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Revisiting the Self-Help Housing debate: Perception of Self-Help Housing by the beneficiaries of South African low-cost housing

par Andre Mengi Yengo
Witwatersrand of Johannesburg RSA - Master 2006

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1.0 Chap I: Introduction -Presentation of the topic and its context

1.1: Presentation of the topic

Self-Help Housing (SHH), or «Self-build», is generally regarded as the alternative to conventional public housing, and is considered as «the non-conventional housing policies» (Ramirez et al, 1992: 101). It is acknowledged that such a policy is the expression of the inability of the government to provide adequate housing to all its citizens. For Marcuse, «Self-help emerges as government policy where redistribution and social equity are low priorities» (Marcuse, 1992: 21). It may be argued that if housing is a need (Fordham et al, 1998) that must be met, in the incapacity of the government, especially in developing countries, to provide housing to all its citizens1(*) ( Eugen, 2001), poor people do not have any other alternative than to satisfy their housing need alone. Indeed, as Schutz observes, «hundreds of thousands of families in the Third World are building shelter for themselves with their own hands» (Schutz, 1992: 235).

It appears that SHH is a tool or a strategy that poor people, especially in developing countries, utilize for solving their housing need. In other words, rich people throughout the World do not face the same difficulty as poor people to solve their housing need. In fact, «rich people in any society can afford choices in space provision, material and finishes, levels of services and utilities, and all the other components of housing» (Tipple et al, 1992: 283). In addition, Angel (2000b) agrees with this issue when he advocates that the housing problem is more specific to poor people, as rich people do not experience a housing problem at the level of basic needs.

Given what is said above, SHH strategy is a manifestation of the situation of a housing crisis. For Harms, SHH policies «have always emerged in situations of economic and political crisis within capitalism» (quoted in Fiori et al, 1992: 24). This research report pursues the SHH debate and seeks to identify the main causes of the failure of SHH in South Africa, adopted in the form of People's Housing Process (PHP). Indeed, like other developing countries, South Africa faces a severe housing crisis. An important number of South Africans, especially those living in townships, either live in bad housing conditions or do not have shelter at all. This is well documented in Olufemi (2000: 224) who points out that «in South Africa there are about 3 million homeless people and about 8 million people who are shack dwellers». In addition, the greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council estimates that there are about 12 000 homeless people in Johannesburg (Shibambu, 1996 quoted in Olufemi, 2000: 224).

It is arguable that in South Africa, the failure of conventional housing policy and the housing shortage, observed in the extension of informal settlements do not stimulate the implementation of SHH. This is in contrast to developed countries after the first and the Second World War on which such policies are modeled. This research seeks to establish the main causes of the unsuccessful implementation of PHP in South African Urban areas. In addition, through the literature review which offers abundant cases of successful2(*) implementation of SHH strategies throughout the world, I will sketch the criteria for a successful implementation of SHH.

The research shows that there are two main actors in the process of a successful implantation of SHH: Government and community as the beneficiaries. The effective combination of these two actors can provide a sustainable development which is defined as «development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs» (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987: 43). Development obtained without community participation is likely to fail. Indeed, such development only produces economic growth and does not adequately focus on the improvement of communities living conditions. This kind of development was initiated by the advocates of the theory of modernization and currently by the neo-liberals. As a result, this development creates and deepens inequalities in the society in building a considerable gap between rich people and poor people.

In South Africa for example, where neo-liberal policies are adopted through GEAR3(*) (Growth Employment and Redistribution), the country continues to have one of the highest Gini coefficients. In terms of income, the «gap is vast with household subsistence levels situated at less than $200/month. This results in a situation where the poorest 20% of households (equivalent to 27% of the population), account for less than 3% of total income levels, whilst the richest 20% of households, (equivalent to less than 3% of the population) account for 65% of total income production» (Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management).

In turn development which seeks to ignore the major role of the government will only produce the expansion of informality and illegality. This means that a sustainable development must result from the interaction and collaboration between the government and the community. This is well-documented in Giddens (1984) who seeks to establish the way a given society should work. In his theory of structuration, he argues that we cannot understand the dynamic of life by looking at the individuals only, which he calls «micro-level activity». Likewise, we cannot explain the social life in only focusing on the structures of the society that he names «macro-level». There is, according to Giddens, a relationship between individuals and institution and such a relationship is situated in a given space and precise time.

Although there are many forms of SHH (see chapter III), this research will more specifically focus on the mode of SHH that involves the government efforts and the participation of the community or the beneficiaries. This kind of SHH is acknowledged under the appellation of «State SHH». SHH which was adopted as policy by the World Bank around 1970s for solving housing conditions of poor people in developing countries, is defended by neo-liberals of whom Turner and Mathey are the main supporters, and criticized by Marxists view of whom Burgess is the main pioneer,

* 1 The right to everyone to access to adequate shelter is recognized Chapter XI of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, UNCHS Habitat II (1996) and all the democratic constitutions including South Africa (Chap II section 26).

* 2 SHH is defined in this research as successful, if it provides an important number of adequate houses to poor households in comparison with conventional programme, allows social inclusion of poor, etc. In a few words, I define SHH as successful, if it allows empowering poor households.

* 3 This is a programme adopted by the South African government related to neo-liberal policies. This programme comprises 4 objectives, namely: «a competitive fast growing economy which creates jobs for all work-seekers, a redistribution of income and opportunities geared towards the poor, a society in which sound health, education and other services are available to all and an environment in which homes are secure and places of work are productive» (Stavrou, 2001)

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