Informal Settlement Context

(SDI 2012)


Informal Settlements

Informal settlements exist across the globe, echoing the fact that 28% of all households have insecure tenure. It is hard to define these population centres as they represent a wide variety of characteristics. Informal settlements are typically comprised of economically depressed or migrant people living in crowded settlements with or without legal rights to the land they live upon. Those settlements without rights to the land are generally called squatter camps. These communities are created for many reasons, including economic pressures and population gains. Marie Huchzermeyer (2008) suggests that informal settlements are key performance indicators of a country and myriad government departments with respect to their ability to control poverty. The settlements are often created due to socioeconomic pressures, the result of the struggle to live under these pressures. It is therefore important to realise that informal settlements are not necessarily the root cause of poverty and depression, but a result of these and of opportunities centred more in urban areas.

Globally, informal settlements present unique challenges to governments. Many begin as squatter camps and resist eviction attempts with vigilance. To address this issue, Brazil has produced legislation to expedite the process of providing long-term tenure to these communities in order to allow faster upgrading (Huchzermeyer, 2004). In Cape Town, it appears the government was historically less enthusiastic to provide security of tenure to squatter camps (Huchzermeyer, 2008). Both strategies have merit. In some cases, eviction of people from private and government land can be justified. Often the settlements are at risk of flooding, earth movements and fires that pose significant lethal risk to residents. The settlements can also be inhibiting the use of vital land, blocking the building of infrastructure for the general population. While being prone to these disasters, many communities also lack basic sanitation and services. The UN and some private researchers argue that security of tenure must be given before upgrading can occur which poses a challenge to those dealing with informal settlements (UN 2003, Souza 2001).

The past decades have shown an international alertness to informal settlements. Government relations to informal settlements are beginning to be analyzed by various researchers. Relations such as Zimbabwean government and its informal settlements are defined as hostile or repressive. The campaign to eradicate the settlements and swiftly remove new settlements from being erected represents a draconian solution that does not address the root causes of the settlements. Under this system, settlers are often considered something of a scourge, greedily taking land for themselves. Tolerant relations represent governments that minimize the visibility of the settlements or effectively ignore them. Transformative relations reflect the relationship Brazil has with its settlements. Inclusive and dynamic growth, as well as integration of the settlements are hallmarks of this new age approach (Huchzermeyer 2004, Elsevier Study 2009).

As can be seen above, informal settlements are not unique to South Africa though the circumstances leading to their formation can be seen as site-specific. In the mid-1900s, the minority white population, led by the National Party, instigated Hendrik F. Verwoerd’s segregation technique called apartheid. Segregation had always been an understood social dynamic but now it was law. Under apartheid, the Afrikaner elite passed as many laws and amendments as possible to instigate total racial and ethnic segregation, confounded in part by a desire to exploit people as laborers. Apartheid was more than just segregation; it was using terms of ethnicity to separate equality. For example, the Bantu Education Act of 1953 was linked to employment inequality through education. Under this act, funding and authority were removed from the missions and provincial authorities that had been providing an education resource for Africans. These schools had produced a “dangerous African elite” in the eyes of the Nationalists, so through required Afrikaans vernacular in the younger grades and a uniform curriculum that emphasized ethnicity, the Nationalist Party could claim they were expanding the school system, while ignoring the rapid decline in the quality of the education (Frankental and Sichone 123-124). Another example is the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required all South Africans to register under a certain classification, such as white, coloured, or black. For people in relationships formed before apartheid, the classifications were even more specific and demeaning. The white partner had to take the classification of the other partner, and in relationships between people classified coloured or black, the woman took the classification of the man (Frankental and Sichone 125).

The Group Areas Act of 1950 had a huge impact on the lives of those living within Cape Town. This act “controlled the use and ownership of land as well as the residence rights” (Frankental and Sichone 125). “The very essence of apartheid” it made compulsory the segregated residence of all non-whites in especially reserved areas (Mason 196). The Group Areas Act relied heavily on the aforementioned Population Registration Act and had its own classifications to add on top of it. While the black group included white men and coloured or white women married to or living with black men, it excluded coloured women with black partners. Similarly, while the coloured category included white men and black and white women with coloured partners, it excluded coloured women with black partners (Frankental and Sichone 125). In this way, the Nationalist party did their best to classify blacks under the preeminent “descent” criterion. The acts mentioned above served to make ethnicity seem natural and inevitable to everyone resident in South Africa and to make ethnic consciousness virtually synonymous with being South African (Frankental and Sichone 125). The implementation of the Group Areas Act entrenched the association of ethnicity with territory, labeling areas as “white” and forcibly removing the “non-whites” to another location.

Under apartheid, many acts were created in order to keep a minority race in charge and in control. The forced movement of non-white residents from their homes to government housing destroyed communities and led to the formation of informal settlements in and around Cape Town. Relocation sites became over-crowded, dense and informal as families were segregated to specific zones and years of lax education impeded any situational upgrading for those living in these conditions. As mentioned earlier, socioeconomic pressures can force circumstances towards informality no matter where the settlement is located internationally. South Africa remains unique in reference to the historical affair of segregation by law and the deep mental identification with racial classification that formed during this time. That mentality still has some hold in the country today, which contributes to the social tensions in relationships between those in formal and informal housing in Cape Town.