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Spatial Planning And Its Impact On The Right To Dignity

Apartheid-era spatial planning in the city of Cape Town. By Ryland Fisher.

No South African city has adequately dealt with undoing apartheid spatial planning, but it is not for lack of trying, says Professor Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town and an expert on African urbanisation.

“There are many structural problems impacting housing policy. These include the legacy of the Group Areas Act and class-based racial segregation, as well as a private property boom that has made equal housing development difficult,” he explains.

Pieterse says the housing backlog in 1994 was about 2.5 million units, now it is at 2.6 million units, according to the national Department of Human Settlements.

South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo was the first minister of housing in democratic South Africa in 1994 and he thought we could build a million houses in five years, during the government’s first term of office.

“The model was to give a 100 per cent subsidy based on income poverty. But the problem – and this is still the problem, 27 years later – is that the subsidy amount had to cover the cost of the land, the top structure and the internal services,” says Pieterse.

“But since the economic growth in our country from about 1997, the property sector has been one of the best performing sectors in the world, making it impossible to deracialise housing policy.”

Pieterse says that the lack of decent housing has impacted the right to dignity.

“The biggest failure of the housing and spatial policy since 1994 is that it has reinforced all the aspects of daily life that are most undignified. For instance, in informal settlements, there would be a lack of access to safe and decent sanitation. People live in fear because they are just so vulnerable.”

He says that government knows what it has to do: it has been pointed out by many academic critiques and by civil  society and included in the National Development Plan.

“Government has been working on a white paper since 2012, which is supposed to help them develop a new mandate and new legislation,” explains Pieterse. “Government should just get its house in order.”

Unequal access to land

Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) is a nonprofit organisation that has been campaigning for access to land for poor people in Cape Town.

“A recent StatsSA report on inequality says that more than half of the population earns less than R13 546 per year while the wealthiest 10 per cent of the population earns almost 60 per cent of the income and almost 95 per cent of the country’s wealth. Unequal access to land and housing in cities and towns is at the heart of this structural inequality,” says NU attorney Jonty Cogger.

“While spatial inequality is pervasive, it is avoidable if the state commits to spatial transformation. The Constitution and enabling town planning legislation (the Spatial Planning Land Use and Management Act, 16 of 2013) provide a clear mandate to redress spatial inequality. Despite this transformative potential, most municipal governments have either done nothing or too little to combat the tide of inequality ramping up year after year in the post-apartheid-era.”

Councillor Malusi Booi, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, says that there is much work to be done to undo apartheid spatial planning.

“Cape Town, as with many other cities in South Africa and the rest of the world, has seen an unprecedented migration to urban areas over the last 20 years. The landscape has changed dramatically since the dawn of South African democracy.”

Alderman Felicity Purchase, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, says the city’s Transit-Oriented Development Strategic Framework, adopted in 2016, is meant to introduce a far-reaching approach to integrated spatial and transport planning.

“This approach,” she says, “will also assist us in building an inclusive city where the future of our residents is not determined by where they live, but rather where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”


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