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Home » March 2009

Urban LandMark hosts workshop on incrementally securing tenure in informal settlements

Urban LandMark is developing an approach designed to recognise the tenure rights of people living in informal settlements in South Africa. The approach, once further developed, could be applied in other cities in the region. A project inception workshop was hosted in Johannesburg on 29th January to explore the subject. Workshop participants, nearly 30 in total, were provided with background and context on the project, and gave initial feedback on the development of the approach.

Urban LandMark's investigation of informal urban land markets began in 2006. Since then the programme has worked on several fronts to explore and advocate ways in which urban land markets can perform better for poor people.

At the workshop Lauren Royston, Urban LandMark's coordinator of social and tenure issues, presented the project background, locating the approach in the 'making markets work for the poor' mandate of the programme. In the tenure security theme area, the current focus is on securing land tenure in informal settlements, improving access to land, and local recognition and management of land rights.

Work in this theme area is motivated by the need to open up more officially recognised channels of land supply. This is motivated by the belief that once tenure is secure, development support and protection of people's rights can follow, reaching more of the poor than is currently the case, with the state allocation system which has been driven mainly by RDP housing delivery. The emphasis is on practical instruments which allow land rights to be upgraded over time.

"Special zones" and "local land offices" are practical examples that will be explored and tested in the course of the project.

"Special zones" is a town planning intervention in informal settlements where a category "Special Zone" in existing town planning schemes, or zoning schemes, is applied. This allows for an area to be rezoned and various land use management guidelines to be developed and applied to the settlement.

"Local land offices" are permanent or mobile advice offices established to support the recognition of informal settlements and incrementally secure land rights.

At the workshop Dan Smit, leader of the consortium recently appointed by Urban LandMark to develop the approach further, outlined the method the team plans to use. This included 'cameo' research pieces and applied work in testing "special zones", or versions of it, as well as possible alternative tenure mechanisms, in two additional municipalities. Urban LandMark will continue working with the City of Johannesburg on special zones with a focus on documenting the process and the lessons learned, as well as supporting the security of tenure potential of this planning instrument. The team will further develop the concept of local land offices and test their viability. Depending on the outcome, we may pilot a local land office.

Kamini Pillay, a Director in Development Planning and Urban management in the City of Johannesburg, presented the City's special zones approach at the workshop. This approach is premised on the City's recognition of the role played by informal settlements in providing fast and affordable accommodation. The City is in the process of placing the advertisements for the 'blanket' rezoning, affecting 23 of Johannesburg's 180 informal settlements, which is intended to bring informal settlements into the City's regulatory framework. It is also proceeding with the lengthier process of full, formal, legal establishment.

Urban LandMark's approach to incrementally securing tenure rights has as one of its starting points the need to work with what already exists in order to explore simple, low cost ways to register rights on an interim basis. Margot Rubin and Lauren Royston presented five cases of existing registration practices. These examples were used to demonstrate what issues need to be taken into account, in working with what currently exists. They particularly emphasised existing evidence, whether oral or documented, and local registers or record-keeping systems.

The afternoon sessions dealt with two more broadly focused initiatives. Steve Topham, project leader of the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP), gave an overview of some of the issues his team had uncovered in their assessment of 16 informal settlement upgrading projects across the country. This work was recently completed and the team's recommendations will assist the Department of Housing in setting the agenda for NUSP's work in supporting informal settlement upgrading and in particular, implementation of Part 3 of the Housing Code (or "Chapter 13" as it is colloquially known).

The final session of the day focused attention on the much larger issue of economic marginalisation with Kate Philip, from the Second Economy Strategy Project, presenting an overview of the strategy. She located informal settlement upgrading as one of the strategies that target the most marginalised. The strategy refers to the transformation of informal settlements into sustainable neighbourhoods, along with expanding public employment and supporting home-based food production to address hunger.

A second workshop is likely to be hosted by Urban LandMark around July this year, once progress has been made with developing the approach. The presentation slides are available on the website. Further information can be obtained from Lauren Royston or Lerato Ndjwili Potele (

(Source: Lauren Royston)