City chooses not to invest in informal settlements

SJC protesters in Cape Town yesterday demanded more money in the budget for sanitation in informal settlements. Photo courtesy of the SJC.

Dustin Kramer

28 May 2015

The City of Cape Town says infrastructure for water and sanitation cannot be installed in 82% of informal settlements because the land is not suitable. Yet the City’s own data tells a different story, writes Dustin Kramer.

On 29 May the Mayor will present her final budget to Council for the 2015-16 year. The draft budget proposes only R22 million for toilet and water infrastructure in all 204 informal settlements in Cape Town. In response to submissions from more than 500 Khayelitsha residents, describing the indignity and danger of using toilets in informal settlements, and from the Social Justice Coalition and Ndifuna Ukwazi, the City has said that infrastructure cannot be installed under various conditions.

For instance, infrastructure according to the City, cannot be installed “in areas of extremely high density, under power lines, on landfill sites, in a road or railway buffer, within servitudes, outside the urban edge, in areas where there is no bulk infrastructure, in water bodies/retention ponds and floodplains, and in high-noise zones”.

Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg, Mayco member for Utility Services, says that “up to 82% of informal settlements are either fully or partially affected by one or more of the above-mentioned constraints”. Using this logic, he concludes, “Put simply, the City has already installed almost all the toilets and standpipes it is allowed to and can, meaning that large capital allocations for the forthcoming year are not necessary.”

Mayor Patricia De Lille made the same claim in a press statement in August 2013. It would seem that the City is using the same numbers and justifications nearly two years later.

The argument by the Mayor and Councillor Sonnenberg that it is effectively not possible to plan or install further infrastructure across the majority of informal settlements in Cape Town is misleading.

The City’s own figures tell a different story.

We were able to get access to the Informal Settlements Development Matrix, a document that the City has not made public. The matrix is a database of information about informal settlements, which lists all 204 informal settlements in Cape Town. Within these settlements, the City has identified 437 individual clusters, which are categorised in terms of size, age and development priority.

The matrix identifies five categories:

A1 – informal settlements that have been approved for full upgrade

A2 – informal settlements that are suitable for future upgrades and where ‘pre-planning’ can commence

B1 – informal settlements on City land with adverse physical conditions that require programmes and budgets for de-densification etc.

B2 – informal settlements on provincial or national government land that require programmes and budgets for de-densification, land transfers etc.

C – informal settlements on land where total relocation is necessary.

Each slice of the pie shows the percentage informal settlements as well as the number of households in a category. Source: Informal Settlements Development Matrix, own calculations.

According to the matrix, informal settlements in categories A1 and A2 are suitable for formal upgrading projects immediately. But projects have actually been approved only in category A1, which makes up just 4% of clusters. Of these it is not clear how many projects are being implemented.

Some of the largest informal settlements are in A2. In fact the clusters in this category alone account for roughly a quarter of all informal households in the city. The City could invest in infrastructure here immediately.

Furthermore, 63% of clusters are in category B1 or B2. These are areas where there are environmental and other challenges, but where it is still possible to upgrade and install infrastructure. The fact that an informal settlement may be too dense, for example, does not prevent investment in infrastructure. The matrix confirms that informal settlements in these categories require programmes and budgets to deal with challenges that are present.

What is ultimately clear from the matrix is that only 26% of clusters are in the C category, and therefore, on land that is, according to the City, totally unsuitable for upgrading and where relocation is necessary.

Dealing with the challenges facing informal settlements will not be easy, but it can be done. What is needed is decisive action, not indifference. A plan for sanitation in Cape Town’s informal settlements must be developed through participation with residents, taking into account the different challenges facing each informal settlement. The matrix makes it clear that only with proper planning and budgeting will the City overcome these challenges.

But not only is there no plan, the City has confirmed that it has no intention of developing a plan or of increasing investment in infrastructure. Councillor Sonnenberg wrote to the SJC in January stating that a plan for sanitation will not be developed “due to the informality of the environment”.

Both Councillor Sonnenberg and Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson have also confirmed publicly that spending for sanitation infrastructure will not be prioritised; in fact it will continue to decrease. It would seem that the City intends to continue to provide temporary, inferior and expensive outsourced services indefinitely.

There is a misconception, encouraged by City officials, that people are ‘flocking’ to Cape Town, that households in informal settlements are growing rapidly, and that the City cannot plan for what is seen as a “moving target”.

Source: Informal Settlements Development Matrix, own calculations.

But according to the matrix, two-thirds of informal settlement clusters are older than 15 years; and 80% are older than 10 years. Just 4% are less than 5 years old.

This mirrors the low growth of informal settlement households as presented in the City’s budgets. The number of households in informal settlements has grown on average only 1.8% over the years 2010/2011 to 2015/2016, a growth rate which is manageable and the same as trends in formal areas.

City officials have themselves recognised that informal settlements are not temporary and will exist for the foreseeable future.

Yet successive City administrations, including the current one, have chosen not to plan and budget appropriately for informal settlements. As a result, residents have lived in limbo for decades - and there seems to be no end in sight.

This is unreasonable, irrational, and unconstitutional. And yet the City of Cape Town is entirely resistant to recognising the experience of residents.

Yesterday on Cape Talk radio, Cllr Sonnenberg publicly committed to releasing his evidence supporting the 82% claim within a week. This should list all informal settlements and state what specific challenge is preventing the City from installing proper sanitation infrastructure in each one. The City’s continued use of service delivery statistics without supporting data or evidence is unconvincing.

SJC and NU publish the full Informal Settlement Development Matrix dataset here and an infographic explaining key data here.

Dustin Kramer is the Deputy General Secretary of the Social Justice Coalition. You can find him on twitter here: @Dustin_Kramer

Views expressed are not necessarly GroundUp’s.

Cllr Ernest Sonnenberg​, the Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services in the City of Cape Town, has responded to this article.