Joburg flood plains are shift­ing


The Citizen (KZN) - - News - Chi­som Jen­nif­fer Okoye – jen­nif­[email protected]­ti­

Ur­ban planning reg­u­la­tions have been strength­ened and ad­dress prob­lem.

There is one area where apartheid has left a last­ing le­gacy – flood­ing in many parts of Gauteng. In the Klip­town area of Soweto, flood­ing – and los­ing ev­ery­thing – is some­thing that res­i­dents have be­come used to over the past 30 years.

Com­mu­nity leader and ac­tivist Ge­orge Mohlala – founder of the SKY non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that has as­sisted chil­dren within Klip­town – said: “We now plan for it.”

He col­lects clothes and other items to help tide people over.

Klip­town was among the hard­est-hit ar­eas in Gauteng in the re­cent floods, which fol­lowed heavy, wide­spread rain.

Three people, in­clud­ing an eight-year-old girl, drowned in the prov­ince.

Klip­town res­i­dents spent the fol­low­ing days spread­ing their be­long­ings out to dry along the muddy path­ways and re­ly­ing on do­na­tions to fill their stom­achs.

Pro­fes­sor Philip Harrison from Wit­wa­ter­srand Univer­sity, who is also South African re­search chair in spa­tial anal­y­sis and city planning, said the broad pat­tern­ing of the City of Joburg was largely in place by about 1910.

Wealth­ier people built their houses on high-ly­ing ground to the north of the min­ing belt, away from the dust and noise of min­ing ac­tiv­ity. Over the years, these set­tle­ments con­tin­ued to ex­pand north­wards.

He said the work­ing-class white pop­u­la­tion settled along the min­ing belt, slightly to the south, while the black pop­u­la­tion was lo­cated more “pe­riph­er­ally” on the min­ing belt in “ini­tially mixed slums”.

The Slums Act of 1934, the Na­tive Ur­ban Ar­eas Act of 1923 and the Transvaal Town Planning Or­di­nance of 1931 were used to de­stroy the so-called “slum yards” near the in­ner city and cre­ate new seg­re­gated hous­ing es­tates, such as Or­lando for the black work­ing-class people and Ber­trams and Vrede­dorp for the poorer whites.

In the 1940s, be­cause of World War 11, the pro­vi­sion of new hous­ing was limited and there was the de­vel­op­ment of in­for­mal set­tle­ments and the emer­gence of the squat­ter move­ment led by James Mpanza.

Harrison said: “Al­though seg­re­ga­tion and re­lo­ca­tions long pre­ceded apartheid, it was in­deed the ar­rival of apartheid rule which led to the most rad­i­cal at­tempts at creat­ing a seg­re­gated city.

“Al­though Soweto had ear­lier ori­gins, it was in the ’50s that mass seg­re­gated hous­ing was in­tro­duced and also that other large regional-scale town­ships were planned and cre­ated, eg Tem­bisa, Katle­hong.”

“From the ’50s, there was also large-scale [Amer­i­can-type] subur­ban, low-den­sity, pri­vate mo­tor car-ori­ented sprawl in the white ar­eas, en­cour­aged by the de­vel­op­ment of the free­way sys­tem from the ’70s.”

In the ’60s, the gov­ern­ment de­cided to stop pro­vid­ing state hous­ing for blacks in ur­ban town­ships, with the in­ten­tion of shift­ing and con­fin­ing them in home­lands.

De­spite this, the black pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ued to sprawl into the cities, which led to a hous­ing short­age, forc­ing a re­newed de­vel­op­ment of in­for­mal set­tle­ments and shack back­yards.

In­for­mal set­tle­ments emerged on flood plains. A clear ex­am­ple is Klip­town, but the Setswetla set­tle­ment on the Jukskei River on the edge of Alexan­dra is an­other place highly sus­cep­ti­ble to flood­ing.

Harrison said as an in­land city, Jo­han­nes­burg did not face many cli­mate is­sues, but it did face is­sues of lo­cal flood­ing.

“With the in­creas­ing in­ten­sity of storms, there are in­di­ca­tions that pat­terns of flood­ing are chang­ing and the ex­tent of flood plains is shift­ing,” he said.

“There is some for­mal hous­ing lo­cated in ar­eas which are now vul­ner­a­ble to flood­ing [eg on flood plains and wet­lands or be­cause of in­ad­e­quate storm wa­ter drainage sys­tems].

“These is­sues do need to be ad­dressed ret­ro­spec­tively.”

He said it was important that for­mal and in­for­mal de­vel­op­ments are built on vul­ner­a­ble land.

“In­deed, planning reg­u­la­tions have been strength­ened, with Jo­han­nes­burg’s new land use man­age­ment scheme insisting that ‘no de­vel­op­ment shall be per­mit­ted within the area which is sub­ject to flood­ing by a 1:100-year flood or within the ri­par­ian zone and a buf­fer area of 30m from the edge of the ri­par­ian zone or river bank where this is clearly iden­ti­fi­able, which­ever is the greater’.”

Harrison added: “This is re­ally important as the pre­vi­ous scheme re­ferred to a 1:50-year flood line, which in prac­tice may now be con­sid­er­ably less than one in 50 years.

“We do need to make sure that these new pro­vi­sions are ac­tu­ally im­ple­mented and there is a con­tin­u­ing need for stud­ies that mon­i­tor the change in lo­cal flood pat­terns.” He thought Jo­han­nes­burg gen­er­ally had good city plans to re­spond to en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, like mi­gra­tion and cli­mate change, and the city’s need to have more in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment.

It was important to com­mu­ni­cate with res­i­dents, even though there was push­back from mid­dle-class com­mu­ni­ties.

“Some mid­dle-class com­mu­ni­ties in the north of Jo­han­nes­burg have, for ex­am­ple, re­acted neg­a­tively, even ag­gres­sively to at­tempts to in­tro­duce more in­clu­sion­ary planning.

“We need to en­gage with these com­mu­ni­ties so they can un­der­stand the crit­i­cal need to proac­tively shape a rapidly chang­ing city in a more in­clu­sion­ary way.

“If we don’t do this, in the longer term, Jo­han­nes­burg will be­come a dys­func­tional ur­ban space and ev­ery­one will lose out.”

“The crit­i­cal el­e­ment is ca­pac­ity to im­ple­ment,” said Harrison.

Com­mu­ni­ties need to proac­tively help shape the city

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

STORM WARN­ING. Hun­dreds of people were left des­ti­tute and three were con­firmed dead af­ter rag­ing storms hit Gauteng last week­end.

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