The growth in informal settlements across Gauteng is a challenge not just to basic service delivery but also to political participation.

The provision of housing services is one of the most critical government functions, and also the most complex. The right to housing precedes many other rights and services; it is hard to access basic services without a serviced stand or formal house.

Also, unlike basic service delivery (a function of municipal government) or education (a provincial function), housing is the responsibility of all three spheres of government. This means that different spheres of government need to work together in a coordinated way to deliver housing. Sadly, the reality is that there is poor communication and cooperation across government spheres, particularly in Gauteng where different parties and coalitions are in power at different levels.

Section 26(1) of the Constitution states that “everyone shall have the right of access to adequate housing”. Accessibility means that the state must create conducive conditions for all its citizens, irrespective of their economic status, to access affordable housing. Government’s approach to this section of the Constitution has changed over time.


The state of housing and informal settlements in Gauteng

According to data from 2016, there are more than 2 700 informal settlements in South Africa with the number of households in informal settlements increasing by more than 120 000 since 1995. In 2016 there were 181 informal settlements in Johannesburg alone, containing 180 000 households and a population of over 500 000.

In other words, almost 10 percent of Johannesburg’s population live in informal settlements. About 10 000 migrants arrive in Johannesburg every month looking for work, placing more pressure on the city’s housing infrastructure.


The growth in backyard dwellings and informal settlements in Gauteng from 2000 to 2016

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) has produced detailed mapping of the changes in housing stock from 2001 to 2016 in Gauteng. This article highlights the areas in the province that experienced the greatest change in the number of backyard dwellings and informal settlements over the 15-year period.

The map below was featured as the GCRO’s Map of the Month in February 2018. It highlights 13 communities in Gauteng with the greatest increase in backyard and informal dwellings. The black and dark grey areas on the map have had an increase in dwellings of between 1 000 and 10 000 per square kilometre:


The GCRO’s research confirms the developmental challenges facing informal settlements. The article notes that

“many township areas had started from a relatively low base in 2001 – with median incomes lower than the provincial median in 2001 – and had fallen behind median growth rates for Gauteng between 2001 and 2011, in effect becoming poorer over time. We speculated that one possible reason for this might be the large increase in backyard structures and informal dwellings in many township areas over this period.”


A political map and implications for elections

The map below shows the wards (2016-2021 boundaries) that correspond to the areas on the GCRO map with high growth of informal dwellings:


The housing crisis in Gauteng raises the costs of elections in a few ways. Firstly, voter registration is harder for people without formal addresses. In order to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has reregistered millions of voters with incomplete home addresses. The IEC has also removed a number of voters from the voters’ roll due to incomplete or missing addresses.

With the constant growth in informal dwellings, voter registration is a moving target. The IEC’s preparation for the 2021 election has been hobbled by a year of COVID-related lockdowns. With six months to go, the IEC has not yet hosted a voter registration event.

Secondly, these wards are likely to have the most significant boundary changes due to their population growth. (Ward redemarcations occur every municipal election and they are linked to population growth within a municipality.) This can disrupt the continuity of political activity: a candidate campaigning in one ward might have a new constituency to consider in a future election.

Is voter registration and turnout better or worse in these wards? Is political sentiment more favourable or more critical? In future articles we will analyse the elections and surveys of the past five years to see if these wards differ significantly from the provincial average.

Written by Buhle Mbokazi

April 28, 2021

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