Joburg flood plains are shifting
OLD PROBLEM: ISSUE SINCE CITY WAS BUILT, BUT URGENT ACTION NEEDS TO BE TAKEN
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
STORM WARNING. Hundreds of people were left destitute and three were confirmed dead after raging storms hit Gauteng last weekend.