back of massive expectations accompanying the new political dispensation, they brought their families with them.”

For most of these new arrivals in the city, those expectations did not materialise, leaving them despondent, frustrated and angry.

The contents of the Marikana report, just handed to President Zuma, are not in the public domain yet. It would, however, be interesting to see what, if anything, is reported about the influence of mineworkers’ living conditions in what happened at Marikana.

At the time Leadership wrote: “What has ... happened at Marikana  ... illustrated the dangers of the frustrations that are now building up within communities as the shortage of accommodation and services in urban areas force them to live in shack-towns or squatter camps on open land.”

What went wrong?

According to a joint report by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the University of the Witwatersrand, cities are often not properly consulted on urban policy matters.

“Many blamed the hegemony of party (ANC) structures for closing avenues for ‘upward’ communication. Regardless of the reason, there appear to be few leadership initiatives in terms of lobbying for either an individual or a collective rethink (on) policy issues directly affecting municipalities’ ability to address population dynamics,” the report states.

It also identifies negativity toward “incomers”, preference being given to permanent residents to justify pro-active anti-squatter policies – leaving the new arrivals in an impossible “no-win” position.

It also creates extremely fertile ground for radical groups like the EFF.

The report notes that migration is a global phenomenon and South Africa is not immune to its effects. Failure to proactively address migration and other forms of human mobility will yield undesired consequences for all: social fragmentation, economic exclusion, poor planning, and the continued possibility of violence.

On the other hand, if properly managed, domestic migration can bring people closer to services, enrich the labour market, and open important opportunities for poverty reduction.

The report recommend that, as such, migration policy must be managed as a strategic planning and development issue, rather than being viewed negatively as a problem that needs to be reversed.

Too little too late?

In the meantime the Gauteng provincial government has launched a radical human settlements strategy via mega projects – at last signalling a possible change of attitude.

We might finally see the roll-out of “site-and-service” projects, advocated as long ago as 1986 in a report on urbanisation by the then President’s Council of the old tri-cameral parliament. In terms of these projects basic infrastructure and services would be installed in areas earmarked for development. Residents, with acquiring security of tenancy, could then build their own dwellings in anticipation of further development.

But with so much catching-up to do after decades of neglect, it is doubtful that results will sufficiently manifest in time to have any real influence on next year’s municipal elections.

At the launch of the programme, Gauteng premier, David Makhura, effectively said the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP), launched shortly after the 1994 election, failed and the two million state-subsidised houses under that scheme became “nothing more but incubators of poverty”.

There should be no surprise about the strategy of land invasion now being followed by the EFF. In July 2012, three months after Malema was expelled from the ANC, the party’s Youth League (ANCYL) which Malema until his expulsion led, still warned: “South Africa could find itself tackling the issue of land grabs if the African National Congress does not review its policies on land reform.”

by Piet Coetzer

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