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Housing in Soweto
1> Origins of Soweto 2> Next Phase 3> the establishment of Orlando Township
4> The Second World War and the rapid development of Johannesburg
5> The Apartheid Era 6> The Democratic Era


1.1 Origins of Soweto.
Like Johannesburg, Soweto owes its origins to the discovery of gold in 1886. Within 4 years of the discovery on Langlaagte farm, Johannesburg had grown to be the second largest town in South Africa, housing both fortune-seeking gold diggers from around the world, as well as many black labourers from the countryside. Some 60000 black labourers were employed on the mines by the beginning of the 20th Century.
Living conditions in the various camps that sprang up were appalling. People of all races lived together at that stage and the white authorities expressed concern at that early stage. It was no surprise when bubonic plague broke out in “coolietown” in present day Kliptown in central Johannesburg in 1904.
The council and the government lost no time in clearing the slum and implementing a segregated housing policy. Indians, coloured and black people were to be moved to Alexandra township (only implemented in 1912) where as black people only were moved in 1905 to a new African township called Klipspruit some 13 kms from Johannesburg in the heart of present day Soweto.
From this time no African was permitted to live in the city excepting for domestic workers living in their employers yards. From this time too, until 1994 it is necessary to study black housing and in fact all housing in South Africa in the context of legislated segregation in terms of a persons race.
Conditions in Klipspruit were in fact worse than in the slums. Accommodation was provided in municipal provided V-shaped huts made of corrugated iron. The relocation to Klipspruit was resisted by workers and employers alike, and the council eventually gave permission for employers to house their workers in compounds on the premises of factories and mines.
The Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 under the Smuts government was an attempt to regulate the influx of people into the cities- “the Native should only be allowed to enter urban areas…when he is willing to administer to the white mans needs, and should depart from them when he ceases to so minister…”. But it was impossible to police this law.
Many people continued to live in the slums, in 1940 it was estimated that the number resident in compounds was 27,000 and the number in slums at 40,000, and the need for government housing grew.

1.2 Next Phase-the establishment of Orlando Township.
With the increase in the Gold price in 1932 and the influx of destitute white farmers into the city, the opportunity arose to build a new African township in the centre of modern Soweto and Orlando was born.
The City Council bought land in Klipspruit Ext 8 and organised a massive competition to design “the biggest and finest township in the Union of South Africa”.
The first houses were completed in October 1931, and were offered on a rental basis. The township was named after the first Chairman of the Native Affairs Committee, Councillor Edwin Orlando Leake. The two or three bed-roomed houses were identical, packed together and cheaply built and the term “matchbox houses’ was used by the residents. Sewage was on a bucket system and the area was not electrified. Other community facilities were also poor, with a lack of parks, sports facilities and few schools. Distance from work opportunities caused many people to resist the move. The township clearly differed from the image of “paradise” painted by the Council.

1.3 The Second World War and the rapid development of Johannesburg.

The rapid industrialisation of Johannesburg and other cities in order to meet the needs of the war effort resulted in dramatic changes. Influx control was relaxed in order to allow black workers into the cities. The essentially migrant nature of the workforce changed and more families moved in. The demand for housing increased considerably but at the same time the government was not building houses, claiming to be concentrating on the war. Families moved in to the houses of friends and family members resulting in gross overcrowding. Walter Sisulu recalled “Take my own house, a two-roomed house. I had relatives who came to stay with me. My uncle and his family came to stay with me, and my cousins also came to stay with me.”
The council had to condone the presence of lodgers. The overcrowded conditions impacted severely on privacy and family relations became strained, the typical communal spirit that prevailed in the township gave way to bitterness and resentment between the established urban folk and the new arrivals.

The pressures that had built up, opened the way for Soweto’s Messiah James Sofasonke Mpanza a controversial character from Natal with a history of murder and subsequent conversion to Christianity, to establish a substantial following in the area. He campaigned for new housing for the thousands of homeless. This brought him into inevitable conflict with the authorities.
On 20 March 1944, perched on a horse, he led a band of sub tenants from Orlando on a 20th Century exodus across the river to Orlando West where they took possession of land and erected shacks, perhaps the first organised land invasion.
The area became known as “Masakeng” after the sacking material used to construct the houses. Mpanza controlled all aspects of the squatter camp and collected rent.
The council met the challenge by erecting temporary shelters made out of ash, sand and cement with asbestos roofs. A minimum fee was charged to cover basic services, and as this was less than that charged by Mpanza and his power base started to crumble. The council started to take the housing situation more seriously and started to build houses in Orlando West. Mpanza however organised for another group of sub-tenants to forcibly occupy the half completed houses. Evictions followed but other land was occupied by the squatters.

Eventually the council was forced to concede and opened up emergency camps at Central Western Jabavu and Moroka. Conditions were only marginally better than the squatter camps and the situation deteriorated. Access to the official camps was limited to men who were employed in Johannesburg and with families.
Mpanza formed the Sofasonke party.

1.4 The Apartheid Era.

The Nationalist government won the 1948 elections on the back of white fears regarding the rapid urbanisation and the influx of blacks into the cities.
There was however agreement between employers and the government on the need to solve the housing situation but progress was very slow and funds were severely limited. An economic rental was not affordable by the vast majority of residents. A site and service plan “Vukuzenzele” meaning wake up and do it yourself became bogged down due to disagreements over standards etc.
In 1950 the Group Areas Act was passed which for four decades was to govern the nature of all residential development. People were obliged to live in the areas designated for their particular race, white, Indian, coloured and African.
The CSIR came up with a standard design for a four-roomed house of 40 sq m, the 51/6 plan. The grand plan was implemented in Soweto from 1955 on a basis that a serviced site was provided and the occupant was to erect a shack until the formal house was built. There were delays in following through with the building of houses. The townships of Tladi, Zondi, Dhlamini, Chiawelo and Senoane were laid out by the end of 1956, followed in 1957 by Jabulani, Phiri and Naledi. Many of the temporary shelters in Moroka and Orlando were now cleared.
The City Council manager of Native Affairs invited Sir. Earnest Oppenheimer to visit Soweto to see the appalling conditions. He was so moved that he arranged for the mining sector to provide a loan from the mining houses for the construction of houses and as a result a massive construction programme was launched.
Forced removals from the African freehold townships in the west of Johannesburg like Sophiatown, Martindale and Newclare was a manifestation of the central Nationalist governments intention to implement its Apartheid plan. The residents of the designated areas were forcibly removed to Meadowlands and Diepkloof and the exercise was completed by 1960.

Development of Hostels.

Hostels were a way of life for many years for migrant labour working in mines around Johannesburg Up until the mid 1950’s many migrant workers from the rural areas lived on their employer’s premises in the city, including flat cleaners living at the top of the flats where they worked. The city council systematically and energetically moved male partners out of the premises they shared with their women in the city. The government passed the Natives (Urban areas) Amendment Act, No 12 of 1955, called the “Locations in the Sky” Act. This compelled all flat cleaners living in the city to move out. The authorities built a number of single-sex hostels in Soweto. These were largely ethnically segregated, for example the Dube Hostel was reserved for Nguni speakers whereas the Nancefield hostels were for Sotho speakers. Accommodation was on a dormitory basis with very basic facilities. There was virtually no privacy. These hostels were to become huge social and later on political problems. Hostel dwellers were never properly integrated into township life. Many of these hostels still remain in appalling condition even today.
A minority of Sowetan residents, the wealthier class, built their own houses, on a basis of 30year leasehold as freehold title was denied to black people. Dube became known as the glamorous township as a result of the number of houses built on this basis. “Owners “ were dealt a major blow in 1968 when the government scrapped all leasehold rights, and even the wealthier were denied homeownership rights.
In 1963 the South Western Townships which was the name used up to then eventually got a proper name, SOWETO, using the first two letters of the previous title. This name has stuck and after 1976 became known throughout the world.

The Hector Pietersen memorial commemorating the 1st student killed during the uprising1976 Student uprising.

In the late 1960’s the Black Consciousness Movement started to gain momentum. The movement was essentially based in the student movement. The already disastrous black education system was plunged into further crisis when the Nationalist government decided to enforce Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in half of the school subjects. This move was opposed by both teachers and pupils, due to two main factors: the poor understanding of the language by people in the townships, as well as the belief that Afrikaans was the language of the “oppressor”.
The position got out of control when peaceful protests by school students which were planned for 16 June 1976 were confronted by armed police in Soweto and children were shot and killed. Hundreds lost their lives in the weeks and months to come and there was considerable damage to property in Soweto as well as other townships.
In the aftermath of the violence, the government was forced to scrap the controversial language decree, but also embarked on a number of reforms with Soweto receiving special attention. The government however had already ceased all housing activities in the townships, putting all their efforts into the “homelands”. Reforms went into improving township facilities and services and electrifying Soweto.
The Urban Foundation was formed by big business and pressurised government into introducing a form of land ownership in order to facilitate the flow of private sector funding into housing. The 99-year leasehold system was introduced in late 1978.
Housing privatised.
One of the houses in Diepkloof extOnce again Sowetans were able to own their own houses. The system was aimed at the middle-class who were formally employed and who could afford mortgage loans from building societies and banks. New areas such as Diepkloof Extension, Orlando West, the Proteas and Selection Park, were opened up for private development and developers moved in to develop “plot ‘n plan” schemes where by land was serviced and sold under leasehold to applicants and a house was built from a selection of plans. Some people bought their own serviced land and obtained their own builder to build a specially designed house. The former method was the most frequently used. Diepkloof Ext. became the elite area of Soweto with houses costing up to R100,000 being common.
Other more modest houses were built in other areas. “Infill” areas that had been earmarked for schools or other facilities were rezoned for residential purposes and allocated to developers, mainly white, for development.
The target market was people employed in the public service such as police, teachers and nurses, people in good paying private-sector jobs as well as self-employed and professional people. The public sector employees were particularly targeted by developers because black civil servants were also now able to take advantage of government guarantees and housing subsidies in terms of the state employees housing scheme which had previously been available only to white, coloured and Asian staff.
Later on the government introduced a first time homeowners subsidy scheme for people buying homes for the first time who were not in receipt of an employee housing subsidy, thus stimulating demand and affordability in the private sector. Up to a third of the interest was subsidised with the subsidy phasing out over 7 years.
Development under 99-year leasehold took off in the early 80’s, funded initially by the building societies and later in the decade by banks. At the same time no housing was planned for the poorer classes who could not access bank or building society loans.
In the mid 80’s the government tried to get rid of the rental housing stock owned by the local councils by offering tenants the opportunity of buying their houses under the 99-year leasehold scheme. Prices ranged between R2500 and R5500. Some residents took advantage of this offer but most could not afford to raise the capital.
Some developers moved in and took advantage of the sale offer and marketed packages which included building society loans to cover both the house purchase and the construction of home extensions and back yard rooms called “two rooms and a garage” or 2x1’s. The purpose of the outside rooms was usually to accommodate private tenants whose rent would be sufficient to pay the monthly loan to the building society. This scheme then opened up private rental accommodation on a formal basis rather than the backyard shacks that had been used before. In many cases this worked very well and served a useful purpose. However later on, a large number of the these loans were defaulted on due to the owner’s replacing the paying tenants with family members, usually adult daughters and their children, who moved back home due to loss of employment and domestic problems. Cases studies have identified up to 14 family members of three or even four generations living on one property and surviving on one or two old-age pensions only.
In the mid to late 80’s banks and building societies started lending on some scale on new houses developed by developers operating under the 99-year leasehold scheme, in new townships such as Protea Glen, and “in-fill” areas in the older townships. A number of “fly-by-night” developers and builders moved in to the market in addition to legitimate and responsible developers. It has also been argued that competition for high value lending in the “suburban” market, from banks coming into the mortgage market for the first time on scale and taking away market share, caused the established building societies to go for lesser value, more risky lending in the townships. In any event the bulk of township lending including in Soweto was done mainly by the building societies. (These building societies have all disappeared and most were incorporated into one or other of the banks by the early 90’s.)
The South African Housing Trust was formed by the government to build and finance housing where the banks and private developers were not operating, mainly down market.
In the initial years, the performance of the building societies lending book in the townships were good and equalled that in the suburbs. However from the late 80’s into the 90’s the environment changed dramatically. As South Africa entered into the political transition phase, the economy went into recession and the environment became unstable at the same time. There were instances of boycotts of loans in some areas mainly due to unhappiness with the physical product, but these were relatively rare. However thousands of workers lost their jobs as companies went out of business or were forced to retrench workers as businesses shrank their production.
Defaults on mortgages increased in tempo dramatically and banks started to re-possess on scale. This is when the unstable environment and political climate worsened the banks woes. Communities rallied around their neighbours who were faced with eviction as banks sought to get vacant possession, and prevented the sheriff of the courts from carrying through with the process.
Communities formed Civic Associations with a purpose of lobbying for reform and to protect communities from outside interference. In the early 1990’s the Soweto Civic Association and the Civic Association of the Southern Transvaal (CAST) were formed. Later on a national civic organisation SANCO was formed.
Eventually the banks stopped going through with the attempts to reposess in order to save further wasted costs. The number of properties on the banks books increased as did holding costs. Banks ceased lending in the townships as a result. The American term “red-lining” began to be used by critics of the banks.
By 1994 it was estimated that 50,000 properties or non-performing loans were on the books of the banks and the Housing Trust.
During the period 1993 to 1994 a number of political parties (excluding notably the ruling party and government itself), NGO’S and private sector interests met under the auspices of the National Housing Forum to thrash out a new housing policy and to place a check on the government in its death throes.

1.5 The Democratic Era.

After a four year, painful negotiation phase, in 1994 South Africa entered into the new democratic era with the entire population able to participate in all aspects of political and social life for the first time in its history. The Group Areas Act, which had shaped all residential development for decades, had been scrapped-people could now live where ever they wanted to provided they could afford it.
The ANC swept to power on the popular vote. Amongst other social issues the party had promised housing and intended to deliver. Joe Slovo of the SA Communist party was appointed Minister of Housing. However the government was faced with a housing sector that had pretty much lost its capacity to deliver housing on scale. Nine new provinces were to be formed out of the previous four, and a national department out of fragmented “own affairs” departments of housing. Government turned to the banks and private developers to kick start the housing process again.
A Record of Understanding (ROU) was signed with the Association of Mortgage Lenders in 1994 and later all housing stakeholders gathered in Botshabelo in the Free State to sign a Housing Accord.
In terms of the ROU, the Government agreed to guarantee all new mortgage loans as well as existing loans in default and properties in possession. In return the banks agreed to recommence lending in the townships under the guarantee scheme and committed themselves to granting 50, 000 new loans pa over a three-year period. The Mortgage Indemnity Fund was set up to administer the scheme for three years. It was naively expected that the environment would normalise over this period and that normal lending would be possible and that the rule of law would function effectively at the end of the three-year period.
The banks did commence lending in MIF approved areas where cover was approved, but they fell somewhat short of the annual targets.
At the same time government introduced a Capital Subsidy Programme to assist lower income groups (households earning less that R3500 pm ) to acquire new houses provided they were first time home-owners. It planned to build a million houses over a five-year period.
Servcon Housing Solutions (Pty) Ltd was set up jointly by the banks and the Department of Housing to administer the repossessed properties and non-performing loans in the townships. The idea was to rehabilitate the occupants of the houses with the least disruption, and in the process banks agreed to write off the historical arrears where necessary, provided the owner would start to service the debt. Various subsidised arrangements were offered. A new concept was introduced called Rightsizing whereby ex-owners who could not afford the existing house in spite of the assistance, would be assisted to relocate to new properties. Subsidies would be offered to people taking up this offer.
At the end of the three years, problems were still being experienced. In spite of some progress Servcon was still facing resistance from some communities and individuals to its programme to get people to pay for their housing. A number of areas had not yet normalised.
In 1998 the MIF was duly closed down and the programme of Servcon was revised to put more emphasis on actual rightsizing. More properties were passed on to Servcon to administer. The portfolio consisted of 33,000 properties nationally with some 5000 being in Soweto. The lending targets of the banks were scrapped although banks and government were still committed to finding solutions.
Servcon and the department formed a separate company Thubelisha Homes (meaning a new opportunity) with the specific task of procuring the rightsizing houses required to fulfil Servcons mandate.

By the end of 2002, some 3000 families had been successfully relocated nationally in alternative houses meeting the governments minimum norms and standards. The houses were almost entirely the minimum free houses paid for out of the capital subsidy. Some 154 families in the Soweto area had been accommodated in terms of the rightsizing programme mainly to the Doornkop area in the west of Soweto.

The Servcon mandate currently extends to March 2006 by which time the parties hope to have solved the problems. In 2003 the situation remains unstable with community structures in various areas still offering resistance, sometimes violently. In the Soweto area organisations such as the Protea Glen Residents Association (PGRA) have severely impacted on the success of the relief programme and have actively resisted evictions from taking place where residents have refused to cooperate with Servcon. The programme is due to be reviewed in 2004. In the meanwhile bank lending in the townships has once again virtually dried up.
Relations between the banks and the department of housing have become strained and the government has introduced legislation to try and compel banks to finance housing in low-income areas. The Mortgage Disclosure Act has been promulgated but not yet implemented and the Community Reinvestment Act is currently being introduced.

Current Government Policy and Results since 1994.

Housing is a provincial responsibility under national policy and minimum standards which are determined at national level. Housing budgets are allocated to provincial departments by national government in terms of agreed criteria.
In its 2001/02 annual report the Gauteng government stated that the housing backlog in the province stood at 423,000 units having increased by 35,000 during the previous year.
The output achieved in Gauteng was as follows, reflecting the emphasis on the various delivery methods:
Formal housing 18814 stands 19990 houses Incremental housing 18572 stands 3168 houses
Social housing 2337 stands 2562 houses
Total 39723 stands 25720 houses
Since 1994, 368,000 new subsidised houses have been built in Gauteng out of total of 1,330,000 throughout the country. This is the largest number of any province.
Virtually all of the old council owned houses have now been transferred to the tenants who have received a special subsidy to facilitate the transfer. Hundreds of thousands of people have now become homeowners for the first time.
Government priorities include the following:
* Stimulation of credit for low-income earners.
* Social housing including cooperative housing, rental and rent to buy schemes.
* Incremental housing-provision of a serviced stand and assistance to build a house under the peoples housing process (self-help schemes).
* Special needs housing.
The capital subsidy bands are as follows:
Income 0-R1500pm R23100
R1501-2500pm R14200
R2591-3500pm R 7800
Beneficiaries are required to contribute R2479 towards the house to supplement the governments subsidy. Indigent and those receiving institutional or peoples housing process subsidies are exempt from the contribution.
The minimum national standards include the following- size of unit 30 sq mtrs, size of stand 250 sq mtrs. These may be varied by provincial governments in certain circumstances.
Current Status of Housing in Soweto.
Soweto is administratively divided into two regions, namely region 10 (population 594000 which is the older more easterly region including Orlando and Diepkloof, and region 6 (population 627000) comprising the newer more western suburbs of Protea, Chaiwelo etc. The total population is estimated to be 1,5m.

The regions state the following as key problems:
Poverty, High Unemployment, Low Education and Housing.
New areas being developed for housing include Braamfisherville, Tshepisong and Slovoville. The upgrading of hostels and conversion into decent family accommodation is also on the cards.
It is estimated that there are 160,000 formal housing units with an occupation density of 5,2 people per unit. Some 14000 informal units in 16 to 23 settlements exist with an occupancy of 4.2 people per unit.

Case study.

A sample of one section of Mshenguville squatter settlement revealed the following:
Area surveyed 43mx53m = 1849sq meters.
Number of shacks (Housing units)= 35
Average space per shack including pathways and ground=53 sq meters
A further smaller sample of 10 families within the 35 shacks revealed the following”
Number of adults=19
Number of children=21
Total population=40
Number of adults employed: formally=1 (nurse) Some very basic informal work was being done by a further 2 only.
This reflects the level of poverty and destitution to be found in squatter communities.
Some 32,000 to 40,000 residents live in 11 hostels in Soweto.
Services in Soweto are in the process of being upgraded.
93% of households have electricity.
78% of households have water directly to the property.
67% of households are serviced by formal waterborne reticulation.
700km of tarred roads exist but a large number of the remaining roads are being tarred at the moment.

June 2003.
Written by Denis Creighton. FIBS; Bcom. (Cum Laude) Unisa.
Previously MD Servcon Housing Solutions (Pty)Ltd., General Manager Development Nedcor Bank.
Soweto a History Philip Bonner and Lauren Segal 1998
Soweto a Portrate of a City, Peter Magubane 1990
Gold Reef Guides Training notes.
Soweto- March to Freedom.
Gauteng Department of Housing Annual Report 2001/2002
Government Web Site
Johannesburg Web Site


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