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Advancing Human Settlements - Isandla Institute National Conference 2017

On the 16-17th August 2017, Isandla Institute hosted a two day National Conference entitled “Advancing Human Settlements: From Practice to Policy. Themed on the imminent transformation that is occurring in the sector, the conference was received well, leading to an outstanding attendance by over 104 individuals consisting of academics, private and public sector human settlements practioners from all over the country, built environment specialists (inclusive of architects, planners) and many others.

Human settlements policy, legislation and the guidelines for Human Settlement planning and design are simultaneously under review. Whilst this is a welcomed intervention, given the many challenges and shortcomings in policy and its implementation, the manner in which the human settlements agenda is being reviewed and redesigned leaves much to be desired. There is virtually an absence of public participation, especially of the vulnerable groups directly impacted by the changes. For instance, a technical team was appointed to draft of Human settlement legislation in the absence of a revised national human settlements policy which would have been compiled through public participation. Assuming the national policy is not going to be changed, it is inadequate as it stands.

As a result, the future and trajectory human settlements in our country is known a select few. Naturally, there are concerns pertaining to the extent to which the new policy agenda will address the observed and experienced challenges on the ground due to the adequacies and, at times failures with regard to policy and its implementation? Will situation actually improve through this exclusive process or could the lived experiences actually worsen?

As such the Conference sought to discuss a number of themes arising from both policy and implementation and the result of the way human settlements development is understood. Each session attempted to chart new or better ways of improving policy and its implementation.

The sessions sparked rigorous dialogue as aspired. The Trends on Human Settlements Delivery session kicked of the Conference informing participants on what is happening in the both the private and public sector with regards to human settlements. The Land Access and Land Use Management contrasted, interestingly, the plans, perceptions and implementation of land use management between the City of Cape Town and the City of Johannesburg. Both cities have progressive Spatial Development Frameworks but with regards to implementation, the City of Johannesburg turned out to be the most progressive. The Building Inclusive Communities: Dealing with Informality and Exclusion session showed the transition and transformation of thought processes and rhetoric in government from banning and eradicating informality to embracing and supporting informality both in informal settlements and backyards.

The other sessions scrutinised pertained to Human Settlements Financing and Mega Projects: The Silver Bullet to Address Human Settlement. In the session, Decentralising the Human Settlements Agenda: Municipalities and Communities as Agents of Change, the strength of the partnership between communities, community based organisations and local government were highlighted. This was achieved through a case study of the synergies between Imizamo Yethu Movement and the City of Cape Town. The final session, Monitoring and Incentivising Performance in Human Settlements; provided insights in the challenges faced in assessing the outcomes and impact of the state human settlements interventions. 

The Conference provided vast amounts of knowledge and insights equipping participations in their advocacy steps as they endeavour to influence policy. It was refreshing to note various municipal officials expressing that the Conference availed valuable information and insights on the challenges faced by lessons of ‘best practice’ from the case studies shared. It was indeed a successful and worthwhile gathering! 

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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.