Breakthrough and Struggle: Land, Housing and Backyarders in Tiryville, Eastern Cape

By Dolly Cedras (on behalf of FEDUP)*

When you look down the hill, there’s a flat piece of land called Lapland. That’s where we used to live before we moved to Tiryville. At the time Tiryville already had bank financed houses and some open land where we built our shacks..

Dolly Cedras (left) and Leana Ceasar (right)

I lived in my shack for 16 years, and in 2002, after I managed to buy the plot next to my shack I thought about building a house. I went to the municipality to ask for help but they said I needed to get other people to join me. I then found out that the area was zoned for bank-financed houses and not for low-cost housing. So I wrote a letter to the then Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu, and asked if the area could be rezoned from private ownership into an RDP project area.

One day I met Mama Chawe who was part of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP). She said to me: “I can see that you are struggling to get a house. Come over and listen.” She told me about the rituals of FEDUP and the agreement with uTshani Fund [as a financial bridging institution for government subsidised housing]. So I listened and she said I should join FEDUP. I got my green savings boekie [little book] from Mama Chawe for R8. And that is how in 2003 I joined the movement now called FEDUP and began saving.

View onto Tiryville

On their next visit from Port Elizabeth, FEDUP national leaders called a meeting and told us more about the movement and the People’s Housing Process (PHP). We were introduced to the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and together we soon met with the municipality to begin negotiating for our subsidy to build FEDUP-led PHP houses. We convinced them by first building my house [a show house]. The inspector was happy with the quality and so we had many more meetings with the municipality, CORC and uTshani. Eventually we managed to get a contract of 48 PHP houses for the FEDUP members in Tiryville.

We started construction in December 2014. At the moment [July 2015] we have already completed 17 houses and 7 further houses are half-way built. When the foundations were built there was a delay in the construction process because the engineers changed the floor plans. So far the construction process has been quite smooth and we haven’t had many problems with the municipality.

FEDUP built PHP house


Dolly and FEDUP Coordinators inspect a near-complete FEDUP house

Most of the challenges we experienced were in the community. Many were upset that our houses looked so nice. But they did not know that our houses were FEDUP and not municipality built. [Due to FEDUP’s 2006 pledge agreement with the national and provincial department of human settlements, eligible FEDUP members are able to gain direct access to their housing subsidy through the PHP instrument. This enables FEDUP members to build bigger houses (50m2) than the municipality (35-40m2)]. Some neighbours still come to ask about the houses. Others decided to join FEDUP savings scheme too.

Bank-financed house in Tiryville

Although some of us have houses many of our FEDUP members in Tiryville are backyarders because they weren’t able to buy plots. Leana Caesar coordinates the FEDUP backyarder group in Tiryville.

“As the backyarders in Tiryville we identified some land which the municipality identified too. But up to this moment we have not yet received any response to our land submissions. The challenge is that the municipality does not know the real number of FEDUP backyarders. There are 970 people in Tiryville that do not have houses. 212 are FEDUP backyarders. But the municipality thinks that the number is only 170 people. The actual problem is that we are waiting for land so that FEDUP can help us.

In the meantime the other backyarders are saving. They believe in the principles of the Federation. Others have not joined FEDUP because they’ve given up hope. It’s been years that we’ve been trying to push this process. For example, my first application for a house was in 2001 (14 years earlier)”

(Liana Caesar, Tiryville backyarder coordinator)

I know the frustrations that Liana speaks about. There was a time where we needed to each pay R 40 for housing subsidy forms. Do you know how much money I’ve spent on driving to and fro from the municipality in Port Elizabeth? When the municipality did not have forms for us we went and printed them ourselves at the Internet café. I needed to keep hope. I’m telling you, this breakthrough with the municipality is a praying matter.

Dolly's blue FEDUP house

Almost all of us in Tiryville receive grants and pensions. In fact all 48 beneficiaries are unemployed. Many of us try and make a little bit of income. Some sell cookies and tea; I am a seamstress. I can’t tell you if each of the 48 households will remain FEDUP members. But I can say that I like FEDUP. You know, the municipality was often not very responsive to our requests. But FEDUP had an ear to listen to me. No one else could have given me my beautiful blue house!

* Documented and compiled by Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

FEDUP celebrates two decades with a house opening in Orange Farm


Photo: Gauteng Province Department Local Government and Housing

**Cross-posted from the CORC Blog**

By FEDUP & uTshani Fund 

The Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and the uTshani Fund are two organisations working in alliance to bring the urban poor in South Africa together and bring their huge collective resourcefulness, creativity, energy and social force to the task of delivering secure, affordable housing to everyone. The FEDUP / uTshani Fund alliance has initiated housing projects in urban and peri-urban communities across all nine provinces, improving the lives of some 17,000 households so far.

FEDUP’s primary vision has been to ensure that the urban poor – and particularly poor women – gain full citizenship rights and become key actors in determining the development priorities and policies of cities. The Federation has worked to move both urban policy and poor communities away from crisis-led reactive interventions to gendered long-term partnerships in which the urban poor themselves play a key role as visionaries and partners in generating “win-win” solutions that create revised models of development.

At a mass gathering on March 1st, attended by local, national and international shack dwellers, city officials and NGO staff, FEDUP reasserted its vision to build inclusive and pro-poor cities by positioning the poor as central actors in urban development. They were gathered at Stretford Park in Extension 6 of Orange Farm, where joyous singing and chanting resounded throughout the park, overlaid with the DJ’s big dubstep beats.

While the gathering buzzed and hummed, the deputy minister of Human Settlements Ms. Zoe Kota-Fredericks, and Gauteng Members of Executive Council met in a private meeting to discuss the unlocking of People’s Housing Processes in the province. Patrick Magebula, national FEDUP leader and advisor to the minister of Human Settlements Mr. Tokyo Sexwale, mentioned that the processes in Orange Farm are unfolding across the country, and poor people’s groups across the country are actively contributing to changing the way government engages poor residents. Since March 1992, when women across the country mobilised around savings collectives, the Federation has engaged with formal banking institutions and all three tiers of government, helped setup Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) by participating in and leading international exchanges, and most importantly, ensured the material improvement and tenure security in the lives of thousands of poor people. The FEDUP has shared their successes (and failures) and supported new savings initiatives in encouraged and supported savings groups in Angola, Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

On Ms. Kota-Fredericks’ arrival, she addressed the crowd and said, “We are encouraged that people take their own initiatives rather than waiting for the government to come to them. Through your savings you were able to build yourselves better houses, much better than the RDP houses that the government provides. The government needs this kind of commitment from the community so that we can be able to provide services faster and more efficiently”.

Houses built by the Federation through the People’s Housing Process have been of significantly higher quality than those built through privately contracted government delivered starter houses. The current houses being completed with the subsidy pledge are all larger than 50 m2 in size with a fully fitted bathroom, a kitchen with a sink as well as three to four spacious bedrooms. The houses are fully electrified. The finishing includes plaster inside and outside, and is also painted inside and outside. These are achievable through the savings and contributions of the beneficiaries.

The beneficiaries on the projects are mainly elderly women. Young men and women help the beneficiary to construct the houses. Subsidy forms are completed among the members and submitted to the provincial housing Department for approval before building can commence for any beneficiary.

Said Mrs. Manthoka and Mr. Mangena of Orange Farm about a poor people’s movement, “It was a good experience to work with the Federation. It brought us happiness! It was so unfortunate that the whole thing came to a standstill now… There was a problem with the interpretation of the subsidies. People thought that government would be paying the subsidies upfront”.

Poor people have always been in charge of their own developments, building very innovative, very large, and very effective shelters that meet their needs. These creative, colorful, and appropriate homes tend to constitute the vast majority of the architecture of the Global South. It is thus imperative that shack dwellers themselves be involved in the struggle to house the urban poor. They have the appropriate skills and vision to develop their own, comfortable settlements, with a small amount of professional and financial support from the experts and politicians.

Ms. Kota-Fredericks mentioned the long standing relationship between the FEDUP and the national department of Human Settlements. It started with the pledge from Minister Joe Slovo in 1994, which was followed up by Sankie Mthembu-Mahanyelele. Minister Sisulu also pledged subsidies to FEDUP and uTshani Funds in 2004, but provinces have been slow to release these funds for a number of reasons. Rose Molokoane, national coordinator of the FEDUP, commented that a lot of work still remains, as many people still live in harsh conditions. Said Molokoane, “The majority of our people are still poor and can’t afford proper houses. They are living in appalling conditions in informal settlements. But we are confident that our partnership with the government will grow stronger and will achieve more. When we started banks could not loan us money as we were regarded as high risk customers. But we have never lost hope, we decided to do it on our own and it worked”.

Some quotations borrowed from the following online articles: