We respond to Ivan Turok’s recent Daily Maverick article entitled, “What will housing mega-projects do to our cities?”

The article is spot-on in addressing the concerns and challenges regarding the manner in which housing has been undertaken in our country over the past 20 years. However, there is a shift in how current housing projects are being identified and prioritised – the focus is no longer only on “mega-projects”.

Minister of Human Settlement Lindiwe Sisulu, recognising concerns relating to housing delivery (as captured in the article) requested the HDA to develop a Master Spatial Plan (MSP) for human settlement development and a draft policy framework to guide ‘a coherent and inclusive approach to land’. She understands that this is a crucial intervention if we are to address the triple challenge of:

  • The legacy of our apartheid past
  • The challenges of current urbanisation
  • The integrated, sustainable human settlements of the future

The minister sees the MSP as forming the cornerstone of the country’s entire human settlement policy framework going forward. It will be a key element in creating sound delivery processes focusing on where to invest government funding in an appropriate and collaborative manner.

The plan is of significance because it will provide a comprehensive spatial framework to guide investment from all state departments, state-owned companies and the private sector in the human settlements environment. It includes principles for spatial development, spatial targeting, criteria for human settlement development, the identification and mapping of broad investment areas. Criteria has been developed to guide of, in particular, catalytic projects to restructure spatial patterns of apartheid settlement patterns.

It will shape the future of human settlement development – in other words, the cities and towns that make up post-apartheid South Africa – for generations to come.

How will this be done? The National Department of Human Settlement will guide spatial planning and indicate where to invest in human settlement through a single national project pipeline. The set of criteria as laid down in the spatial investment framework calls on stakeholders to collaborate and coordinate their operations to transform human settlement development in South Africa.

The minister initiated the process by calling for a National Human Settlement Indaba in October 2014 and inviting stakeholders to sign a social contract for the development of sustainable human settlement. The contract details the stakeholders’ level of partnership and contribution towards the 1.5-million housing opportunities that the department has targeted for completion by 2019. The next step was a call in 2014 for both private and public sector role-players to submit proposed projects for consideration as catalytic projects.

What is a catalytic project? A catalytic project may be mega in terms of scale but this is not an essential criterion for consideration. The core principles being considered in the assessment of proposals submitted are:

  • Intervention that is required in order to afford access to suitable, well-located land and its associated social infrastructure
  • Integration to strengthen the need for compact cities
  • Impact that leads to both spatial and social transformation

A team comprising the department and the Housing Development Agency (the entity responsible for supporting the department with the catalytic programme) assessed the proposed project proposals to ensure that the projects are compliant with the principles of Intervention, integration and impact and that the projects are technically sound and feasible.

Thus, whilst challenges will continue in so far as human settlement delivery is concerned, the evolution from housing to human settlement is continuous and relevant for all South Africans. It is exciting and appropriate that perceptions be considered and where possible addressed, to focus on continued improvement in the sector’s delivery.