Comment on the 2020 Human Settlements Indaba Declaration

On 6 March 2020, Isandla Institute attended the Human Settlements Indaba, hosted by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Under the theme “Strengthening strategic partnerships to transform human settlements for spatial justice and social cohesion”, the Indaba brought together representatives from various sectors of society including government, mining, engineering, youth development, civil society, banking and finance, research institutions and academia. The Minister called for enhanced relationships between the spheres of government and other stakeholders.

The Indaba culminated in a signed declaration by select representatives. The declaration made a number of commitments to support the achievement of the 2019-2024 MTEF targets. Isandla Institute acknowledges the willingness of the Department to work in partnership with other government departments and other sectors of society, and welcomes this as a response to some of the bottlenecks in the sector and other developmental challenges.

However, we note with concern the way that this declaration emerged and was subsequently ‘adopted’ without opportunities for review and feedback. In her speech, the Minister suggested that the declaration was the culmination of a consultation process with stakeholders. While we are unaware of what that consultative process entailed and how it was facilitated, we believe that it would have been proper for the Department to share the draft declaration for input and refinement prior to its adoption. After all, it is only when stakeholders jointly craft such a declaration that we can truly speak of a social compact.

Furthermore, some of the signatories to the declaration do not necessarily hold any formal representative role on behalf of a particular sector; the civil society sector is a case in point. This then creates a false impression of a widely accepted consensus, with the Department assuming that all stakeholders can be held to account for its success or failing. There is a further risk that the declaration of partnership may (inadvertently) be used to absolve the National Department of its mandate, its commitments and its obligations to the people of South Africa.

Had Isandla Institute been offered an opportunity to engage on the draft declaration, we would have noted that the declaration does not give adequate emphasis to the role of communities as co-producers of human settlements. Instead, the declaration seems to imply that external actors will ‘create’ an active citizenry and sustainable communities.

We would also have observed that the commitment to security of tenure is about more than the issuing of title deeds. Informal settlement residents need alternative modes of tenure security, which receives little attention in the declaration. This oversight does not inspire confidence that incremental informal settlement upgrading has been prioritised.

Furthermore, we would have suggested that more attention is given to collaboration and partnership modalities with civil society organisations, with a commitment to address bureaucratic, fiscal and regulatory blockages that stand in the way of such partnerships.

As a critical actor in the human settlements sector, Isandla Institute is committed to working with government departments and other sectors of society towards just and sustainable urban habitats. We will continue to seek out partnerships and hold government accountable for its commitments, mandates and actions.

You can download the declaration below.

Monday, 23 March 2020 10:10