Informal Settlements

Part 3 National Housing Code 2007 identifies characteristics of informal settlements as:

  • Illegality and informality. Settlements are usually on unproclaimed land, or occupied without permission of the landowner, public or private.
  • Inappropriate locations. Many settlements are located in marginal sites, where development is inappropriate or even dangerous. These include sites on unsuitable geological conditions (such as dolomite), unsuitable topography (for example, steep slopes at risk of landslip or sites within floodlines), near heavy industrial infrastructure (such as mine dumps, slimes dumps or within smell zones) or within water, gas or electricity servitudes.
  • Restricted public and private sector investment. Informal settlements typically have no or only rudimentary levels of services (such as water, sanitation and waste collection). Private enterprises rarely rise above the levels of survivalist activities, spaza shops and the like. The insecure status of informal settlements, coupled with low levels of public investment and lack of tenure, discourages households from investing in their shelter.
  • Poverty and vulnerability. Informal settlements represent the highest concentrations of poverty in the country. Correspondingly high indices of poor health, unemployment and HIV/AIDs increase the vulnerability of informally settled households to external financial and environmental shocks.
  • Social stress. Informal settlements exhibit high levels of crime and have recently become focus areas for xenophobic attacks. Social fragmentation leads to intense concentrations of issues such as child abuse, alcoholism and domestic violence.


Aspects of tenure provision range from alternative or interim forms of tenure (including permission to occupy, recognition through town planning scheme or by-law) through to formal freehold tenure of a stand in a formally established township. All these variations are permissible within the UISP.


Provision of municipal services (both bulk and internal reticulation) in incremental upgrading range from emergency level, basic services (RDP minimum standard – for example, communal standpipes, VIP latrines, gravel roads, communal waste collection) to full services (on-stand water, water-borne sewerage, household refuse collection, tarred roads, street lights and household electricity connections).


Provision of amenities covers social facilities including schools, clinics, good standard public open spaces and community halls The National Housing Programme: Social and Economic Amenities facility may be utilised to access funding for the construction of basic social and economic infrastructure. In practice, this facility is largely sued for the provision of community halls. However, it should only be used as a last resort when funding from line department is not available. This implies that comprehensive project plans are essential for each upgrading project and must be registered in IDP Housing Chapters.


Upgrading is a staged process of improvement of quality of life in informal settlements, based on incremental provision of services and tenure. It should seek to maximise in-situ development in appropriate areas and minimise relocation. An effective improvement process is built on close community participation and cooperation, aiming to strengthen livelihoods strategies of the poor. Housing is provided by a variety of methods, including self-build, People’s Housing Process, social housing or affordable rental, individual subsidy or consolidation subsidy.


The President’s State of the Nation address (February 2010) and the subsequent national Delivery Agreement refer specifically to upgrading well-located informal settlements. There is no specific standard that applies to what constitutes ‘well-located’. In general, poor households make locational choices on the basis of affordability and access to livelihoods assets, rather than the quality of shelter.

Given this propensity, then a well-located human settlement will have fairly good public transport and/or pedestrian access to economic opportunities and social amenities (in particular, schools and health facilities). Where feasible, in-situ upgrading should seek to minimise relocation of households through higher density developments to maintain access to opportunities and amenities for the majority of households.

There are times when wholesale relocations are unavoidable – most likely in situations where the settlement’s situation poses risks to public health and safety. In such cases, community consultations, consideration of available alternatives and a negotiated relocation process are essential. Particular attention must be paid to humane relocation processes, which provide for a smooth transition, including where necessary, ensuring that learners have secure places in local schools and that social services (including the use of mobile clinics and scholar transport) are accessible.

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