Abahlali baseMjondolo leader Sbu Zikode during a march in Durban last year. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

DURBAN – A summit to address upgrades to informal settlements in the eThekwini Municipality has received a thumbs up from one of the city’s most ardent critics. 

Shack dweller’s association Abahlali baseMjondolo has said that the two-day summit is a step in the right direction to addressing the plight of the thousands of impoverishedpeople in the metro. 

President and founder of Abahlali, Sbu Zikode, was speaking to African News Agency (ANA) on Tuesday night. 

The summit at the Karridene Protea Hotel at Illovo beach, ends on Wednesday.

“It was a very exciting moment to be part of that, although we were initially invited by [KZN human settlements MEC] Ravi Pillay.” 

Human settlements is hosting the summit.

Zikode said he would be attending the final day of the event as there “appears to be a shift from the old way of thinking about providing solutions to informal settlements”.

“I think it was clear from this that they are now embracing informality in terms of providing interim services while people are waiting for housing. This is really a step forward,” he said.

He said it was positive that the municipality had acknowledged that it would take “a very long time” to provide housing to shack dwellers and that the municipality would be providing those services.

“This is good news, we have never heard this language before,” said Zikode.

The department of human settlements has recorded 553 informal settlements in various areas in eThekwini, with an estimated total of 237 000 dwellings.

eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede said in her opening address that while over 200 000 houses had been built for the metro’s disadvantaged since 1994, “too many of our residents still live in informal settlements”. 

“We are open to ideas but we will not tolerate anarchy and chaos. Our interest is to save lives and create better lives for all our people,” Gumede said.

Settlements are overcrowded with high rates of fires, floods and landslides. They also have poor access to water, sanitation, electricity and emergency access, and high rates of communicable diseases. 

In 2018, the city signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with South African Slum Dwellers International, which has no affiliation to Abahlali, to facilitate the development of “sustainable and integrated human settlements”.

Abahlali and the mayor have often been at loggerheads, with Zikode having previously accused Gumede of making promises prior to elections and not delivering, with several court cases pending between the parties.

African News Agency (ANA)