Upscaling City-wide Informal Settlement Upgrading in South Africa: A Programme Management Toolkit for Metros in South Africa.

January, 2018 Upgrading and Service Delivery, Workshops

By Claire du Trevou:


In December 2017, the Cities Support Programme hosted a consultative workshop entitled “Upscaling City-wide Informal Settlement Upgrading in South Africa; A Programme Management Toolkit for Metros in South Africa” where the major South African Metros were introduced to the recently developed toolkit, which aims to respond to the many barriers metros face in informal settlement upgrading projects. The workshop was held over two days in eThekwini, and saw representatives from all major South African metros and representative NGO’s participating in the event. The 2 day workshop took participants through the toolkit which aims to address the aforementioned barriers. The 10 chapters address the barriers, and offer insight as to how metros may overcome these.

The toolkit also has an extensive library with 347 resource documents which metros may draw upon for reference and guidance.

This piece summarises the key points raised in the workshop.

The workshop was the culmination of collaborative work conducted between National Treasury’s ‘Cities Support Programme’, the National Department of Human Settlements’s ‘National Upgrading Support Programme’ and the various Metropolitan Municipalities from across the country.

In this process Metros identified key barriers to city wide and programmatic approach to upgrading of informal settlements. In response to the barriers; a practical, outcomes and outputs based, barriers responsive Upgrading Toolkit has been developed to help and support metros to develop upgrading plans and programmes to scale up upgrading of informal settlements, to contribute towards building inclusive and sustainable cities. This toolkit is aligned to the National Upgrading Support Programme ( NUSP) and its implementation and practical support to the metros will be carried out as part of the NUSP Capacity Development Programme.

Both globally and nationally there has been a paradigm shift moving away from the ‘eradication’ of informal settlements, to the ‘incremental, in situ upgrading’ of informal settlements. (Simply phrased, cities are no longer viewing informal settlements as a blight on the urban landscape, but rather looking for ways to support and allow for residents to upgrade their dwellings from shacks, to formal houses, on site – without having to relocate.)

While this paradigm shift is by no means a new approach (commitment to city-wide, incremental upgrading dates back to 2008 and earlier; NUSP Outcome 8, UISP re-invigoration, HDA, NDA Vision 2030, Human Settlements White Paper 2016, SPLUMA 2013, and others) and the approach has (in theory) been adopted by most Metropolitan Municipalities, there are existing processes and governmental procedures which continue to create barriers that hinder the upscaling of upgrading projects.

The key barriers to upgrading that were identified by the Metros (during investigations carried out between March – May 2017) are:

  1. Political Will and momentum of convention of conventional housing delivery programmes
  2. Capacity and institutional constraints
  3. Funding/grant instruments (greater flexibility, insufficient allocations for incremental upgrading)
  4. Statutory and regulatory inflexibility
  5. Project instead of programmatic (city-wide) orientation
  6. Service delivery instead of partnership mode of response
  7. Land – availability, ownership, and invasions
  8. Rapid Urbanisation pressures – the need to ‘get ahead of the game’
  9. Participation, facilitation, and social compacts
  10. Project planning and preparation
  11. Managing settlement data
  12. Spatial issues – high densities, urban sprawl
  13. Long term operating and management
  14. Procurement – slow, cumbersome, rigid.

With so many barriers listed, it is no small feat when even the smallest of informal settlement upgrading projects are realised. However, the real drive and approach from National is for metro’s to adopt a ‘programatic approach’, in order to upscale the upgrading of informal settlements, rather than merely upgrading one settlement at a time. The main focus is to support and enable city-wide upgrading programmes which are more participative, incremental, and partnership-orientated. Thus the overall goal of the toolkits is to support operationalisation of the new upgrading approach, by putting in place some of the tools which will enable Metro’s to more effectively overcome the prevailing barriers and blockages which have prevented city-wide implementation thus far.

The new approach to informal settlement upgrading is to provide a high level of services to communities, coupled with some form of tenure security, and then allow for residents to consolidate and formalise their own homes.

The services provided include the upgrading or formalisation of roads and pedestrian walkways; taps, toilets, and communal sanitation areas; stormwater infrastructure, electricity, and public lighting; the design and implementation of public and recreational spaces; and fire protection infrastructure. There is also the intention to find ways to support local small economies. In addition the new approach also looks at how government can provide or support ECD’s and healthcare facilities in and around existing settlements.

The idea is to provide these essential services as rapidly as possible and in advance of land acquisition and formal planning approvals where delays will otherwise result. This entails prioritising public-realm investments as the main priority for the state, as opposed to the current modus operandi of the state providing individual tenure and housing assets which are slow and costly to deliver.
The intention of this new approach is to create a framework for a dignified and functional human settlement, which will then allow residents to invest with confidence in the consolidation and formalisation of their own top-structures. This approach differs from a ‘sites and services approach’ in that the intention is to, as far as possible, upgrade the settlements where they are, within the existing settlement boundaries. The ‘sites and services’ approach laid out new settlements on green field sites, with densities that are far less than most of existing informal settlements have. It is widely accepted, that if government gets the public space stuff right, people will naturally start consolidating their own homes, and overtime, further densify. This approach is significantly cheaper than continually attempting to provide full top structures, in new ‘townships’ for the some 1.2million households living in the 2700 informal settlements across South Africa.

Key Principals of Incremental city-wide Approach

  1. Move away from reliance on conventional, formal housing
  2. Prioritise and fast-track comprehensive essential services
  3. Rapid health and safety mitigation
  4. Ensure & sustain effective community participation (participation is not a once-off project planning event, but a sustained process of building a relationship of trust, partnership and understanding over time. It is the foundation of effective and sustained upgrading)
  5. Move from service delivery only to partnership mode of response
  6. Include all settlements in a city-wide programme
  7. Upgrade in-situ and incrementally (relocations should only happen as a last resort)
  8. Functional tenure
  9. Flexibility in statutory and regulatory processes
  10. Owner driven housing and creating a more enabling environment for this to occur
  11. Optimising limited available fiscal resources

A fair portion of the workshop was dedicated to working through this new approach, and allowing participating metro representatives the space to share their own innovative methodologies, use of technology (such as drones, GIS, Apps etc) to map and data collect, and success stories.

The workshop moved through the toolkit chapters rapidly, and briefly alluded to how the acknowledged barriers could be overcome.

As an NGO representative participating in the event, I was encouraged to see the effort made to encourage all metro’s to really challenge and shift the current modes of practice when it comes to informal settlement upgrading. The principles enshrined in the ‘new approach’ to in situ upgrading, are principles and approaches that have been adopted and used by many NGO’s and support organisations for decades – and so it is encouraging to see the methodology being acknowledged and accepted by government. However, my concern remains; how will a toolkit help dislodge the deeply intrenched systems and process one contends with when attempting to upgrade informal settlements?

While the toolkit painstakingly details out funding instruments that can be drawn upon, innovative ways to navigate land and tenure issues, spatial considerations and densifications – the toolkit still needs to be championed by someone… The intention is for the toolkit to be used in conjunction with the NUSP Resource Kit which includes a training manual and training materials which aim to build the capacity of municipal officials working within the sector, which will hopefully increase capacity within the Metro’s.

However without the political will and the capacity of municipal officials to take on the additional/different approach – the toolkit will merely become yet another document in the pile of unread, albeit necessary documents.