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"If you want to know what’s happening in the human settlements arena, you should follow the squatters!" CEO Taffy Adler told the HDA workshop, "You need to monitor what they’re doing, where they’re settling and how they survive".

The HDA along with its partners held a successful informal settlement workshop on 28 August 2013. Well over 110 delegates from nearly all the provinces attended, as well as many municipalities, national government, NGOs and built environment professionals.  Maki Thellane, HDA Senior Manager Informal Settlement Upgrading and Illana Melzer from market research company Eighty20 presented human settlement and informal settlement trends. The data analysed was released from StatsSA and included the 2001 and 2011 censuses, 2007 community surveys, and individual household data from Limpopo informal settlements collected by the HDA.

The human settlement picture

Melzer highlighted the overall human settlement trends evident from 2001 and 2011 census comparison.

The average household size in South Africa is declining and single-headed households are on the increase and it was noted that the dramatic increase in the proportion of households that comprise one person is driving the trend in declining household sizes. There is also a notable trend migration patters with major new flows of migrants to the mining towns, with the North West replacing Gauteng and Western Cape as the major destination.

There is an increase in the number of households living in formal dwellings, primarily as a result of the units built under the government subsidy scheme, and overall access to services for all households in South Africa has improved. In 2011, 3.5 million more households were living in formal dwellings than in 2001 and there has also been a decline in ‘traditional dwellings’.

There is also an indication of a more towards formal and informal rental accommodation. The percentage of households that rent their primary dwelling increased from 19% to 25% in all areas, while in urban areas it increased from 26% to 32%.

Informal settlement trends

The definition of what constitutes an ‘informal’ settlement sparked much debate throughout the day and remains an issue that needs to be resolved if informal settlement data is to be relied upon to draw an accurate picture.

One of the most interesting findings relates to the steadying-off of growth in informal settlements, a notable increase in the number of families living in formal dwellings, and a considerable increase in the number of backyard dwellings.

According to the 2011 census, 41% of households living in shacks which are not in backyards claim to own their own dwellings – an increase from 37% in 2011.

“If you look at the top six district municipalities by number of households, they account for 41% of total households in South Africa,” explained Melzer. “But if you look at the municipalities with the highest proportion of households living in shacks not in backyards, we are seeing huge growth in municipalities such as Bojanala, Buffalo City and Siyanda.

“Government will have to look at these figures carefully and assess where it wants to have impact and apply resources.”

It was pointed out that the census data only provides totals and doesn’t track individual households over time. “Aggregated data masks everything,” Melzer warned.

“As we find that informal settlements are decreasing and backyard shacks are increasing, we also find more people want to rent homes rather than buy or own a home, especially in mining towns. We will have to assess this change in demand and respond accordingly,” Thellane says.

Comparing the census data to detailed household level data

Thellane presented the high-level findings of the Limpopo surveys. These surveys focused on household and settlement information and were administered by community-based enumerators using Android phones. In addition to completing the survey questionnaires, the enumerators also logged GPS coordinates and took photographs of each structure surveyed. These photos were used to check data anomalies.

The following local municipalities were surveyed: Smash Block; Thabazimbi; Jacaranda Ext 6; Modimolle; Motetema; Elias Motsoaledi; Mohlakaneng; Polokwane; and Praktiseer Ext 2, Praktiseer Ext 3 and Tubatse A in the Greater Tubatse Local Municipality.

Thellane explained that the Limpopo survey showed that settlements that are near mining towns are more temporary compared to settlements within established townships that are not in mining areas; households in the latter seem to be set on staying, irrespective of the informality of the area and inadequacy of services. She also reported that residents who live in recognised settlements seem to feel more secure. “When asked if they own this home and whether they are looking to relocate, these residents told us, ‘No, this is my home.’ This demonstrates the importance of security of tenure,” Thellane said.

In Praktiseer, people are investing in their homes – many look like middle-class suburban homes. How to get residents to approach their home as an asset is one of the big questions that needs to be explored. “We see this starting to happen in Praktiseer and Tubatse A,” Thellane said. The fact that residents are investing in their homes does imply, however, that informal settlements cannot be defined by the status of the houses – tin shacks vs middle-class suburban homes, for instance – contained within their borders. All this reveals the complexities in defining informal settlements and a need for a different approach.

Informal settlement data and trends highlight the following challenges
According to Thellane, the workshop highlighted the challenges shared among role players involved in informal settlements, including a lack of shared understanding of the nature of South African informal settlements. Addressing informal settlement upgrading in the context of the current policy and planning regime – which uses a one-size-fits-all approach – is not possible on a large scale.

Finally, it was pointed out that it is difficult to address each individual municipal and provincial programme, as an updated provincial profile and status quo of informal settlements does not exist in most cases. There is also usually no consistency in key informal settlement data.

The data gathered through the HDA surveys, however, helps us understand the settlements better. We can therefore identify key implications relating to practice, methodologies, planning and policy, namely:

  • The definition of informal settlements remains an issue
  • Rental is on the increase
  • There has been a decrease in informal settlements and an increase in backyard shacks
  • There has been an increase in small (one person) household sizes
  • Informal settlements are becoming more permanent and residents are feeling more secure

To download the workshop trends and profile presentation, go to www.thehda.co.za/resources. There are various informal settlement publications to follow. Watch this space.