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

2.3 Engagement with Government


PD and Federation leadership have participated in the anti-apartheid struggle and have an understanding of the nature of change that is taking place in South Africa. In addition, they have close links with many cabinet ministers and government officials, many of whom recognize the political importance of the work being done by PD and HPF. As such, they seek the support of the Federation since it gives them some legitimacy. As a result, Federation and PD representatives have been nominated by government as members on at least 10 working groups, steering committees, task forces and pilot projects of the national, provincial and local government (see Appendix … for a list of such appointments). The government has also nominated the PD as a “best practice”. It seems that wherever the government has to involve grassroot communities for pilot or innovative programmes, or for policy matters pertaining to the poor, it invariably seeks the support of the PD and the Federation.

As a result, the PD and the Federation have been able to get a few local governments and councilors to support their initiatives and to use their discretionary powers for easing or setting aside some established bureaucratic procedures related to land, subsidy and building bye-laws and regulations. In addition, the government has also initiated “the People’s Housing Process” which in form has borrowed from the work of the Federation. A major achievement has been of getting some provincial governments to agree to accepting a simple one page PD / Federation prepared form for accessing a housing subsidy. This form has replaced a complicated seven page government prepared form.


The weaknesses of the PD/HPF and government relations are the result of the incompatibility of the Federation’s housing process and the manner in which government functions and the perceptions of its bureaucrats and conventionally trained professionals. Thus, complex rules and regulations have to be followed in the house building process which communities cannot do and which the PD does not have the capacity to support on a large scale. Similarly, for land acquisition, city structure plans have to be followed which have not taken into consideration the needs of poor landless communities.

PD and the Federation have dealt with these issues on a project to project basis. A systematic analysis of existing bye-laws and procedures and how they impact on the Federation’s work has yet to be made and alternatives to them, which support the urban poor in acquiring land and homes, has yet to be developed and promoted. For such work the support of other like-minded interest groups and professionals is required. Steps towards acquiring such support have yet to be seriously taken. However, there is a realization that these steps are necessary.

Another area of conflict is between the councilors and PD/HPF. The councilors see the Federation process as a threat to their power. They also have close links with the developers who are providing housing through government subsidies. The Federation’s housing process has shown to the people the weaknesses of developer-built housing and infrastructure. It is far too expensive and the houses are often no more than an unfinished room and toilet. In the same finances a four room Federation house can be constructed. Again, dealings with contractor related housing and the support given by councilors to it, has so far been done by the PD/HPF on a project to project basis. There is a need to struggle to bring about a policy change. Again, PD professionals are aware of this issue.

2.4 Long Term Viability


A major strength of the programme is the simplicity of the savings process. It produces an organized people who can generate, acquire and use money collectively for the common good. There can be no better manner of empowerment. In addition, there is a government housing programme based on subsidies. The savings scheme can access this programme and use the money in a far more rational and useful manner than developers or the government itself.

An additional strength of the programme is the uTshani fund which can be used by savings schemes as bridge financing while they wait for subsidies. In addition, the concept of Inkobana has taken root and savings schemes are investing their savings in it. This can be a source of funds for the future of the programme though not for housing since it is unlikely that communities will be able to generate funds on so large scale. Therefore, the expansion in the uTshani fund is a major requirement for the continuation and expansion of the programme.

However, the greatest strengths of the programme are the PD and HPF staff, professionals and leadership who have grown together through a struggle to promote the concepts of the programme. In the process they have learnt to deal with problems and to seek solutions. They have also learnt to identify their micro level issues with macro level politics and policy pressures. They have been able to cultivate friends among politicians, bureaucrats and some local councilors. They have a connection with universities and other academic organizations. This experience, and its continuing analysis through meetings and workshops in which all the actors in the process participate, has given them the possibility of expanding the programme in an innovative manner without compromising their principles or distorting their concepts.


The programme does not reach the landless and the back-shack dwellers. These are the most disadvantages of the poor and constitute about half the population of poor South Africans who need a home. The programme also relies heavily on government subsidies. The value of these government subsidies is falling rapidly due to inflation. Also, given the neo-liberal nature of South African economic planning, it is unlikely that these subsidies will continue. If that happens, the programme will have to rely on the uTshani fund alone. The fund cannot meet the needs of the programme even at its present scale. As such, in the absence of subsidies, the house building part of the programme will collapse.

It is important that the programme documents the immense knowledge it has gained regarding housing and community development in a manner that can be used for influencing policy. To do this, it will have to forge links with other formal sector non-government institutions and bring about a representation of the poor in the urban and rural planning exercise. These steps have still to be taken and the evaluation team feels that the time for them has come since a critical mass has been created and the work of the Federation is recognized both by its friends and its adversaries. It this is not done, the work of the PD/HPF will become fossilized and will not be able to meet its political objective.

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