As a heavy down pour of rain struck Gauteng in the first week of March, the banks of the Kliprivier broke and severely flooded Kliptown, one of the largest areas in Johannesburg comprising 14 informal settlements. The floods of 5 March affected 401 households, completely destroying the shelters and belongings of more than 15 families who were moved to the Kliptown Community Centre. They stayed there for about two weeks as they received emergency relief, food parcels and blankets. Many children were unable to go to school as they had lost their uniforms and school books in the floods. Elderly residents and those living with TB, diabetes and HIV were in dire need of medical attention as they had lost their medication, missing out on daily treatment.
“One old lady was swept away by the floods and her leg was caught in razor wire. She couldn’t go to hospital until we took her. Things like this make the community angry because this is not the first flood. It’s been happening for the past five years” Dumisane Mathebula, ISN community leader
The Informal Settlement Network in Kliptown
As displaced people kept arriving at the community centre, community leaders affiliated to the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) called a stakeholders meeting in which the leaders of Kliptown’s 14 informal settlements met with representatives from the Department of Housing, respective ward councilors, representatives from the police, churches, crèches and NGOs to identify specific responses and tasks towards relocation.
ISN community leaders were tasked with sourcing support for flood victims. They wrote numerous letters to local businesses and hardware stores, sourcing support and building materials (timber, cement and nails) as well as blankets and food to support families who had lost everything. They also entered into negotiations with Region D Municipality about securing land for community residents who could not reconstruct their dwellings on the previous site due to the threat of continuous rainfall. After five years of repeated flooding, community leaders emphasized the urgency of relocation to municipal officials who agreed to using one of three suitable sites (earmarked for housing and serviced with infrastructure) for relocation.
“Before the floods we had a gap in our relationship with the city. The floods are an opportunity to be closer to the people and show the city who we are and that we are organised” Dumisane Mathebula
The City of Johannesburg
The city was tasked with coordinating the relocation and layout, hiring a contractor and leveling the site according to the standards of the Emergency Housing Programme (EHP). This included providing one chemical toilet per seven households and taps in accordance with minimum EHP standards. During the relocation existing structures were demolished and reconstructed on the new site, using old materials wherever possible. As a number of structures were made of cardboard and tin, much material could not be re-used which has resulted in smaller and overcrowded shelters for many households. Since 17 March about 30 households have been relocated, including all displaced families staying in Kliptown Community Centre. Relocated residents are only staying in the structures temporarily as some are listed to receive subsidy housing on that land.
For Kliptown community resident and ISN leader, Jeff Mokoena, the heart of the problem is that the municipality did not address the problem of flooding in the past or relocate community members after the 2013 floods. He explains how the floods have been a recurring issue because people’s shelters are located within wetlands and flood lines.
“My concern is that the city is not managing informal settlements or making sure that people are safe. There is a lack of educating communities about the dangers of settling in flood line areas. We need to be informed by government around these issues so that we can participate in decision-making processes, as it says in the government’s National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP). Kliptown is over 100 years old and we ask ourselves why it is not being prioritized. We have analysed the Freedom Charter but it is not being implemented here. When our sadness, frustration and anger comes together it becomes so big that you cannot swallow it….”
“But I think since 2012 we have a breakthrough with the regional office of the city. The relocation we are now doing is professional. We have requested a formal letter giving us a clear indication who will relocate where. Today I am a happy man because we are leading the relocation process and building a new face of Kliptown”