Hundreds of illegal building extensions are covering municipal utilities in Joe Slovo, according to a City study of the area’s haphazard backyard rental environment.
The goal of the Joe Slovo Backyard Project is to improve the living conditions of backyard residents, says the City.
Marco Geretto, an urban designer from the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA), spoke about the project at the Sub-council 3 meeting on Friday March 16.
He said its aim was to “promote the formalisation of backyard dwellings” into safe high-density neighbourhoods.
But it’s clear to anyone visiting Joe Slovo that the project faces an uphill battle: scores of haphazardly built double-storeys stick out like sore thumbs and electricity wires criss-cross above roads.
The township was established in 1995 and, according to transport and urban development Mayco member Brett Herron, there is R24 million of electricity infrastructure there, and it all needs to be replaced.
“The current network will have to be completely overhauled and replaced, to deal with the current and increased demand as a result of the increase in the number of residents living in backyards,” said Mr Herron.
“The cost of installing a new network, however, has not been determined as yet,” said Mr Herron.
Joe Slovo’s proximity to job opportunities and public transport was one of the reasons it had become so crowded over the past 10 years.
At the sub-council meeting, Mr Geretto warned that buildings encroaching on road reserves were a hazard and threatened water and sewer mains and electrical infrastructure.
“There is a lot of concern around the risk the public faces due to unauthorised building that’s happened,” he said.
The illegal buildings were not only unsafe but had also disrupted service delivery and in some cases had caused deaths.
Surveys showed 218 structures were built over utility services and 400 over street boundaries.
The City needed to build good working relationships with the Joe Slovo community to tackle the problem.
“A bottom-up process will take time, as trust needs to be developed and institutions and leadership needs to be supported,” said Mr Geretto.
Every Thursday the Joe Slovo Development Forum (JSDF) met with the City at Sinenjongo High School. And Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) researchers, who have been doing field surveys in the area, had also attended “numerous meetings to gain trust”.
However JSDF member Albert Bobotyana said the community was not biting.
“The problem lies where the City does not deliver on matters discussed and agreed upon. An example is the budget they now have to paint shacks with fire retardant paint. A budget we did not know they had.
“While we do appreciate the paint, we are still waiting on the promises they made years ago to get electricity in shacks,” said Mr Bobotyana.
He said he had suggested in one of the meetings with the City that it find land to ease Joe Slovo’s overcrowding, as that would curb crime and prevent shack fires.
Asked what he thought of the City’s vision to formalise backyard dwellings, he said: “Let’s first wait and see the results of this project before commenting further.”
Mr Herron said the situation in Joe Slovo was complex and needed a different approach to urban management.
“A top-down regulatory approach will not assist us. We, the City and the community of Joe Slovo, must work together in reaching an outcome that would be in the interest of the community, as well as in the interest of the City.
“The objective is to get a better understanding of the backyard rental environment and what would be required to regularise the area in terms of services infrastructure and public amenities, among others,” said Mr Herron.
He said the project was ongoing and the final report was expected in the next few months.