Story 1: Bulk Preparation
This is the story of how Pam and her family and friends were involved in building houses and a neighbourhood for themselves. It starts with Pam and some of her friends starting to save for their future housing needs, and then, through the contacts that they made, finding land that a church was willing to donate to them. It also identifies all the processes that they needed to follow to get this land ready for development, including getting planning and environmental approvals.
Initiation and management
My name is Pamela, or Pam for short, this is the story of how I build a home for myself and a neighbourhood for my family, my neighbours and my friends.
The story started about 10 years ago when I lived with my partner Temba and our two small children in a two room corrugated iron shack in a Squatter Camp, an informal settlement on the edge of Eden Ridge Township, a suburb of Dale View, a medium sized town in South Africa. We had to rely on family in the nearby four roomed houses for water and a toilet; or sometimes we just used the bush.
Temba used to work at a local supermarket and I did a little sewing with my mother-in-law to get a little extra money.
I had heard for years about plans the municipality was making for moving our, and other, informal settlements to a new RDP housing project beyond Eden Ridge Township. But every time there was a community meeting to report back on progress there was always another excuse, like that the land was owned by the prison service and it was taking longer than expected to transfer it to the municipality.
In the end, the municipality did manage to organise a new housing project in that area but I do not know how the people who were allocated to this new RDP housing project were identified. All I know was that none of the people I knew were lucky enough to get one of those houses.
At the time, like many of us in the Squatter Camp, I was a member of the local Congregation Church. The church wanted to help people like us, who lived in informal settlements, but they were not sure how they could do this.
About 9 or 10 years ago a flood washed away about 15 of the shacks in Squatter Camp. My family was lucky not to be badly affected. These flood victims were desperate, and had nowhere to go.
The Congregation church owned a large piece of land about 5 kilometres outside Eden Ridge Township. Prior to the flood the church had participated in an emergency housing project which was organised by the municipality. The church had agreed with the municipality that in the event of a housing emergency, an old unused sports field on its land could be used to house the people affected by emergencies (like the flood) on a temporary basis. About 15 of those people affected by the flood moved to this temporary relocation point on the Congregation Church land.
There was very little planning done for these flood victims and they just had to do the best they could under the circumstances. The Municipality was supposed to find alternative land for these flood victims, but it was clear to all involved that this was not going to happen quickly. The church also did not want an uncontrolled settlement to grow on their land, so they set up a committee (with the municipality and flood victims) to find a better long term solution for these temporarily displaced persons.
Visit Organising for more information and discussion on this topic.
A year before this flood, a few of my neighbours and I visited a savings scheme we had heard about in one of the other townships in Dale View. Here we heard about a Savings Schemes Network, a membership based organisation with groups in many part of the country that encouraged and helped people like us to organise ourselves into small savings schemes so we could start to save and organise to address our own development needs. We also heard about Development Support Organisation, an NGO that helped these savings schemes.
When we returned to Squatter Camp, about 20 of us started our own savings scheme – “We Can Savings Scheme”–and joined the Savings Scheme Network. We Can Savings Scheme members used to meet monthly and each of us deposited about R50 into a bank account. I was elected the secretary of the savings scheme. The scheme’s main objective was to save and plan for housing, but we were also able to help some of our members with some of their other needs (like getting ID documents, and supporting others to get their children into the local school).
After a year, there were 3 other savings schemes in other parts of Eden Ridge Township, each with between 15 and 30 members, who also started schemes because they also wanted houses.
Visit Organising for more information and discussion on this topic.
After the flood victims had moved onto the Congregation Church Land, I met with the leadership of Congregation Church and explained what the savings schemes were doing. The church liked the fact that the saving scheme members were not waiting for government to give them houses and were taking matters into their own hands.
After a few months of negotiating, the 4 savings’ schemes (the scheme I was in and the 3 others from Eden Ridge Township that had started at that time) entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the church, that we would work together to see how some of the vacant Congregation church land could be donated to members of the 4 savings schemes and used for housing.
Many other people heard about the agreement our savings schemes had reached with the Congregation Church, and over the next few months more savings schemes were established in Eden Ridge Township.
When Development Support Organisation, the NGO supporting the Savings Scheme Network, heard about this MoU, they visited our schemes and the church and advised us to pilot what they called a Managed Land Settlement project, on the Congregation Church Land. A planning working group was established that was made up of the church and savings scheme leadership and Development Support Organisation to start planning for this Managed Land Settlement Pilot Project. I was elected into this working group.
One of the first things the planning working group did was to visit the municipality to see how the municipality could help us develop on this church land. The Municipality told the planning committee that they could not provide too much support as the land did not belong to them, and that the municipality had other priorities.
The good news we heard at this meeting was that the area where the church land was located, was part of the municipality’s long term Integrated Development Plan and was just on the urban edge, on land earmarked for residential development as part of the local Spatial Development Framework. This meant that we would not have to spend time motivating for the area to be incorporated in the municipalities’ long term plans.
Visit Land and Planning for more information and discussion on this topic.
Bulk planning and environment
When we met with the Municipality they also told us that the church, as land owners, had to arrange to submit plans to the municipality to get approval to develop this church land as a managed land settlement project.
As a member of one of the savings schemes that were allocated to the church land (see the section on bulk allocation below) we agreed that we would use half of our savings to pay for some basic plans to be done. Development Support Organisation also donated some money and appointed a town planner, an environmentalist, engineer, and land surveyor that they had worked with before in other parts of the province who had some understanding of the managed land settlement approach.
The town planners held a workshop with members from the savings schemes and we all agreed on a broad framework layout for the church land. The planners called this plan a ‘sub divisional area plan’. The plan showed were the main access road was on the church land as well the where the 5 blocks would be located next to this access road.
The church would retain a piece of land for its own use. The space where the people who were affected by the flood were allocated to, would also be developed in a similar way as the other blocks. A new piece of land would be set aside on the church land for a new temporary relocation area that would be used to house people in potential future emergencies on a temporary basis. The understanding with this plan is that this land would only be used only if the municipality knows where these people will be housed in future, on a more permanent basis.
The town planners, appointed by Development Support Organisation, used the draft framework plan we had developed and applied to the municipality for this area to be rezoned from institutional (church) zoning to a sub-divisional area. This was a rezoning application to the municipality, based on the Land Use Planning Ordinance. The sub divisional area plan included the following information: • The broad spatial framework plan showing the main access roads and superblocks; • The number of residential plots that would be built in each superblock (the residential density) • The zoning that would be used for each block or portion of land within the sub divisional area.
The town planners had to zone the superblocks as a special zone for incremental settlement. This would allow us to build incremental houses on the land. If the land was zoned as residential we would not be able to build temporary houses. It was also indicated in the sub divisional plan motivation that in future the intention would be to zone the residential areas a residential zoning (for normal suburban residential areas.
Our application had to motivate for why we wanted to go the route of a rezoning like this, rather than the township establishment process which is the route normally followed. For us, this was one of the legal options available to us for a managed land settlement project; we took the advice from our planners in selecting this particular rezoning plan. We also had to detail the “basket of rights” - rights, densities and feasibility of providing services, public open space, etc.
The application had to be advertised for comments from the public. We were told at the time that it would take up to one year to obtain approval. Because of this we could not settle until this approval was obtained. At first we thought we might have to wait until a general plan was approved for the superblocks, but instead we managed to get permission to settle on the land with a draft general plan. Luckily there were no objections so we were able to get approval in less than a year. The Municipality did not have to submit the draft general plan to the surveyor general at this stage as we were not creating formal residential erven (or plots) at this stage. Once the framework layout (or sub divisional area plan) for the church land was developed, the environmentalists, that Development Support Organisation appointed for us, had to produce an environmental study and a heritage impact assessment also had to be carried out as there was uncertainty with regards to graves in the area.
Both the Environmentalists and Town Planners (as part of the rezoning and land development process) had to conduct a public participation exercise. The municipality and the Department of Environmental Affairs agreed to cooperate and allow the church, as land owners, to conduct one public participation process for both the planning and the environmental approval processes. This involved putting an advert in the paper, holding a public meeting and putting notices up on site, informing people about the development and giving them an opportunity to comment.
Luckily, given the fact the main neighbouring land owner was the municipality; there were no objections to the development. This was an important moment for us because it meant that our settlement had some legal recognition. Development Support Organisation explained that having the area approved by the municipality as a sub divisional area and with an incremental zoning meant that we were secure as our settlement had been “legally declared”. This meant that the municipality could “see” us, instead of us being informal.
Visit Land and Planning for more information and discussion on this topic.
The bad news we heard from the municipality when we first met with them, about developing the church land, was that there was no bulk water and sewerage system in the area, and the likelihood was that there would be no development in the area at least within the next 5 to 8 years. The process would have to wait for the municipality to slowly, year by year, expand its bulk services infrastructure out towards the church land.
The church knew that there was quite a good borehole in the area that had not run dry in living memory. We agreed, as savings schemes, that we would be prepared to use this water for communal standpipes if it was found to be suitable. We were also prepared to consider alternative sanitation options like composting toilets.
Visit Services and Facilities for more information and discussion on this topic.
Although the church land was 5 km’s further out of town, it was also (as per the municipalities Integrated Development Plan and their strategic transport plan) part of a future development corridor that linked Eden Ridge Township and some communal villages and lands that started about 20 kilometres further out of town. This road was already, at the time, fairly heavily trafficked with taxis and cars. There was also a new proposed industrial area nearby, that the municipality was considering developing as part of its Special Development Zone plans.
Visit Access for more information and discussion on this topic.
As part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the savings schemes and the church it was agreed that only the first 4 savings schemes would be able to move onto the church land. It was agreed that the church land would be divided up into 5 blocks, with each of the savings scheme allocated to one of the blocks. The 5th block would be left for the original flood victims who were already on the land in the temporary relocation area. Each block would then be able to determine how they could develop ‘their’ block. The allocation list was therefore effectively made up of members of each of the savings schemes.
The outer boundaries of each block was planned so that each block was just big enough to accommodate all the savings scheme members at a plot size that was acceptable to the members. The good thing about this arrangement was that when we all moved from Squatter Camp to Twin Oaks we already knew each other from working together in the ‘We Can Savings Scheme’.
Each savings scheme was asked to give their block a name. As ‘We Can Savings Scheme’ we decided to call our block Twin Oaks as it had two oak trees growing on it. We also gave this new community the name ‘Bongweni’ which means ‘the place where people have pride’.
While the savings schemes that were allocated to the church land were planning and getting ready to move onto the land, the other savings schemes that had not been allocated to the church land continued negotiating with the municipality to try and find some land for them to do something similar to what we were doing.
These were quite protracted negotiations, as there were many people that the municipality had to find land for, but after about a year and a half these other savings schemes agreed with the municipality that some of them would be allocated to a small part of the municipal land, which was next to the church land that we had been planning for. The Municipality would use the rest of this land it owned next to the church land for other people from their waiting list and informal settlement relocation plans.
Visit Tenure for more information and discussion on this topic.
It was very difficult for the savings schemes and the church to find money for these preparation activities. If it was not for the generosity of the church in donating the land, and the Development Support Organisation in donating funds for the necessary planning and studies, the pilot managed land settlement project on the church land would have likely not have been possible.
There were also sympathetic and open minded officials within the planning department of the municipality, who gave valuable advice and helped get the plans through the complex bureaucratic system.
As savings schemes we decided not to use our own savings for some these studies and rather decided to use our savings for putting in some of the services during the next basic product stage.
The provincial department of human settlements also commissioned an independent study to draw lessons from the experience of getting this land ready for development (see analysis and review in phase 5 for more on this).
One of the key recommendations coming out of this study was that government needed to give far more attention to funding the feasibility and preparation phases. Being unable to access land on which incremental settlement (and other forms of settlement development) can occur is one of the main bottlenecks in being able to address the land and housing challenges of the country.
The municipality also picked up on some of the lessons emerging from this study and decided to change its approach to the development of the municipal owned land that was adjacent to the church land from a conventional RDP housing type approach that would take years to implement, to a managed land settlement (MLS) approach similar to our MLS pilot project on the church land.
For the municipal owned land most the money for much of their preparation phase came from the Municipal Infrastructure Grant that was spread over a number of years.
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