Epilogue: Integration and Spatial Transformation of South African Cities - The current status of the debate and policy implementation

In 2019, CAHF produced a four-part paper series on Integration and Spatial Transformation of Cities in South Africa, authored by Leila McKenna, which looks at how to use public property to realise value toward the integration and spatial transformation of cities in South Africa. In 2020, we are following the series up with this Epilogue paper which pulls the four papers together, and discusses the main findings in the context of recent developments around land reform, housing and planning.

This Epilogue paper offers a brief review of current debates, policies, strategies and legislation adopted by government to promote spatial transformation and sustainable human settlements, and considers changes and shifts that have occurred over the recent period paying particular attention to why, despite the plethora of policies, strategies and legislation, South African cities continue to reflect high levels of spatial segregation and urban dysfunction. The paper identifies three distinct but overlapping domains that determine the current framework for spatial integration: planning, housing and land reform. Each of these is defined by policy, legislation, programmes and administrative processes and budgets.

The main findings of this review are that the primary form of housing delivery is has exhibited some key shifts in recent years, yet the dominant approach continues to be large-scale state-led settlement developments  premised on the need to deliver at scale, and dependent on the assumption that the state needs to be the delivery agent as reflected in most of the Priority Human Settlement and Housing Development Areas. The land reform approach to urban areas is similar and tends to focus on supplying residential units. Its emphasis is, however, on strategic high-value areas where current property markets are preventing access to well-located land. Its responsibility and jurisdiction is however, limited to restoring ownership of those previously removed. These different ‘domains’ are all playing themselves out at a local level. Competing programmes, administrative systems, budgetary processes, accountability and objectives all seem to converge, often pulling government officials, plans and budgets in different directions.

The Paper argues that, as a result, although different departments and functions in government are seeking common goals, their application at a local level is creating conflicting and contradictory demands on municipal officials and administrative systems. The effect is a focus on big capital budget projects and scale over well-targeted, market responsive, niche interventions that would achieve spatial transformation.  In both the housing and land reform approaches, property is not seen as an economic value instrument but only as a social benefit. The Paper concludes by setting out recommendations for changing this approach, including: shifting government’s role in housing delivery; and incentivising, regulating and formalising existing informal housing markets.

In summary, despite seismic policy shifts in the last 24 years, the human settlements sector stills spends most of its energy chasing targets of top structures built, sites serviced, and grant funds spent. If we are to achieve spatial integration and city building, we need to start measuring progress against these policy objectives, which means developing clear indicators which assess spatial transformation outcomes at a household and city level. 

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