South Africa has a housing crisis. There are officially 223 informal settlements in the Cape Town area, holding nearly 400,000 people ‘waiting to be housed’ by the City. Sweet Home Farm is one of these communities. Even if local government had the budget to build more than their estimated 8000 homes per annum, their strategy would never be able to deliver housing to the growing number of people settling on the outskirts of the city due to urbanisation.
There is the added complication of housing community members in temporary residential areas whilst local government build RDP homes on site, and the reality that the new housing cannot accommodate the current high density. This means that up to 40% of residents in Sweet Home Farm, for example, would have to move elsewhere permanently. Solving one problem will cause another one, possibly resulting in a new informal settlement springing up elsewhere.
UBU believes there to be a ‘third way’, a process that starts at the point where people are encouraged to learn about the context in which they live, and ends where they get to play a leading role in building their own homes.
What does this ‘third way’ look like? We believe that communities hold the key and we seek to help activate communities through facilitated participatory planning and facilitated building. Historically the facilitation portion of the development cycle has been underestimated and consequently has failed to ensure communities understand, grow in knowledge, contribute and ultimately own a design process. There is good legislation out there that explicitly encourages communities to play an active role in the development process. Good facilitation will allow an effective dance between the key stakeholders in the process, where different entities get to learn that little bit more about each other.
UBU is an invitation to being listened to, and to play a leading role in the design and procuring of transformed communities. It will take a super amount of hard work; it might provide employment; we hope it will enhance expertise of local community members. Let's activate that which already exists.
I don’t believe that UBU is the answer to the problem of informal settlements in the city. However, I do suggest that development of people is of far greater significance than that of physical infrastructure. There is serious expertise already dwelling (sometimes dormant) in communities. We know this because when we look at informal settlements we are not looking at a housing problem, but the current housing solution. The journey of listening to each other, planning and designing with each other, and ultimately building with each other requires a considerable amount of time and effort. And this is what it will take to see communities transformed in the city, certainly in post-subsidy South Africa.
A ‘reasonable hope’ of something different will only be achieved through the partnership of all those with a vested interest in seeing sustainable, genuine, holistic change.