Towards Sustainable Human Settlements

‘A sustainable human settlement is a community of people in which economic growth and social development are in balance with each another; resources are used responsibly so that they will continue to deliver value to future generations; and everyone has an opportunity to participate in the economy, to be treated fairly and to prosper’.

Housing has been a contentious subject in South Africa for a long time. Most of the country’s urban areas face multiple housing challenges, many due to the absence of affordable housing in areas of opportunity for the urban poor. It also has not helped that poor communities have struggled to access well-located land through formal channels and as a result, informal settlements and the housing backlog continue to increase at a pace that the government struggles to manage.

The Department of Human Settlements in South Africa presented a White Paper on Human Settlements in November 2023 which seeks to repeal the Housing Act of 1997. The White Paper aims to provide affordable housing which will require spatial planning at a municipal level that considers various factors that include available land, provision of services such as water, electricity, and sanitation, the State’s financial ability to provide the requisite land and services while considering cultural and land use patterns.

The impact of the Draft White Paper on the Agricultural Sector is threefold:

  1. Agricultural Land in peri-urban areas: Peri-urban may be expropriated as a means of last resort in procuring the land necessary for residential purposes. This legislation must be read in conjunction with the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land Bill that is currently in the NCOP for concurrence of the NA approval. The amended regulations of SPLUMA (Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013) must be viewed as empowering legislation to enable the municipal authorities to manage the use of land in their specific areas and ensure the decline in urban sprawl that is encroaching on high-value agricultural land.

  2. Security of Tenure: The White Paper considers the elevation of the Permission to Occupy to the status of a title deed or deeds of grant. Communal and traditional authorities will be affected by this proposal. It will also impact the Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Act of 1991, and households with permission to occupy state land and former homeland areas.

  3. Recognition and regulation of informal settlements: The White Paper acknowledged that municipalities are facing daily challenges of curbing random unlawful land occupation responsible for the growth of informal settlements in the country. This challenge must be dealt with by the Department of Human Settlements and the proposed formalisation of these areas requires that there be a transfer of ownership and regulation of these areas. The recent amendments proposed to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, 1998 will empower the local municipalities to remove illegal occupiers from government property without the stringent requirements currently in place.

In a water-scarce country such as South Africa, the protection and preservation of agricultural land is critical in ensuring food security. Uncontrolled development has significantly reduced land in South Africa, one of our country’s key natural agricultural resources. The need for relevant city planners, businesses, and residents to collaborate with one another is urgent in achieving a more sustainable society. The natural environment is a key factor to be acknowledged; corruption ought not be tolerated; and through the development of engaged citizens, the responsibility and sense of pride which comes with home ownership would be realized.

Sources utilised for definition: The application of Futures Studies methodologies in the planning of sustainable human settlements in Cape Town, Hester Agnes Van der Berg