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Kya Sands Informal Settlement: Vulnerability and Resilience

Dylan Weakley, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is a brief summary of a presentation done at the SA Informal City Seminar on 15 November 2011. It is based on or taken directly (in parts) from research undertaken by Dylan Weakley for his master’s degree . The research was funded by the NRF through the provision of a bursary. While this is the case, the views reported in this article do not necessarily represent those of the NRF. More detailed information on Kya Sands can also be found at the website set up as part of the Masters research mentioned above at

Kya Sands Informal Settlement: Limited Government Action Related to Resilience

Kya Sands is an informal settlement located in Region A of the City of Johannesburg (CoJ). It is informal as per Karam and Huchzermeyer’s definition of informal settlements being those settlements that were not planned by nor have formal permission to exist from government. Having said this, the definition is a bit crude in terms of this work and parts of the settlement may not fit this definition entirely. This is in that some residents were placed in certain sections of the settlement by the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, arguably giving those residents permission to live there.

Professional Mobile Mapping reports that the settlement is made up of 16,238 people living in 5,325 dwellings . If accurate, this is a very high number, giving a population density of 104,089.7/km2 (1,040.9/ha), similar to that of Kibera Informal Settlement in Nairobi, Kenya .

On 15 November 2006, a mayoral road show visited Kya Sands informal settlement. These road shows are a form of public participation that allow residents to communicate directly with the top management of the CoJ. From this visit, and due to the "appalling conditions that were found on site" the mayor set up a task team made up of the city's Development Planning, Urban Management and Housing departments to come up with long and short term strategies to address the "health and safety risks confronting the community" .

While short term interventions have been fairly successful in delivering basic services, no long term interventions have been implemented to date with no action in sight. This has resulted in numerous service delivery protests in Kya Sands, with the most recent coinciding with Human Rights Day, 21 March, 2012 . This is a tangible example of Huchzermeyer’s argument that despite progressive policy being in place regarding informal settlement intervention (such as in-situ upgrading) effective responses to informal settlements by planning authorities are limited.

The work hypothesises that one reason for this (among others proposed by Huchzermeyer e.g. ), relates to the type of resilience displayed by formal government structures, as well as their perception of resilience. Formal planning authorities display the opposite type of resilience to informal settlements (if indeed it could be represented on a simple continuum). Government structures show mainly equilibrist resilience, making them stable and not easily knocked off their state of stability. At the same time however, they lack the type of resilience shown by informal settlements being evolutionary/transformative resilience or adaptability to the changing urban context, shown by their limited success in effectively engaging informal settlements.

Also, just as planning authorities display equilibrist resilience; it is their mind-set of what resilience is. Huchzermeyer describes this by saying "[t]he inherent, although fragile, abilities of informally established settlements to respond to the demands of urban poverty have been officially ignored" . By failing to recognise the evolutionary resilience displayed by informal settlements, planning authorities inherently view informality as vulnerability. Here, the first step in engaging informal settlements is usually some sort of formalisation. This is an attempt by planning authorities firstly to make the two more compatible with one another (the authority and informal settlement) to allow engagement and secondly to start building the type of resilience that formal structures can relate to.

Thus, this research argues that in order for planning authorities to effectively engage with informal settlements, the inherent resilience contained by these informal settlements can no longer be ignored. To this end, the research looks to investigate this resilience in Kya Sands and report it in a way that planning authorities can respond to. At the same time, it is clear that vulnerability to certain hazards exists in informal settlements, and that this too needs investigation, with findings guiding authorities’ response.

Data regarding vulnerability and resilience in Kya Sands was collected through an interview process with residents in January 2012. Sixty residents were interviewed in total in interviews lasting an average of half an hour each. These were systematically geographically spread across the settlement in order to allow responses to be located in space and mapped. Findings from the work are currently being written up, and it is hoped that the thesis will be completed before the end of 2012. Preliminarily, findings indicate that the main resilience Kya Sands provides its residents is access to the city that they are effectively formally excluded from. This access is largely to the economic opportunities of the city, but includes other amenities such as access to healthcare and schooling and to social networks in the city. Kya Sands provides a viable entry point to the city for the poor that is actually affordable (sometimes free) and not limited by regulatory systems. At the same time, dangers such as crime, fire and flooding and poor living conditions are realities in the settlement. So while these need to be addressed, the process of doing so should not erase the resilience that the settlement provides for its residents, and the reasons it was established in the first place.

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