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

4.3 Design Issues

The designs for the Federation’s housing schemes and homes are functional. In addition, the materials and manner of construction is what people are used to and it is simple. However, it is recommended that

  1. Plot sizes should be reduced in new schemes so as to economize on land. A perfectly comfortable 4 room double-storey house can be built on 60 square meters.
  2. There is no need to plaster the houses externally so as to stop the seepage of water. Many cheap alternatives are available such as the use of a sodium silicate slurry applied with a soft brush. Details about other alternatives can be acquired from the organizations listed in (f) below.
  3. It has been noticed that in almost all cases, timber roof trusses are used or alternatively timber members which transfer the roof load to the external walls are used for roofing. It is recommended that timber joists resting on internal partition walls should be promoted. This will reduce costs considerably.
  4. In most countries, commercially manufactured ply is considerably cheaper than timber. The possibility of using composite plywood joists and/or beams should be explored.
  5. The general consensus among savings schemes was that steel members were much cheaper than timber members for both roofing and for windows. A number of savings schemes also said that they had welders in them. If this is so, then the use of steel should be promoted and steel members of appropriate size should be stocked at the building yards where they should be welded into windows and cut to appropriate lengths. This again will generate jobs and skills and on-site manufacture will lower costs considerably.
  6. A lot of work on alternative building technologies and on supporting the development of entrepreneurship and skills in the building industry has been done. If PD professionals can be freed from servicing the current demands of the savings schemes, they can study these alternatives. There must also be institutions in South Africa which have done similar work. Other institutions are, the Building Research Centre, Karachi; the University at Rorki, UP, India; Intermediate Technology, UK.

4.4 Documentation and Policy Issues

Through the Federation’s Housing Process a number of important lessons have been learnt and a number of bottlenecks in the smooth functioning of the process have been identified. If these can be removed the Federation’s Housing Process can negotiate as an equal with the state. In addition, it is obvious that the developers, supported by the councilors, are the main beneficiaries of the government’s housing process and utilize people’s subsidies for their own benefit. Since a model for a housing process has been established, it is now the right time to lobby for alternatives and against the developers. However, for the lobbying process lobbying material based on scientific research and analysis is necessary. It is therefore recommended that

  1. The problems related to government procedures and regulations that are faced by the savings groups in building their homes, should be clearly identified and documented. Through workshops with relevant government officials, new procedures should be developed and an attempt should be made to apply them universally in South Africa. Maybe an organization like the Social Policy Institute in Johannesburg could be used for the preparation of such a study and policy document.
  2. A cost analysis of developer-built housing schemes must be made and on that basis a document identifying their profit and evaluating their product must be prepared. The facts that emerge as the result of this document must be publicized in the media and must be shared with opinion builders through workshops. If possible, the analysis and the preparation of this material should be carried out by an academic engineering or planning institution so that this knowledge is transferred to academia and they start taking an interest in grassroot issues and community development. Such an exercise can eventually lead to the development of new and appropriate standards. The possibility of getting a court judgment in favour of the victims of developer-built housing should also be looked into. Such a judgment will provide a precedent for other similar cases and may influence future policy making.
  3. Government officials and councilor Aldrech Gerry informed the evaluation team that there were structure plans for all South African cities and there are new plans being made. These structure plans determined land-use and as such the location of low income settlements. The interests of the poor need to be represented in the modifications to these structure plans and in the preparation of new ones. It is suggested that PD initiates a dialogue with academic planning institutions on this issue. These institutions should get their students to study the effects of these plans on housing for the poor. This they can only do if they work in collaboration with the HPF and study its housing process. On the basis of the work of the academic institutions, PD should lobby for the representation of relevant professionals and Federation leaders in public hearings (which it seems are held) related to the structure plans.
  4. For the future of the programme and especially for its “political” objective, it is necessary that professionals that have a populist bias should be created. It is therefore suggested that a programme to support young professionals in working with communities should be initiated and funding sought for it. An internship of one to two years should be provided after which the professional can join government, a business firm or set up his own practice. In any of the cases, the people’s process will acquire a friend and influence opinion in addition to supporting the programme professionally during internship.

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