Tag Archives: Africa

The Historical Evolution of South Africa’s Housing Policy, Exemplified in Cato Manor

By Ellie Leaning, Analyst

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the historical evolution and uniqueness of South Africa’s housing policy as seen in Cato Manor. This initial post aims to provide a historical overview of the political, economic, and cultural factors at play in Cato Manor.

Cato Manor is one of South Africa’s most historically significant townships. It sits on Durban’s periphery, tucked out of the public eye amongst the hillside, about a ten minute drive from the waterfront. I have a particular affinity to Cato Manor because I lived there for eight-weeks in 2013 with a Zulu family. This was where I had my first exposure to affordable housing projects and became acutely aware of the significance of my family’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) house in their quest for opportunity in a world of pervasive inequality (tune into the next post in this series for a discussion of RDP houses!).

Gardens Drive1

Gardens Drive in Cato Manor with RDP houses as far as the eye can see and a mini-bus taxi parked along the street, waiting for customers. These taxis are constantly running back and forth, honking and blasting music, trying to attract a new client. While perhaps intimidating for a foreigner, these taxis are very inexpensive and very efficient (although perhaps not very safe), connecting the township to the greater Durban area.

 Fun fact: As the buses do not have signs indicating their destination, the drivers (or a driver’s assistant who sometimes rides along) and passengers use hand signals to indicate where the bus is going. For instance, lifting your index finger in a circular motion will get you a ride to South Beach. This stems from Apartheid-era innovation when the government did not supply any public services to these areas – yet another example of a creative response to a market failure! 

Cato Manor’s role in the monumental political, economic, and cultural changes of 20th century South Africa make it a useful and relevant case study. It was one of the main areas where the African National Congress (ANC) focused re-development efforts post-1994, and today it is frequently considered Durban’s equivalent to District Six in Cape Town. While this is a specific township with its own history, the lessons learned and the complexity of that history are representative of the rest of South Africa.

Cato Manor has a unique history that is deeply rooted and very important in its culture today. The Nqondo clan occupied the area as early as 1650, until the Ntuli clan took over about a century later. It is unclear what happened to these tribes, but in 1815 the British established Port Natal (the Portuguese word for Christmas, as Natal was first found by a Portuguese explorer on Christmas Day 1497). The Brits lived primarily on the coast, while the Zulu King Shaka controlled the interior. In 1845, George Cato became the first mayor of Durban and was given the land of Cato Manor, which he subdivided and sold to Indian market gardeners (Durban is also home to the world’s largest Indian population outside of India) who decided to remain in South Africa after their terms as indentured slaves ended. Africans began to set up shacks and informal settlements along the periphery of the area, and as more and more Africans settled in, a unique mixture of vibrant Indian and African culture appeared. These Africans were primarily Zulus, who previously ruled large parts of present-day KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and had an incredibly strong empire. The long-lasting periods of conflicts and consequent colonization were brutal and oppressive, but resulted in a strong sense of identity and pride in the Zulu Kingdom, one that is still evident today in Cato Manor and elsewhere in KZN.

In 1932, Cato Manor was officially brought into the Durban municipality, and the (mostly native African) shack-dwellers were declared illegal occupants. Regardless, Africans continued to rent homes and land from Indians (under the law at this time, Africans were not allowed to own land or build homes in urban areas), with established tenure and amicable relationships for a time. Around 1945, historians estimate that Cato Manor was home to over 50,000 Africans, who began accusing Indians of rent-hikes and overcrowding. This occurred simultaneously with the rise of the Afrikaaner National Party in 1948, which imposed a legalized racial segregation system, infamously known as Apartheid. Racial tensions exacerbated existing divides, leading to a brutal “anti-Indian war” on 13 January 1949 that left 137 dead and thousands injured.

After this, Indians began to leave Cato Manor, returning only to collect rent from Africans, who were busy building more shacks and sub-letting to more Africans. Indian landowners then sold a large portion of their land to the Durban City Council, which then developed the land as a largely unregulated and overcrowded emergency center for homeless people. This became one of the main points of unregulated production of shimeyane, a homemade distilled liqueur, and consequent chaos.


Cato Manor forced removals and police brutality in mid-1950s.

In 1950, National Party passed the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act, the Immorality Act, and the Suppression of Communism Act – the infamous laws of Apartheid. The 1950s marked significant increases in brutal legalized segregation and horrific race-based violence. Apartheid’s opposition, the ANC, was gaining immense power when it was forced to go underground by laws prohibiting political groups and defining anti-apartheid sentiments as equal to treason. The ANC had various underground hubs in the different provinces, and Durban’s branch was based in Cato Manor. The ANC women’s league was also largely prominent in Cato Manor around this time.


Cato Manor: October 1959.

The apartheid regime responded to this by attempting forced removals (within the law, under the Group Areas Act) to place residents in racially exclusive Indian and Black townships, such as KwaMashu and Chatsworth. These efforts were met with massive resistance and violent conflicts, but eventually the bulldozers and police forces won.

Cato Manor was mostly vacant from the late 1960s, aside from a few Hindu temples and avocado trees, a sad ghost of its vibrant history. As the anti-apartheid movements gained strength in the later 1970s, people began trying to move back, but violence plagued the region again in the 1980s. Soon after, people began proactively reclaiming their land and returning to Cato Manor. The first area which people resettled was along the ridge of Cato Manor, an area called Cato Crest.  In 1994, the ANC won the national elections in a remarkably peaceful power transfer. The Zulu Kingdom was incorporated in the Province of Natal in a deal which recognized the power and presence of the Zulus in Natal while stably bringing them into the Republic of South Africa. Natal was renamed as KwaZulu Natal, in which “Kwa” denotes ownership-of or possession: the Zulu’s Natal.

The ANC, left with a broken country, attempted to implement broad changes, including a brand new constitution containing Section 26: the Right to Housing, where “Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing”. A unique aspect of the South African constitution is that is does not only apply to South African nationals; anyone living in the country is entitled to the same rights as a citizen. In this unique aspect of the constitution, the state took on the responsibility of providing access to adequate housing for both its citizens and permanent residents. In a country of legally enforced geographic segregation of races and consequent socio-economic divides, this was no easy task. Accordingly, since 1994, South Africa has devoted a lot of time and resources to pro-poor housing initiatives, most of which were implemented in Cato Manor with varying levels of success.

Residents of Cato Manor and the larger eThekweni (Durban) municipality established the Cato Manor Development Association to upgrade and redevelop the area. Soon following this, Cato Manor was identified as a Presidential Lead Project of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which awarded R130 million ($11.2 million) for specific upgrading schemes to be explained in the next South Africa post.

Mama Ngini House

The RDP house that I lived in for eight weeks with my homestay family (my little sister is at the front door)!

Today, Cato Manor is a very large and partially well developed area, yet is still plagued with violent crime, unemployment, and poor health. Cato Crest, one of the six informal settlements on the outskirts (the ‘crest’) of Cato Manor, is a place of extreme poverty and violence. Parts of Cato Manor are formally owned by their dwellers, with homes attached to the grid with relatively steady electricity and functional plumbing, while others, as in Cato Crest, are completely informal with no legal land ownership, no financial mechanisms for home improvement, no connection to grids, no sanitation, etc. The different mechanisms of housing are at play in Cato Manor, from the 1994 RDP houses, to “green streets” of solar power and efficiency upgrades, to basic slum upgrading schemes attempting to solve the dilemmas of the informal settlements.

South Africa’s, and Cato Manor’s, unique history has led to a regeneration process that is both very difficult and vitally important to get right as the country struggles for socio-economic equality. As we stress here at AHI, there is not one sector of life that housing does not touch. Housing is the keystone species of development, and Cato Manor has been a guinea pig for a lot of these initiatives.

The next blog post in this series will discuss the different regeneration and redevelopment programs at the national level and the local level – stay tuned!  


Part II: How to build affordable, quality and sustainable housing?

Author: Delphine Sangodeyi, AHI Senior Urban Planning Associate

[Continued from Part 1]

The equation is not simple, and demands a new approach. Expertise, research and knowledge should be invested and there should be high social and environmental impacts as well as an economical gain. Housing quality is not only dependent on construction costs, but also related to the quality of housing conception, to social responsibility and to a new business ethic and mindset. A new business model is required.

      Reaching affordability

The term “affordability” applies not only to building costs but to maintenance costs as well. The recommended percentage of income to be paid for housing is generally capped at 30% of income. Higher mortgage payments impact a family’s ability to afford food, medicine and other necessities of life. Even if a family can afford mortgage payments on a house there may be other impediments to home ownership. These include difficulty in finding appropriate land, cash for a down payment and closing costs in order to keep expenses affordable.

In each country, region and city, the affordable housing market needs to be studied, since it covers various socio-economical categories. In many locations, the population living in poverty and working in the informal sector is still excluded from accessing mortgages through the formal banking system.

      Qualitative architecture, in coherence to local identity

Evans Essienyi in his AHI blog highlighted well the problem of quality of affordable housing in Africa, and that cultural and identity factor were insufficiently taken into account.

Affordable housing is most of the time treated in its most basic form, by constructing standardized block houses or apartments of 45 m² with 2 bedrooms. Compared to the degraded situation of dwellers, these types of constructions could look a fortiori as a situation of progress, but it can’t be seen as a correct solution, in a sustainable vision.

      Promoting mixed neighborhoods

Social and architectural diversity is very important in the construction of cities and neighborhoods. For instance, each affordable housing project can include different types of housing, and affordable for different social categories: from low income households to the middle class.  Less benefit can be made to build very economic housing since the global project is at a financial equilibrium.

      Access to the City

Due to the rising price of land, the tendency is to build affordable housing projects in the far periphery of cities. It implies problems of social exclusion, problem of access to transportation, services, education and employment.

For this reason, any affordable housing project has to be conceived in partnership with local authorities. A good option would be to determine available lands at a discounted price compared to the market, to avoid territorial inequalities. Taking into account the costs for local authorities for trunk infrastructures to cover the growing periphery of cities and megalopolis, road constructions and services, as well as the negative effects of segregated urbanization and high environmental impacts of urban sprawl; instead, participating to develop affordable housing through urban renewal and discounted land price closer to the city centers and employments poles should be regarded as a more sustainable urban strategy.

The international and multidisciplinary perspectives of the Affordable Housing Institute help in developing alternative and concrete solutions for a more sustainable vision of affordable housing.

Part I: Changing the mindset from quantity to quality of affordable housing

Author: Delphine Sangodeyi, AHI Senior Urban Planning Associate

The world is currently witnessing a major change in the economic, social, political and environmental issues relevant to emerging markets and economies. According to recent reports by the United Nations, nearly half the world’s population is already living in cities, while nearly 80% is expected to live in cities and urban sprawls by the year 2030. The economic growth paradigms in these economies are likely to have a major impact on global economic development and future sustainability of the planet.

Most of the time, the question of affordable housing is addressed in a quantitative way: “housing deficit.” The housing deficit is abysmal – with nearly 1 billion of the world’s population living in urban slums. This number is likely to only grow larger as cumulative urban growth across two major continents, Africa and Asia, is expected to double between 2000 and 2030.

In many emerging countries the estimated housing deficit is acute. For example, in Nigeria the housing deficit is 18 million housing units. Demand clearly outstrips supply. The first signs of a real estate bubble burst are showing in many Nigerian cities, such as Abuja.

Under construction and just built apartments, in Abuja, Nigeria, photo: D. Sangodeyi, 2011.

Angola, the “satellite city” of Kilamba–which was supposed to highlight the President’s social housing policy–represents a $3.5 billion development built by a Chinese firm to house about 500,000 people. The apartments in the complex cost between $120,000 and $200,000 according to online advertisements. Today, Kilamba is a ghost town. 

The urgent need for housing and the difficulty for societies to answer to the challenge of “housing for all” impacts the way affordable housing is thought and conceived. The equation is often assumed to be an economical and productive matter: how many homes should or can be built in a year?

Actions have been taken by governments, implying for the private sector to face the issue of “housing for all” by building a certain quantity of homes. Today, we are reaching the point that the question of affordable housing should also be addressed in terms of quality, in a more sustainable and long term vision.

Lagos, Makoko, by Yann Arthus Bertrand (more here)

Lagos, Nigeria: new built social housing. Local government advertizes “pay your tax” to build more affordable housing and infrastructures. Photo: D. Sangodeyi, 2011.

[To be continued in Part 2]

Affordable housing in Africa

By: Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Population experts predict that Africa’s population will double from 1,037,524,058 in 2011 to 1,998,465,920 by 2050.The increase in population has been attributed to high birth rate, the decline in infant mortality, and an increase in life expectancy across the continent.

Population growth, coupled with rises in rural to urban migration has resulted in over populated cities. The growth of cities appears to have taken many city mangers by surprise, as they appear to have very little idea about how to manage the seemingly inevitable growth. City infrastructure gravely lags behind the population growth.

Housing is one of the resources that come under intense pressure when there is population explosion. Housing shortage in most African cities have reached worrying levels. This is evident in the increasing number of slums that are so visible in most cities. People who migrate to the city from rural areas construct their own shelter when there is no supply to meet their needs. These shelters are usually not adequate structurally or physically because owners meant them to be only temporary homes.

Kibera slums, Nairobi, Kenya

In most cities, affordable housing for the urban poor is non-existent. The lack of affordable housing supply and the high demand for affordable housing in Africa has been seen as a business opportunity by a number of business people in the West. For example, there are a lot of businesses in the US promoting prefabricated building methods as a means of providing affordable housing for the urban poor in Africa.

Lagos’s famous floating slums, Nigeria, where the government has recently taken first steps towards total demolition and eviction

On the face of it, these prefabricated buildings seem to be a way out of the housing situation. What is missed by most of the proponents of prefab houses is that, houses serve more than the function of sheltering people in Africa. For most Africans, houses are an expression of their status in society. Houses are regarded as properties that must be passed on to future generations. As a result of this very important function of a house, mass produced houses that look alike, and lack any aesthetics does not serve the African vision of home ownership.

Some of the prefab houses being designed today have been estimated to cost between $10,000 -$20,000. By Western standards these houses may seem suitable and affordable. But by African standards these are not suitable even if they are affordable. Most Africans would not mind living in tin houses temporarily while they spend $20,000 over the long term to build their own suitable homes.

Some of the prefab houses would pass for boxes, and I feel even though their intended recipients are poor and are supposed to be content, the houses are lacking in an important way: they are not reflective of the identity of the owner. Instead, they are mass produced, cookie-cutter houses. Most people will be reluctant to buy these houses.

A row of barren prefabricated apartments

I feel the solution in meeting the grave demand is to empower the poor in the cities economically. When their incomes grow, they will save to build their own houses.

A cubic non-descriptive prefabricated affordable home

Incremental building is the common method among the poor and the middle class. This is the prevalent method due to limited access to mortgage services in many parts of Africa. By economic empowerment either through job creation or funding of houses through Housing Microfinance, capital will be made available to the poor and the middle class for them to construct suitable houses over a relatively shorter time frame.

Traditional building methods in Southern Ghana

Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

From the Nzima pile dwellings of Nzulezo in the far West of Ghana near the border with Ivory Coast, to the Ewe villages in the hills of the Volta Region, indigenous people use building methods and architecture which evolved from their environment, receiving their form through the geology, topography and climate of the area, and influenced by the social and historical development of the region. Throughout the rural areas and the fishing communities along the coast, these traditional construction methods are still employed.

Left: houses at Nzulezo
Right: Atakpame house in Ghana

There are three typical types of wall construction in this area, the wattle and daub wall, the Atakpame wall, and the wall from sundried bricks.

The desired shape of the building is marked out with the help of pegs and strings. Holes are dug into the ground at regular intervals along the outline of the building. Vertical posts which are to carry the roof structure are inserted into the holes and stabilized with stones rammed around the base. The framing process is executed with the laying of the floor slab. The horizontal and vertical members of the framework are tied in before the mud is applied. When the framework is completed the roof is built. After the roof, wet molded mud balls are pressed and worked into the framework of the walls to a thickness of 150 to 200mm. Generally, the walls are only smoothened, but in some cases they are rendered with a soft mud and sand mixture. The framing method of construction allows the builder to complete the walls when he has the necessary help in a few days, since he need not wait for each course to set and dry before he lays the next one as in the Atapkame process. The walls also require no cover during rain, as the roof is already completed.

Wattle and daub houses

The origin of this building process can be traced to the town Atakpame in Togo. Although building with molded wet mud balls is common in the northern part of Ghana, the “Atakpame” method refers to a rectangular wall laid out by the builder with pegs and a string. A pit is dug near the building place, the mud mixed with water, kneaded with bare feet, and then molded into balls of about 200mm diameter. Courses of up to 600mm in height are laid, each course covered with palm leaves and allowed to set and dry out gradually before the next course is added. Wet mud cannot bear its own weight and would slump otherwise. Each course is properly leveled out on the top. Openings for windows and doors are noted and left during construction. The wall thickness is generally about 300mm. After five courses a wall height (excluding the foundation) of approximately 2.50m has been reached. When the last course is still wet, holes are made into it every 600mm at the top through which ropes are drawn for fixing the wall plate of the roof framework. Another way of supporting the roof is by driving short forked sticks into the top of the wall over which the framework is laid and tied. Lintels over doors and window openings are pieces of the Fan Palm. The walls are generally not rendered and the pronounced horizontal lines of the courses are clearly visible. Quite often, a plaster mix of mud and bitumen is also used for rendering.

Mud is dug up From a borrow-pit close to the building, mixed with water, and kneaded. The mixture is then pressed into wooden casts. The size of a brick is approximately 200 x 90mm. A drying shed is erected with timber posts, beams and a thatched roof. Under this the bricks are left to dry slowly. This may last, depending on the weather, up to two weeks. The bricks are laid with mud-sand mortar, or a weak cement-sand mortar where cement is available.

Images courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zug55/1903220848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

‘Africa Incorporated’ – AHI at Harvard Business school

‘Africa Incorporated’: first thoughts on the HBS Africa Business Conference

Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Left: The auditorium starts to fill.
Right: Evans and David

This past weekend, March 2-4, it was exciting to be at the Spangler, Burden and Aldrich Halls of the Harvard Business School (HBS) for the 14th edition of the annual African Business conference. The theme was “Africa Incorporated”.

More than 1,300 participants came from countries across the globe. When I first met a student from Stanford, I was impressed they had come from such a distance. Then I met others from Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa and felt the true intensity and commitment of attendees. While some were Harvard students, many were Africans with actual businesses and initiatives in Africa.

The participants comprised students, industry practitioners, and academics from various fields including social entrepreneurship, banking, agribusiness, entertainment, real estate, mass media, health care, education and telecommunications.

I attended three panel discussions – ‘How I did it’, ‘Real estate investing’, for which AHI’s Founder David Smith was a panel leader and ‘Social Entrepreneurship.’ At these sessions, experts shared their insight into how social issues can be addressed with for-profit and non-profit business models, how Africans and non-Africans from the Diaspora have gone back to Africa, and have surmounted all the seemingly-insurmountable challenges the continent presents to building thriving businesses. Finally, real estate experts, including David, shared their thoughts on the metrics they use for evaluating deals of various kinds in Africa, and the pleasant surprise that await all who dare to invest in real estate in Africa.

To me, the conference was exciting, the learning and insights were helpful, but nothing compares with the warmth and thrill of meeting so many Africans, in one location – Boston. I couldn’t make it to the banquet and after party, but I am reliably informed that they were the real climax to all that had happened during the day. I cannot wait for the next HBS African Business Conference, and am sure there will be much to report.

Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 2

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Last week I asked the question: Is the ‘clean and clear title’ and freehold as understood in the global North truly a prerequisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem? And what are the ways in which more complex forms of tenure can be developed and financed?

NO. Neither a freehold nor a clean and clear title is a necessary requisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem. In my view, the two components of the affordable housing ecosystem – microloan for incremental building and large scale investment by developers in affordable housing is not impeded in any way by the absence of freehold or a clean title.

Microloans for households for incremental building do not require the land as security for the loan. Micro lenders employ strategies such as regular visits, site inspection, and group lending to secure their loans. This means loans can be made to low-income people for home improvements and new constructions in the face of communal land ownership with minimal risk to the lender.

Investments in large scale developments are not subject to increased risks as a result of communal land ownership. In most Sub-saharan countries, long term leases for  large tracts of land for development can be obtained for 99 years; this about twice the life span of most housing projects. The 99-year leases are also renewable.

Also, large scale affordable housing developers can negotiate Joint Venture (JV) partnerships with communal land owners for the land to serve as a contribution from the land owners in return for an equity stake in housing development. This arrangement has the potential of increasing the success and sustainability of the housing project.

It is clear that a clean and clear title is not a necessary requisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem in the global south.

Evans Essienyi is a building technologist and real estate developer experienced in structuring low income housing projects, designing affordable houses, financing options and project development in developing countries, especially Ghana. In the USA, he was elected a Legatum Fellow at MIT, dedicated to creating innovative, sustainable, for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.