Evaluation of the work of the People’s Dialogue and South African Homeless People’s Federation

1.4 Changes in Relationship between Community Organizations, Government Agencies and Other Professional Groups

The government agencies met by the evaluation team were all desirous of dealing with the Federation. They all seem to agree that the Federation’s housing model was more effective than the government’s and that they needed to learn from it and to support it. However, they all agreed that there were some problems. The main problems were that the government found it easier to deal with developers rather than the Federation’s savings schemes. Also, that rules and regulations require certain technical inputs that the government agencies felt could only be provided by professionals and not by communities supported by professionals. In addition, officials also mentioned that organized communities building their homes and negotiating on land weakened the power of government agencies.

Many government institutions are trying to somehow link themselves up with the Federation Housing Process. Negotiations, on supporting this process, especially with relationship to the acquiring of land, need changes in government procedures and city structure plans. For example, it is difficult for a local government to give land to the Federation for housing and to deny it to another NGO. To tackle these issues the concept of a “task team” has been developed through the efforts of the PD and HPF and is being applied in a couple of provinces. These task teams consist of government agency representatives, Federation members and PD professionals. These task teams are a comparatively new experience and it is difficult to predict how they will evolve and if they will be able to bring about policy and procedural changes.

Meeting with Sharon Trail of the Banking Council was interesting since she was strongly proposing that formal banks support the Federation’s house building efforts. Such a proposal is most unlikely to be made by formal banks anywhere in the world. A meeting with Guy Preston of the Department of Water Affairs was also held. The Department of Water Affairs wishes to involve the Federation’s savings schemes in its water programmes, thus generating jobs for savings scheme members. It appears that certain government agencies are seeking to acquire political legitimacy by involving the HPF in their programmes.

However, from what one has been able to observe, there is a conflict of interests between regional governments and the centre. Due to this conflict, officials in regional departments are afraid to support the Federation even when they recognize its effectiveness, since it is considered to be the “sweet heart” of the politicians at the centre.

A meeting with the Centre of Policy Studies was also held. The Centre was well aware of the work of the Federation and believed that the Federation’s methodology should become part of a larger policy framework. It expressed its willingness to undertake a study to determine the changes that would be required in policy and procedure to make this possible. However, the Institute felt that a deeper study and documentation of the Federation’s work was required before such an undertaking.

Meetings were also held with academicians and professionals at Durban and Cape Town. Although they were supportive of the work of the Federation, most of them could not understand the meaning of its objective, methodology and process. There seemed to be a distance between their conventional concepts and that of empowering people through community development and making them a part of the development process. Also, it seems that they have yet to grasp the importance of having the interests of the poor represented in the city planning exercise.

However, there was one major exception to what has been said above. In Joe Slovo settlement the evaluation team met with Mark Stemmett. He has been able to relate his designs and implementation procedures for infrastructure development to the politics of local government on the one hand, and to the Federation process and incremental development on the other. So far a proper documentation and analysis of his work has not been carried out. Such a documentation, would prove very valuable for lobbying for policy change and for bringing about changes in the curriculum of academic institutions so as to bring them closer to the Federation process and the socio-political realities of urban planning in South Africa.

The two architects working with the People’s Dialogue also have a wealth of knowledge gained in the field. This knowledge relates to the problems and their solutions in providing design and technical assistance to low income communities who are building their own physical environment. Again, this knowledge needs to be documented and from it very valuable extension literature and academic know-how can be extracted and promoted.

The documentation and dissemination of the knowledge and understanding gained by the work that the Federation and PD have done, and its integration into a policy debate, is essential if the objective to capture and expand the political space that is available to the poor in South Africa is to be met.

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