Professor Phillip Harrison gave a very convincing account of how the government envisions the future of South Africa through its newly drafted paper – The National Development Plan, which was handed over to the president in parliament on the 15th of August.
The NDP is essentially a developmental vision from national government, and aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by the year 2030.
I attended a seminar at Wits University in Johannesburg, on Tuesday afternoon (21 August), in which Prof. Harrison (who was one of the people commissioned to draft the report) reviewed the future plan but from a spatial context, which in extension fits perfectly well within the housing theme.
The plan is centred on five core pillars: economic development, infrastructure investment, rural development, environmental sustainability and lastly, human settlements. Prof. Harrison described how all five pillars fit into the spatial dimension of the plan.
Economic development is about strengthening the active labour market. Part of this recognises workers’ movement to and from work and this demonstrates the need for investment in transit-oriented developments. Another important aspect of the plan is labour market mobility – so people can easily move to areas where there are employment opportunities. This means that housing markets must include enough rental accommodation.
Chapter 8 of the plan outlines the human settlement ‘conundrum’, stating that while more than 3 million housing units have been delivered since 1994, the housing deficit just keeps increasing. The plan argues that we cannot sustain the current subsidised housing delivery approach of rolling out houses for free. (Interestingly, this is not a new assertion – the Minister of Human Settlements has also been quoted as saying this). It seems like the current RDP subsidy programme will one day end, and alternatives to low-income housing delivery need to be thoroughly investigated. Prof. Harrison said that the current subsidised delivery approach is producing dependant, inactive citizens and noted also that it has reinforced apartheid spatial patterns. New approaches to housing financing and delivery are thus needed where citizens can take greater responsibility for providing their own shelter.
However, with nearly 60% of South Africans living in poverty, it is unrealistic to expect households to meet their needs without any support. Some kind of subsidisation is needed. Prof Harrison argued that addressing the housing challenges requires a cumulative “process of reform guided by a long term perspective”. We have great policies in place that address the shortfalls in housing developments, such as Breaking New Ground and more recently Outcome 8, however implementation lags far behind.
The plan sets out three areas of focus for future policy reform: the housing subsidy programme, the gap market, and Informal settlements. The focus on the subsidy programme proposes moving away from top structure investment, while simultaneously keeping in line with the Constitution and being able to find sustainable ways to provide housing for that 60% of the nation that otherwise cannot house themselves. Within the gap market, the plan seeks to promote the role of the private sector by reducing the risk for the sector and incentivising them to engage at an increased scale. One of the biggest problems with housing in South Africa and beyond is the proliferation of informal settlements (as I write this there are protests in Marlboro– North of Johannesburg- following a massive eviction programme of more than 100 illegal built shacks). When the informal settlements upgrading programme was introduced, it provided a refreshing way of dealing with informality, and the programme was supported by the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP). The NDP recognises and supports the NUSP but critiques it for lacking in creativity.
Many people at the seminar were skeptical that the NDP was just another plan to get people going until yet another plan was revised. The plan was seen as being utopian and depicting what is already known and seemingly far out of reach. One thing that the vision acknowledged was that South Africa had policies in place that are world class; the problem is implementation on the local level. Nonetheless, the plan is welcomed and hopefully this time around we will be able to build a South Africa we can all proudly call our home.