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The impact of informal settlements on environmentally sensitive areas: a case study of Cato Crest informal settlement, in Durban.

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Apartheid policies promoted racial segregation and thus acted as a catalyst to the rising slum settlements in post-democratic South Africa. The encroachment of informal settlements on to the existing natural environment, the shortage of housing and service delivery is prevalent in Cato Crest. The shortages of living abodes and the cramped living conditions have forced residents within the settlement to continuously invade the neighbouring natural environment and animal habitat. This study intends to examine the environmental impacts caused by the informal settlements within the Cato Crest area, ecological challenges experienced by the residents of Cato Crest due to the lack of essential service infrastructure, and provide answers to the reasons for the emergence of informal settlements in the Cato Crest area. The study further analyzes the environmental effects of the lack of essential service infrastructure within Cato Crest area and the effects of urbanization within the study area of Cato Crest. The study area of Cato Crest informal settlements forms part of Cato Manor. Cato Manor is located 5 kilometers off the Durban Central business district. A qualitative research method was adopted and primary and secondary data sources were used to elicit data on the relationship between informal settlements and the encroached environmentally sensitive areas in Cato Crest. Non-probability sampling methods were adopted to execute purposive and judgmental samplings. A sample size of 30 respondents was interviewed during the acquisition of primary data. A thematic analysis was used to analyze qualitative data. The key approaches of this study are delineated in the key frameworks which are namely; the theory and concept of urbanization, the definition and characteristics of informal settlements, the unravelling of the natural environment, the principles and concepts of sustainable development and the relationship created by the encroachment of informal settlements in Cato Crest against the existing natural environmentally sensitive areas. Theoretical concepts such as the Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human ecology and development, the development theory and the theory of New Urbanism are used to define their relationship with the state of Cato Crest informal settlement. These key frameworks and theoretical concepts are explicitly interrogated to extrapolate the influences and attachment they have to relationship of the natural environment and residents of Cato Crest informal settlement. The residents of Cato Crest informal settlements live in a poverty-stricken environment. The natural environment is being heavily encroached and polluted. The lack of essential services such as electricity, running ablution facilities and waste disposal are also a contributing factor to the pollution of the natural environment and environmentally sensitive areas. The study suggests the following recommendations for both the municipality and residents of Cato crest informal settlement. There needs to be a concise community involvement in order for a bottom up approach to be implemented to improve the quality of living at Cato Crest informal settlement. Controlled encroachment onto undevelopable and environmentally sensitive land will ensure that damage to the existing biodiversity is limited. The improvements of the beneficiaries’ socio economic status can be achieved through the structuring of small business enterprises by providing monetary funding, thus reducing unemployment. A change in the dependency mentality of residents into a system of self-reliance will reconstruct social and economic norms within Cato Manor which will engineer a thinking pattern that is both optimistic and positive amongst the community members. The conclusion reached in the study is that the perpetual existence of socio-economic poverty in the African diaspora can be attributed to the highly subtle capitalist affirmation of developmental theories and legislation. Developmental theories favour and protect economic interests more, rather than changing the status quo of societal issues. This is also administered and maintained at the detriment of the natural environment. According to the eThekwini Municipality, the complete eradication of informal settlements has since been halted by the municipality. These results indicate that a deeper conversation on creating a symbiotic relationship between informal settlements and the natural environment is critical.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal. Durban.