A LONG ROAD HOME: Housing Rights in South Africa’s Informal Settlement, Joe Slovo

Kaitlyn Bowles, SIT Graduate Institute - Study Abroad

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights


Most countries legally consider housing to be a necessary human right. But for millions of individuals in this world, adequate housing is out of reach. Homelessness is evident in different manors throughout the world, but in South Africa, the problem of insufficient housing develops itself in the form of informal settlements. One such settlement, Joe Slovo1, is situated just outside of Cape Town, and is the primary focus of this paper. Recently, Joe Slovo has been a prominent feature in the local news because of its involvement in a Constitutional Court case. On March 30, 2011, 20,000 residents of Joe Slovo won their right to stay in the settlement and avoid eviction to Delft2. Through research for this paper, I aimed to find out what people in Joe Slovo knew about their housing rights, how they felt about the evictions and their victory, and since winning the case, what happens now in regards to housing? I did my primary research through the course of 11 interviews in and around Joe Slovo. I talked to residents of the settlement, Task Team3 leaders, a housing developer and other individuals involved in the field of study. I was also able to utilize a lot of secondary research from previous case studies and literature on the topic. My findings illustrate the need for change in the current housing crisis, particularly in the case of Joe Slovo. Research shows that the government would ideally like to have structural support for residents when developing new housing settlements so that the developments can be sustainable, and other social issues such as unemployment can be addressed as well. However, the history of Joe Slovo proves that government has not actualized this goal, and as a result, the causal factors in the housing crisis are not being dealt with. In this paper I will argue that although residents of Joe Slovo are concerned with their lack of adequate housing, their challenges will not be solved with the acquisition of a house. While housing is important, the residents will not be able to tend to their families, much less maintain the house and pay for utilities, without employment.