National Government and more specifically the Department of Human Settlements announced in 2014 that it seeks to upgrade 750,000 households to standards outlined in stage 2 and 3 of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) by 2019. The ultimate aim of this programme is to transform informal settlements into neighbourhoods, and this requires engineering services, town planning, land registration and transfer, and ultimately housing, whether state-built or community self-built. Beyond the UISP, other capital grants such as the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) are available to provide additional services, and are often utilised in improving backyard shacks.
South Africa’s eight largest cities are increasingly responsible for planning, financing (through grants) and implementing upgrading and improvement projects in informal settlements and backyards. This is where the greatest scale and extent of informality is located. Since 2010, a number of new government structures have been established to build capacity, provide technical support and set guidelines for best practice. Some of these structures include:
Cities are in the process of developing plans to upgrade informal settlements, and a range of instruments, guidelines and practice notes have been developed to support the formulation of strategies. Eight metropolitan municipalities are: Buffalo City, City of Cape Town, City of Johannesburg, City of Tshwane, Mangaung, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni, and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. The components of such strategies include assessment and categorisation, community participation, town planning, infrastructure development, land tenure, relocations, financing and institutional arrangements.
There is a need to open up data on how each of the eight cities is reportedly progressing in terms of upgrading informal settlements and improving the living conditions of people living in backyard dwellings. For this reason, Isandla Institute analysed core documents of the eight cities and developed 40 indicators grouped into five categories. Visit the Data Index page to learn about the research methodology, information sources, indicator development, assumptions, and limitations. The purpose of the Index is to enable stakeholders, including communities, civil society organisations, municipalities and others, to engage in evidence-based conversations and actions regarding informal settlement upgrading and responses to backyard dwellings by the cities. By measuring the progression towards policies, programmes and projects which are in line with guidelines for best practice, the Index indicates areas requiring more dedicated support, capacity, resources and even a change in thinking.
One in five South Africans lives in undignified conditions in areas that are under-serviced and/or in inadequate housing. Addressing these conditions remains one of the top developmental agendas of the South African government. According to latest estimates, close to 1.2 million households are living in 2,700 informal settlements, and 700,000 households live in backyards of mostly government-subsidised houses. Government has delivered close to 3 million houses and 800,000 serviced sites (e.g. land with infrastructure) since 1994, but the housing backlog remains high and currently stands at 2.1 million units. A new approach is needed if informal settlements are to become fully developed and integrated with established neighbourhoods. The participation of informal settlement residents in planning and upgrading processes are especially important. If such a bottom-up and empowering approach is adopted, the informal economy can also be better understood and supported since formal employment is very low in most settlements.
Caption: Negotiating space, a film by Isandla Institute