Service infrastructure, housing consolidation and upgrading of informal settlements: reflections from a longitudinal research done in the Free State Goldfields, South Africa
Literature and research on the upgrading of informal settlements in developing countries are synonymous with the writings of JFC Turner and the policies of the World Bank. Despite being dominated by once-off case studies, evidence from both the international and South African literature indicates that the upgrading of informal settlements could potentially be a vehicle to enhance security of tenure, housing consolidation, improved basic services, quality of life and poverty alleviation. However, it should also be acknowledged that schemes on the upgrading of informal settlements are being criticised for their failure to, amongst other things, keep up with the maintenance costs of infrastructure and thus compromising health standards and the effectiveness of poverty alleviation initiatives. Furthermore, contrary to government’s expectation of using projects on the upgrading of the informal settlements as a tool for incremental housing or housing consolidation, some of these projects did not live up to this expectation, with housing development showing signs of deterioration over time.
Against this background, this paper intends to make a threefold argument and to adopt a longitudinal approach to look at three household surveys done in 1999, 2008 and 2014 in the Thabong township next to the mining town of Welkom in the Free State goldfields. First, survey findings indicate that the South African government could use the upgrading of informal settlements as an effective tool for households to access basic services and social amenities. Second, survey findings indicate that the ability of projects on the upgrading of informal settlements to promote housing consolidation or incremental housing are largely dependent on: the time factor; the macro- and micro-economic circumstances; the rate of employment; and the rate of migration, particularly amongst the original homeowners of an upgraded informal settlement area. Third, survey findings indicate that longitudinal studies are critical in profiling and promoting a better understanding of trends and dynamics in an upgraded informal settlement area over the long-term.