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Isandla Institute 2017 National Conference – Advancing human settlements: From practice to policy

From 16 to 17 August 2017, Isandla Institute hosted a national conference entitled Advancing Human Settlements: From Practice to Policy. The event created a platform for over 100 stakeholders from across the public, private and civil society sectors to engage around key human settlements development issues.

The backdrop to the Conference was the recently announced review of human settlements policy. While the review is a welcome intervention, given the many challenges and shortcomings in the human settlements sector, the manner in which the human settlements agenda is seemingly being redesigned leaves much to be desired. For example, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu announced that a technical team was appointed to draft human settlements legislation.  This suggests that stakeholder engagement and public participation processes ordinarily associated with policy development, which in turn informs the revision/formulation of legislation, would be circumvented.  The future trajectory of human settlements in South Africa could therefore be determined by a select few.

It also remains to be seen whether policy developed in this way will improve the performance of the human settlements sector leading to tangible improvements on the ground. To address the many, often complex challenges in human settlements, the new human settlements agenda should ideally be shaped by lessons from practice, as opposed to ideological standpoints. Principles and theories of change are critical informants of policy, but policy cannot be reduced to convictions and viewpoints; it needs to take account of what has or hasn’t worked in practice, and why.

The conference sessions sparked rigorous dialogue. It commenced with a focus on human settlements delivery statistics as a baseline for determining the performance of human settlements programmes and instruments. This was followed by a session on land access and land use management, with lessons drawn from the approaches, systems and results in the City of Johannesburg and the City of Cape Town. An informality and exclusion session discussed how to move from approaches that seek to ignore or eradicate informality, to an approach that embraces informality with reference to informal settlements and backyards.

Further discussions focused on the centralisation tendency evident from national government in stark contrast to the centrality of a decentralised approach, whereby local communities and municipalities are the key drivers of change. Referencing real examples, the value of partnerships between communities, community based organisations and local government was highlighted. The Conference concluded with a session on monitoring and incentivising performance in human settlements. During this session, critical insights from formal evaluations of human settlements programmes and instruments emerged, thereby re-emphasising the importance of evidence-based human settlements policy. Isandla Institute’s own contribution to this was the launch of the webtool, Planning for Informality, which packages public information on informal settlement upgrading and backyard shack programmes from the eight metropolitan municipalities for public use.

Overall, the conference was very well received. Participants indicated that the Conference was highly informative, engaging and participatory,  and offered a valuable learning and networking opportunity.

For more information on the conference, please contact Martha Hungwe at Isandla Institute on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.