By Walter Fieuw, CORC
In the lead up to the 1994 elections, the federation of woman’s savings collectives lobbied the Government of National Unity to institute an alternative to the dominating approach of project-linked capital subsidy scheme system. The federation demonstrated that people-centred and controlled development outperformed developer-built subsidised housing in size, cost and quality; empowered communities; generated employment and construction skills; and gave a voice to the most marginalised.
In 1998 the government appropriated the model and mainstreamed its fundamentals. The result was the People’s Housing Process (PHP), a special housing subsidy that allowed for much greater involvement of communities in the construction of their houses. The challenge of the social movement was always going to be a way of shifting the control of resources and the devolution of power into the hands of communities. Since that time, the PHP has come under much scrutiny – both from implementing communities and professional policy-orientated urban sector NGOs – for reducing a potentially transformative instrument to sweat equity in contractor-driven developments, undermining the fundamental tenants of this approach.
Driven by the agenda people-driven development with all the associated economic, social and political reforms implicit, the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) has pioneered innovative solutions where formal and informal systems overlap. Government has acknowledged the constraints and regressive nature of the PHP in its previous incarnation, and made deliberate steps to widen the space for communities and their supportive NGOs to influence resource distribution. This led to the enhanced PHP, which aims to “enable/encourage communities to actively contribute and participate in the housing development process so that communities take ownership of the process and not just act as passive recipients of housing…. ePHP recognizes that the community is the initiator and driver of the process” (ePHP policy framework).
The Govan Mbeki Human Settlements awards
The Govan Mbeki Human Settlements awards are a prestigious ceremony hosted by the National Department of Human Settlements in two stages: the Provincial and the National. The award ceremony aims to showcase and demonstrate the work done by the department at both tiers and promotes best practices in meeting the delivery mandate of the Presidency’s Outcome 8, which is aligned with the vision of building sustainable human settlements and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. The MEC of Human Settlements at the Provincial tier nominates projects in the five specified categories which displays exceptional quality, promotes best practice, brings together stakeholders, and most importantly, improving the quality of life for the beneficiary-partners.
In the category Best Enhanced People’s Housing Process (ePHP) project, two FEDUP housing developments took the Provincial centre stage in the North-West (for the Lethabong project) and in Kwa-Zulu Natal (for the Namibia Stop 8 project). These projects now qualify for the national award ceremony to be held in May in the Free State.
The Lethabong project, North West Province (96 houses)
The Lethabong project is located in Hartebeesfontein, Rustenburg Bojanala district. FEDUP members distinguished this project from other ePHP projects when they said that, “The project has been solely run by members of the beneficiary community. The different project tasks were divided amongst team members elected from the community. The teams carried out the project tasks ranging from subsidy administration, project planning and programming, material procurement and construction supervision. This is a project where ordinary women successfully planned and implemented the project.”
The sizes of the 96 houses were also much larger than normal RDP houses; average FEDUP house is 54m2 which is much larger than the 36m2 to 40m2 houses built under traditional RDP contractor-driven housing developments. These houses are also plastered on the inside and outside and are adorned with specially decorated window sills and doors. Community members were trained in bricklaying, carpentry, and plastering. Two additional savings schemes were started and income generating opportunities were identified.
The Namibia / Stop 8 project, Kwa-Zulu Natal Province (89 houses)
In the Namibia / Stop 8 project, the role of the Community Construction Management Team (CCMT) was paramount to the successful implementation. This site-and-serviced site is located on Haffajee’s land in northern eThekwini (Durban) where FEDUP members were allocated 90 hectares to construct 96 units. This forms part of the pledged commitment of the then-minister of Housing Lindiwe Sisulu that would see each province commit 1,000 subsidies to FEDUP members. In the 1960s migrating labourers invaded these lands hoping to find better access to services and job opportunities. When the area was formalised in 2005, some families had to be relocated.
The Federation’s project brought together divergent groups of people around a single vision of constructing good quality houses. The coordinating and management role of the CCMT was sensitive to the finely granulated complexities of newly settled relocated families. In this sense, not only the houses speak of the success, but also a cohesive society.
Namibia / Stop 8 has received international admiration and the Department of Human Settlements regularly quotes it in discussions on ePHP. The Premier of KZN and his MEC for Housing officially opened the first 30 houses constructed in 2010 which was followed by visits of the Premier of the Free State, the Secretary of State for Sweden, and other delegates and associates of the Shack / Slum Dwellers International community. It stands out as an example of the quality that can be delivered through a community-based approach to housing supply together with formal partnerships with national, provincial and local government.
Mam Benekane receiving the Govan Mbeki award