SO, THE WHEELS OF JUSTICE DO TURN IN SOUTH AFRICA, IT SEEMS (ADIEU, EX-PRESIDENT ZUMA!) But often they feel extremely slow, especially here where chances in life are so unequally distributed, and simple comforts that many of us take for granted are denied to so many others. So what is giving the residents of Sweet Home Farm, an informal settlement in Cape Town without a single brick house, hope for the future? 

siya in road
 ‘I’m very excited’, says community leader Siya James about the upgrade currently being rolled out in the impoverished Cape Town community of Sweet Home Farm. Hear him speaking in our short video below  | Photo: Nicky Elliott

IT HAS BEEN A VERY LONG WAIT BUT THERE IS HOPE AT LAST for the people of Sweet Home Farm, one of Cape Town’s bleakest informal settlements. The diggers have moved in, and amidst the open sewerage and potholes, residents are starting to see the emergence of tarred roads and drainage.

The changes are part of the city’s Upgrade of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP), which aims to provide all residents with a serviced plot.

Bordering Vanguard Drive motorway, Sweet Home Farm was a rubbish dump when homeless people started building shacks on it 23 years ago, some of them recyling and selling the materials they found there. It is now home to around 17 000 people.

Wish you were here? When you live in Sweet Home Farm, raw sewage can flow into your home on occasion | Photo: Nicky Elliott

Social activist Jared Sacks calls the conditions at the settlement ‘appalling – even by the grim standards of shack settlements in South Africa.’ Residents do not have a tap or toilet of their own, and with open sewerage flowing into their homes at times, ecoli levels are high.

Nonetheless, assisted by NGOs and church-affiliated organisations, residents have worked hard to make their settlement home, creating a workable system of governance and informal community services such as a feeding scheme, non-profit crèche and a community hall. They have also actively engaged with officialdom, helping fast-track into three years a process which can otherwise take 15.

Residents are grateful that the government is willing to build houses like these (right) for them to swap in and out of while services are connected to their plots over the next months and years. However, they believe that more durable same-cost options could be built so that the destitute and vulnerable can occupy them once the upgrades are finished | Photo: Nicky Elliott

As part of the upgrade project, the city is building emergency houses to serve as temporary houses while the roads are built. But frustrations have emerged since flaws such as roof leaks have been observed by the community even before anyone has moved in.

‘We appreciate these houses but we spotted water running down the inside of a new house after just a light drizzle,’ says community liaison officer and leader Siya James, a father of three who has been living in Sweet Home Farm for 22 years. ‘We believe the bricks used are inferior. Even though these are called emergency houses, it’s unlikely anything else will be built for our poorest people, so it’s a frustrating situation.’

Siya and the community are encouraging the city to build houses that cost no more, but which they believe to be more durable.

Many people in Sweet Home Farm are hoping the city will opt for low-cost but durable houses like this one. Thanks to sandbags within its walls, it is waterproof, fireproof and insulated against extreme temperatures | Photo: Nicky Elliott

An example of what many long for is a low-cost but durable home by UBU, a company hoping to achieve non-profit status soon. This consists of a 21 square metre waterproof zinc and timber frame. Families can improve such houses themselves over time by adding sandbags to the walls to provide insulation against fire, bullets and extreme temperatures. It is also relatively simple to double up the footprint of such a house by adding on a first floor.

The cost of such a single storey unit is around R25 000, while an entire double storey unit costs around R135 000 ⎯ no more than the subsidy homes the government currently builds for the poor. Such houses could be built for Sweet Home Farm’s most vulnerable residents, while the less destitute could self-build.

‘These are the kind of houses we hope for,’ says Siya. ‘My dream is to see everyone here staying in proper house whose quality gives them peace of mind. It’s not good to have your house flooded in winter.’

‘Despite the frustrations, I’m very excited, and have hope we can go forward together with the city. I pray that the life of our people will now change.’


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