UP guest lecturer: What drives homelessness in South Africa

Posted on November 01, 2022

Township informal settlements, back yard dwellers, and homelessness are caused by poor government planning, so says national chairperson of the South African Homeless People's Federation, co-founder of Shack Dwellers International and anti-apartheid activist Rose Molokoane.

“The problem with our government is that they plan for the people who are currently existing within that period of time when counting people through census, forgetting that the population grows and immigration takes place as well,” said Molokoane during a special lecture delivered to University of Pretoria (UP) Anthropology, Archaeology and Development Studies honours students.

Dr Marc Wegerif, lecturer and Development Studies programme coordinator, said it was a great opportunity for his class to hear directly from people who are involved in these kinds of organisations and initiatives.

“In the development studies programme we teach and look at approaches to development. One of the topics we cover is urbanisation settlement and we include literature that refers to the work of Rose’s organisation. It is great to have people who do the work on the ground to come and speak to our students about some of the work they will be involved in in future rather than just relying on literature,” he said.

During her presentation, Molokoane pointed out that one of the drivers of the creation of informal settlements is when young people move out of their family homes and there isn’t adequate housing available for them.   

Activist Rose Molokoane talking to a small group of UP students.

Coordinator and Co-founder of Shack Dwellers International Rose Molokoane addressing students during the special lecture.

“The other problem is that some of these informal settlements are formalised eventually, but they exist without basic services such as running water, electricity and sanitation and, as such, we still classify those who live there as homeless people,” she said.

Molokoane said her organisations are always in search of people who are in need of housing.

“‘Homelessness’ means people who are disadvantaged and not recognised in the areas where they live in such as informal settlements, under bridges, on the streets and back yard dwellers,” she explained.

The anti-apartheid activist said when it comes to finding ways of helping vulnerable and disadvantaged people who are homeless, her organisations also draw lessons and best practice from international communities about how they tackle this challenge in their localities.

“Homelessness is everywhere. When we went to India we learnt about how Indian women organised themselves and put savings aside to build houses for themselves. They did this by collecting as little as one Indian rupee from every household to build houses for the needy. We took that and came back with that information and we organised women from our areas to do the same and that is how I was also offered an opportunity to build myself a house through this organisation,” Molokoane said.

She said money was not as important a priority as coming together as a community, which meant that they could share more ideas and knowledge to combat poverty.

“We grew as organisations because we also attended exchange programmes from abroad to build capacity, empower ourselves. These initiatives even saw us receiving seed funding of R10 million from the Department of Housing (now known as the Department of Human Settlements). From that money and with our savings, we managed to build up to 1 500 houses for our community. In terms of dimensions, we built much bigger houses compared with those built by government,” she said. 

“Having Rose come and deliver this presentation to us regarding the work that she and her team members do is remarkable and means a lot to me as a student because I got to learn more about the practicality of what I am studying rather than only reading or learning about it from the book,” said David Ifionu, a Development Studies honours student.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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