Community Dialogue: Will local government deliver on the promises to release public land for affordable housing post the elections?

Bright and early on Saturday 30 October, mere days before the 2021 local government elections (LGE/elections), community leaders, activists and interested community members from across the city made their way towards Mitchells Plain. Their purpose, to participate in DAG’s Urban Forum IV, a community dialogue hosted under the theme: Local / Municipal Government and the Release of Well-located Public Land for Affordable Housing – What Happens After the Elections? Equally excited, the DAG team eagerly received our partners, all of us looking forward to an engaging and enlightening conversation around all matters land and housing, and linked to that, questions around what happens in the space post-elections. This auspicious occasion forms part of DAG’s Urban Land and Housing Dialogue Series, it being Urban Forum/Dialogue IV in the series.

“Give us your vote, and we will ensure that we release well-located publicly-owned land and avail it for affordable housing development”, almost all political parties said. Exactly how and what innovative processes different parties will implement to drive accelerated land release was not entirely clear. Consequently, we and our partners asked questions: what are the steps in the process of land release; how will existing mechanisms be reshaped to better allow for appropriate identification, acquisition, packaging, release, etc., of land; where will the budget to acquire land and construct housing come from; what form of housing development will be built on these released land parcels and linked to these, what happens after the elections? Indeed, the Dialogue was an opportune moment to have frank and open conversations about the promises and commitments around land release made by political parties, and how and when communities can influence related mechanisms and processes.

An exciting line-up of speakers gave insights throughout the Dialogue. Kickstarting the event Wilhelmina Trout, DAG Board Chairperson, warmly welcomed participants while Crystal West, DAG Programme Manager, gave an instructive and insightful presentation on the processes and modalities associated with access to well-located land for affordable housing. Norman Jantjies, representing the Mitchells Plain United Residents Association (MURA) and Lungiswa Ntshuntshe, on behalf of the Khayelitsha Human Settlements Forum (KHSF), spoke to the issues faced by communities on the ground. Certainly, no community dialogue would be complete without the voices of our partners and the experiences of the communities from which they stem. To this end, participants had ample opportunity to share their reflections, possible solutions, and advocacy strategies throughout the Dialogue.

Several key issues emerged from the Dialogue. Principal among these that the release of land can be a complex and protracted process with many intermediate steps, and not the silver bullet as it may have come across in political parties’ election campaigns. DAG, for decades, have been advocating for the release of well-located publicly owned land for affordable housing across the city and we continue to drive this message. However, innovate methods to truly developmental human settlements outcomes must include a range of approaches, i.e., incremental, self-build, mixed-land uses, higher densities, etc.

A critical consideration in the land assembly and release process is how and to what extent communities can influence and indeed change decisions around land use and management at the local level. In this regard, there was consensus that many more spaces for communities/CBOs to participate meaningfully in land use and management processes are necessary. More so, where opportunities are limited or closed off, communities must “take back their power” specifically by taking initiative and actively participating to “enforce things to change in our [communities’] favour”. To this end, CBOs/communities must seek out answers to important questions, including who owns (vacant/unused) land within their areas and across the city, what are the local government’s plans with the land, and how are plans linked to priority needs within the community, etc. A strong call to come together and “to decide for ourselves [communities] what we want” as it relates to land and how best we can ensure that land is used and managed to serve the needs of communities was made and supported by all present.

Ultimately, participants at the Dialogue agreed: regardless of who becomes the government elect, it cannot be business as usual as it relates to how land is used and managed within the city. Communities across the city are in desperate need of land for human settlement purposes, including land for housing, economic development, social facilities, recreation, etc., and promises to release well-located publicly-owned land to meet these needs cannot be ignored after the elections – not by those who made the promises or those who voted for parties based on them. Consequently, communities must exercise their right and in fact, their responsibility to call to account parties who made commitments to release land to ensure that it does not remain empty election promises, but genuinely result in improved land and housing access and positive change in people’s lives. As said by one of our community partners, “the struggle for land is a struggle for dignity”, so indeed Aluta continua.

WATCH: DAG Interviews with some of the community leaders who spoke at the Urban Land and Housing Community Dialogue 

See the event in pictures…