Link between poor housing, traffic deaths and education outcomes

Daneel Knoetze
Winter in Khayelitsha. Photo by Phumeza Mlungwana.
Daneel Knoetze

The 7th annual Irene Grootboom Memorial Dialogues, which explore the continuation of Cape Town’s “spatial apartheid”, are underway. On Tuesday night, the focus was on the spate of shack evictions around the city this year, and the correlation between poor, densely populated areas and traffic deaths and education outcomes.

Being poor and living in densely populated informal settlements in Khayelitsha increases your risk of being killed by a car and of your children having poor education outcomes.

These were the conclusions, illustrated by statistics, of two speakers at this year’s Irene Grootboom Memorial Dialogues, hosted by the Social Justice Coalition and the African Centre for Cities.

The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of shackdweller and housing activist Irene Grootboom in 2000. The landmark judgment outlined the duties of the state in terms of the right of access to adequate housing in section 26 of the Constitution. For instance, the judgment held that the state must provide emergency shelter for those “with no access to land, no roof over their heads, and who are living in intolerable conditions or crisis situations.”

The lectures are held annually in memoriam of Grootboom who died in 2008, without having received a house.

Speaking at the City hall on Tuesday evening, Hector Eliot, head of the Western Cape’s Transport Ministry, showed that pedestrians accounted for the majority of road deaths in Khayelitsha (35 out of 58) from the beginning of the year to 17 September. This ratio is 15 percent higher than the province’s average.

“Road deaths are a reflection of the type of community in which they occur,” he said.

“Khayelitsha has densely populated areas and many residents are on foot in the streets. Many of these road deaths occur late at night in a community where there is poor street lighting, and where alcohol consumption is a factor.”

Brad Brockman, general secretary of Equal Education, compared figures for performance outcomes in Grade 3 maths and literacy between schools in rich and poor areas. The Department of Basic Education places schools within one of five “quintiles”, dependent on levels of wealth, income and employment in the areas where they are situated: quintile one for schools in the poorest areas, quintile five for those in the wealthiest areas.

Khayelitsha schools generally fall in the middle quintile, where only about a quarter of Grade 3s can read and write at the benchmark level, and around 42 percent are performing at the benchmark level in maths. Both of these outcomes are about half of the performance levels in the top quintile of schools in the province’s wealthiest areas.

Brockman made the point that “housing policy is school policy”, and briefly presented findings from a study in Montgomery County in the US state of Maryland. Maryland has one of the US’s most equitable housing policies, resulting in poor and rich families coexisting in the same neighbourhoods. This correlated to better education outcomes for children from poor backgrounds going to schools in generally wealthier areas, Brockman said.

A second theme of the dialogues was evictions and socio-economic pressures which drive people to occupy vacant (often City or privately owned land). Sheldon Magardie, the Legal Resource Centre’s Cape Town director, drew attention to the City of Cape Town’s efforts to evict shackdwellers who had occupied a tract of vacant land which contained several privately owned properties. He argued that the City’s approach was an “engagement through demolition squads”. It had no other policy or programme for accommodating people who have been driven to occupations because of desperate housing needs and the pressure on land in over crowded informal settlements, he said.

As Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos explained, the Grootboom judgment ruled that unlawful occupiers had a right to “demand from the state to act reasonably to provide access to housing to all South Africans by devising and implementing a housing policy that did not neglect the most poor and vulnerable members of society.”

Yet, as Magardie pointed out, the City’s emergency housing programme does not define land occupations or homelessness through eviction as situations where emergency housing definitions apply. Land adjacent to areas where there is a desperate housing need, especially those tracts which have been occupied, should be expropriated by the state, he said. A model currently being applied in Brazil, where a tax on unused privately owned land increases year-on-year, should be considered in South Africa.

The Irene Grootboom Memorial Dialogues continue at 6pm Wednesday evening at the Andile Msizi Centre in Khayelitsha with speakers Anthea Houston, from Communicare, and Zackie Achmat, from Ndifuna Ukwazi. For further details consult the African Centre for Cities website.

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