Informal Settlement Myths
It was nice to see Richard’s positive post about the efforts to make the N2 safer for Cape Town motorists. I agree with most of his sentiments, but would like to clear up a wider myth about informal settlements that he alludes to in his post. Sorry if I go on a bit, but informal settlements are my thing – I’ve been researching those particular settlements for the last 4 years.
The myth I am referring to is that informal settlements are a result of rural-urban migration. This is the traditional urban growth model for developing countries that many of us were taught in Grade 10 geography classes, but does not actually apply in South Africa – apartheid managed to make sure of that. Certainly, rural-urban migration from the Eastern Cape contributes to the growth of informal settlements, but to a much lesser degree than most people think. Numerous studies have shown that the majority of residents in informal settlements are actually urban-born.
The reason for this is that the state placed a moratorium on the construction of housing in Cape Town’s African townships from 1969 until 1980. This resulted in a chronic shortage of housing and overcrowding with the obvious consequences that people spilled over into informal settlements. The most rapid growth in informal settlements occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s - a time when the influx control laws were at their peak. The most significant factor contributing to growth of informal settlement is thus natural growth of the poor urban population of the city and a simultaneous shortage of housing at the lowest end of the market – not rural-urban migration.
Many of the settlements along the N2 were established as a result of factional violence in the informal area of Crossroads in 1983/4 (allegedly instigated by apartheid forces), when many people fleeing the violence were forced to invade land and erect shacks. The reason that area is so popular for settlement is that it was the nearest open land adjacent to the black townships of Langa, Guguletu, Nyanga and Khayelitsha as it was intended to form a ‘buffer strip’ between these settlements and the N2, the airport and the industrial areas. Unfortunate characteristics of the land are that it is alongside a dangerous freeway (as Richard has pointed out), it is flood-prone, and much of it is covering an old landfill site. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, plans are underway (driving by the national Housing Department) to upgrade these settlements as part of a pilot project for upgrading informal settlements. This should start happening next year.
Another fallacy is the rate of rural-urban migration and the perception that all these people just knock up a shack on the nearest available piece of land. To correct Richard’s ludicrous figure of 25 000 people a month, the rate of influx from the Eastern Cape is closer to 3 000 people a month. Studies have shown that there is a complex pattern of integration into the city. These people do not all settle in informal settlements, but instead will share a room with a relative and may move around the city a number of times and eventually, if circumstances force them, they may have to move into an informal settlement.
I think I’ve said enough for now, but now my favourite topic has been broached, be warned: there may be much more…