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Johannesburg [African Union] - growing concerns about urbanization

Ecological and demographic factors play an important part in building design. Nomads are in decline, while the prevalence of the tsetse fly limits the extent of pastoralism. Past migrations have had a profound effect on the dispersal of house types. Large African populations in cities have developed only in the 20th century, especially after the 1960s. Soil erosion and overgrazing, increasing pressure on land as a result of population growth, and the attractions of the city have all contributed to migratory movements.

The effect of neocolonialism has been to reduce the variety of house forms and to regimentalize settlement patterns. Owner-built houses and resettlement townships have been erected, with consideration for limitations of economy and space. Much indigenous architecture has been lost, though not necessarily in street life or surface enrichment. Two- and three-story houses and shops have become commonplace with the use of reinforced concrete and steel frame construction.

The greatest challenge to African shelter design lies in the burgeoning suburbs of African cities. Unserviced, unsanitary, and often in locations subject to disease and flood, the squatter settlements of, for example, Lagos, Nigeria, or Lusaka, Zambia, underline the importance of economical housing that is responsive to the diversity of cultural needs in urban contexts. It is here that the African genius for building unpretentious, functional, and environmentally appropriate housing from indigenous resources can make its most important contribution to the future of its architecture.

African architectural types reflect the interaction of environmental factors--such as natural resources, climate, and vegetation--with the economies and population densities of the continent's various regions. Building materials include: coral rag stone, mangrove poles, lime-mortar, and plaster. Earth and clay constitute a major building resource, the characteristic soils of much of Africa being semidesert chestnut earths and laterites (reddish residuals of rock decay), which are often low in fertility but easily compacted.     


DEVELOPMENT-SOUTH AFRICA: Highway Destroys Homeless' Dreams
By Gumisai Mutume

When a group of homeless began building houses for themselves on the outskirts of the South African city of Johannesburg a few years ago, they never imagined a highway would one day tear their homes apart.
Now dwellers of Botshabelo and Kanana on the Vaal Triangle west of Johannesburg have been told by council that a new highway will cut short their dreams of owning their homes.

''We will not move,'' says Meshack Ncokoto, using a famous line from the Apartheid years when Black people were forceably removed from their land.

''They can come with their bulldozers and kill the people inside their houses and maybe they will solve the problem that way,'' he says.

Since 1972, Ncokoto has been wandering across South Africa in search of a place to call home. He has lived in informal dwellings for as long as he can remember and a home he built together with the Homeless People's Federation recently had provided an answer to his prayers.

But the local council has other plans and says the people living in Botshebelo have been living on council land illegally since they invaded it in 1994. So have the people of Kanana, nearby.

''We invaded it on 11 April 1994,'' says Molefe Rathaimane (34). ''We said let us move in before a new government comes to power. Ever since I was young this was an unused piece of land and we needed a place to stay.''

And under the Homeless People's Federation the people were able to erect their own houses.

The Homeless People's Federation, a community movement, has more than 90,000 members nationwide.

Its members, made up of the unemployed, destitute, the landless, the low-income and those in the informal sector, save the odd rand a day into a common fund, which now boasts of nearly 600,000 US Dollars.

On their own, they have put up more than 5,000 houses across the country.

They draw their own plans and come together in groups to build each other's houses. The federation had already put up 30 houses in Botshabelo and were pleading with the council to pipe water into the settlement.

''Instead of water, they bring us news of our eviction,'' says another resident, Elizabeth Mofokeng. ''Now I have high blood pressure because of this issue. We wanted to develop the area into a real township.''

The government of President Nelson Mandela failed to live up to its 1994 election promise of putting up one million houses by this year.

Housing remains one of the most pressing problems facing the new nation and the housing backlog is estimated at three-million units. An estimated six million of the country's 40.5 million people are homeless.

''One of the major problems we face as the poor and homeless people of South Africa is landlessness,'' says Rose Molokoane of the Homeless People's Federation. While they have the will to build they do not have the land to build on.

She says resistance of their plans by authorities is not unique to Botshabelo, but is a national problem especially since a system of local government is new to South Africa having only been established in 1995.

Non-Governmental Organisations (ngos) say government proposals to deliver housing are more geared towards private- sector delivery and not community initiatives.

The problem, however, is that the gross poverty in South Africa pushes the majority of the population out of the formal system.

For instance 40 to 70 percent of South Africans earn less than 340 dollars a month and therefore cannot obtain bank loans to build homes.

Private contractors charge up to 2,340 U.S. Dollars to prepare land for housing development, design, plan and cost for a four bed-roomed house. The federation says it can do it for as little as 260 U.S. Dollars.

''We realised that if we do not come together and do things for ourselves we will not get anywhere. We only need support to enhance our process,'' says Molokoane.(END/IPS/gm/mn/98)