Migration and urbanisation: A conundrum
Lack of housing is the plight of the poor, writes
WHEN a poor rural person arrives in any city they have to fend for themselves for a place of abode. They are lucky if they have relatives or friends to offer shelter, albeit tempory. If they don’t have, which is a grim possibility, then prospects of survival become extremely precarious.
Friends become unfriendly and relatives find it cumbersome to sustain what they see as a burden given their own economic challenges. In conditions of general economic doom as evidenced by slow economic growth, relations of kindred spirits become a casualty in the quest for survival of self.
Informal settlements in South Africa should no longer be deemed as a strange phenomenon, rather must be viewed as a constant reality faced by almost 1.2 million households in South Africa who call them home.
The “normal” structural view of a home with brick and mortar has given way to a transient meaning of informality. Over the past few years we’ve noticed the densification of existing informal settlements and in some areas, mostly urban areas, such as metros and secondary towns we have seen new informal settlements emerging.
Thus, the poor resort to survive in conditions of informality that are provided by the vast options of informal settlements. To explore this option of informality is a desperate measure given its perilous state. Water is communal, electricity is erratic, crime is perennial, shacks are makeshift and lack of refuse removal is integral to the toxic ambiance, hence enhanced rate of ailment. The dark cover of night invites criminals who prey on women and children. Here a sense of community is elusive.
When the poor opt to live in these inhuman conditions of adversity to raise their families, that must be seen an exemplification of the lowest levels to which they have surrendered their dignity just to live for another day.
This is the characterisation of the recent South African urbanising or migratory experience whose impact on the housing demand and many other services is untold.
Out of a population of 54 million people, 39 million live in cities and South Africa is urbanizing at the fast rate of 64%, according to the World Bank and Stats SA. More often, migration and urbanisation are used interchangeably. For ease of reference migration is movement of a people or person from one section of the country to another whereas urbanisation is movement of a person or persons from a rural area of lower economic base to the cities of higher economic base.
Circular migration is defined as migration for purposes of labour or education. The discovery of minerals in the 1880s resulted in a large scale of circular migration that was eventuated by the 1913 Land Act when the labour demand of the mines became insatiable. The Hut tax and Poll tax that led to the Bambatha Rebellion were tightened to strangulate rural areas to send cheap labour to the mines and the cities.
World War II resulted in a huge wave of urbanisation which coincided with the growth of the secondary economic sector spurred by the war demands. The Smuts’s government’s relaxed attitude towards urban migration evidently saw the mushrooming of informal settlements in areas such as Newclare, Alexandra, Pimville, Marabastad, Germiston and Orlando.
Urbanisation increased around the early 1970s and mid 1980s after the passing of the Tricameral Act. With the dawn of 1994 and the abolishing of Group Areas Act more and more Africans urbanised. Internal urbanisation also fuelled external migration from the African sub region.
The recent local government elections brought more people to the urban areas who are driven by poverty and are animated by the vast opportunities that are available in the urban areas.
As a result the increase in informal settlements is outpacing the provision of RDP houses.
Currently there are 2 700 informal settlements that continue to grow at an alarming rate. According to David Morena, manager of a Human Settlement unit responsible for the Upgrade of Informal Settlements, the City of eThekwini has seen an increase of 60 informal settlements in the past two years.
On average, migration which results in urbanisation occurs when those of relatively poor circumstances head for the cities with better economic opportunities. The conundrum that South Africa faces is that the rural poor migrate to cities at a time when there is no economic growth, thus limiting chances of finding jobs.
The rural poor also have limited skills, a fact that makes their job suitability suspect and almost non-existent.
The developmental state becomes a welfare state as it becomes the only hope of providing housing and sustainable livelihoods, even the employed have to fend for themselves since most companies no longer find it appropriate to provide housing for their workers. The employed must go to the commercial banks for housing or use government options depending on their income bracket.
The provision of housing for the poor and low income becomes a serious national challenge. The dictum of the Freedom Charter that, “there shall be housing, security and comfort” will become an illusion. Affordable housing for the lower end is another challenge as evidenced by the decision of the City of Cape Town to sell a school in Sea Point to a Jewish day care centre for R135 million rather than converting the school to social housing for lower and middle income workers.
The lower and middle workers in Cape Town spend most of their money on transport to access work and would be
better served to stay in the city and leverage its vast infrastructure. The province seems to side with ratepayers who feel that building of social houses would lower their prime areas and defeat gentrification.
The fact that the lower end of workers are African further lends credence to racial stereotypes. Minister Lindiwe Sisulu broke government protocol to side with the NGO Ndifunukwazi Trust against another arm of government. The injustice from the Western Cape is nakedly glaring.
The poor of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay who have received the brunt of recent fires rose in revolt, demanding the rebuilding of their homes. The options available to the poor are increasingly becoming limited and their voice is muzzled. Violent protests, they argue, is the best available avenue.
The expropriation of land without compensation should no longer be an academic past-time but an urgent imperative. For as long as Africans do not own land our freedom is hollow.
A Khoisan proverb argued that the colonialists’ insatiable quest and greed for land will result in the them pasturing their cattle in the sky. Thami Daliwonga ka Plaatjie is adviser to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu