JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jan 3 (Thomson Reuters
Foundation) - W hen South African street vendor Nelson Khethani
was evicted from his home in downtown Johannesburg to make way
for a new development, he fought a successful legal battle to
ensure his family would have somewhere else to live.
Khethani, his wife and hundreds of others were relocated in
2008 to a converted former military hospital with biometric
security gates, running water and 24-hour electricity - but the
promise of a better life didn't last long.
Now the tower block has patchy electricity, leaking water
pipes and sewage in the yard, one of many government-run
buildings where conditions have deteriorated as social housing
provisions fail to keep up with urban regeneration.
Campaigners argue affordable low-income housing has been a
critically neglected component of urban regeneration in
Johannesburg with no long-term solution in place. This is
widening the divide and tensions between the rich and the poor.
"It became clear that there had been shortcuts with the
plumbing and the electricity," says Khetani, flicking a broken
light switch and citing a recent two month spell with no power.
"There's no proper management. We phone the city to tell
them about the problems. I phone everybody. No-one wants to
help. Meanwhile we pay rent. We cry every day."
Even though his previous building had lacked basic services
and security of tenure, the informal arrangement had been better
and more organised compared with city management, Khetani says.
Virgil James, spokesman for the City of Johannesburg said
the administration is well aware of the situation but that there
is simply not enough low cost housing to cope with the number of
people flocking to the city in search of jobs.
He said there was "no intention" of allowing the city to
"fall into private hands" but that municipalities needed to find
ways to cover their costs.
"We are faced with a number of people living in dilapidated
buildings with illegal water and electricity connections. This
puts the city/municipality under severe strain as the city has
to cover the costs that extend into millions of rand," he said.
"It will take a lot of discussion to make sure the city
works for everyone ... in the meantime, the municipalities
everywhere have to cover their costs. They need people to pay
for the services they use or the city will deteriorate."
REGENERATION AND DIVISION
Johannesburg's inner city started to be neglected during the
1980s as sanctions against the apartheid government triggered an
exodus of companies and wealthy residents.
"Grey zones" were established where basic utilities such as
water, power and waste collection stopped. Uninhabitable areas
marked by crime and decaying buildings were called "sinkholes".
Since the end of apartheid in 1991, the African National
Congress-led government has pledged to transform Johannesburg
and end its reputation as a haven for crime and violence.
Evictions were rife following the launch of an Inner-City
Regeneration Strategy in 2003, a policy aimed at enticing
investors, businesses and the middle class back to an inner-city
area of nearly seven square miles (18 sq km).
Investment and regeneration gathered pace as South Africa
prepared to host the 2010 soccer World Cup. Regeneration around
Ellis Park stadium in the centre of the city spurred investment
in affordable housing, new retail and infrastructure.
Soweto township, southwest of the city, also benefited from
investment tied to renovation of the Soccer City stadium.
Since then, former sinkholes have been transformed into
smart precincts with spacious apartments and trendy markets
where the city's hipsters sip cocktails from jam jars.
Demand is high. A development on Eloff Street has over 300
one to two-bedroom apartments renting at $250-$365 a month, with
nearby coffee shops, art galleries and stalls selling cupcakes.
For the majority whose livelihoods depend on proximity to
the city, these developments are beyond reach. Half of
households earn $228 a month, with 31 percent earning less than
$115, according to the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI).
The City of Johannesburg has made some attempts to provide
low-cost housing. The Johannesburg Social Housing Company
(JOSHCO) is responsible for providing social accommodation to
those earning between $215 to $540 a month. But this is still
too expensive for most, say rights groups.
The right to housing is enshrined in South Africa's
constitution and arbitrary evictions are prohibited, with the
city obliged to relocate tenants facing homelessness.
But as gentrification takes root and land prices soar,
families increasingly face displacement to shelters and
temporary housing that cannot cater for the numbers evicted.
"The problems with housing rest on the implementation of
many of the government's own policies. The ideals are there as
is the capacity and the resources but there is little political
will to implement," says Edward Molopi, Community Research and
Advocacy Officer at SERI.
Protracted legal cases stall movement as the backlog for
temporary housing mounts. The municipality is now dealing with
25 applications by developers to evict around 3,000 families.
It is estimated that some 30,000 units of accommodation are
required in the short term to address the most vulnerable
households, according to the municipality housing department.
"There is a tension between the municipality and the
developers. The burden of the cost of evictions and relocations
has to be shared," a source from the housing department told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The basic functioning of the
department needs to change."
The lack of affordable rental accommodation has allowed
informal settlements to flourish with people resorting to "bad"
buildings that are unsafe and lack basic services. An estimated
400 buildings have been occupied illegally in the inner city.
Amos Latsoalo stands outside an occupied building on Soper
Road where he and 100 others live with no power or running
water. The inner city is "only for rich people", he says.
A sign at the property states that the row of houses will be
demolished as they are "unsuitable for human habitation". A new
residential building is to be erected in their place.
Hillbrow, the adjacent neighbourhood, is one of the most
densely-populated areas in South Africa with over 74,000 people
in approximately 0.3 of a square mile (1 sq km). Johannesburg
prison houses about 10,000 people in a similar amount of space.
Any spare space is up for grabs. Hundreds of paper notices
advertising rooms, balconies and shared beds flap against a wall
known as the "post office" in Hillbrow. Misspelled notices read
"1 men to share a bed plz call me", or "balcon available".
The residents of Soper Road say they don't know where they
will go. Some have been promised for four years that they will
be moved to temporary accommodation or social housing.
"Johannesburg is emblematic of all South African cities
where you see a confluence of very complicated forces," said
Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities, who
says relocations are trickier as the premium on space increases.
"There is a distributional problem because you are dealing
with extreme inequality. You can't get regeneration off the
public balance sheet. You need private investment
For Khethani and other residents, the result is the sting of
"Joburg has failed dismally," he said. "The idea of
Johannesburg being a great city is a dream."
(Reporting by Gillian Parker, Editing by Paola Totaro and Jo
Griffin and Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers
humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights
and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)