A critical analysis of the use of informal settlement dwellings as an economic asset: the case study of Kwa-Mathambo in Durban.
Nzimande, Sinenhlanhla Thenjiswa.
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Rapid urbanization and informal settlements are global phenomena, particularly relevant in developing countries. More than half of the population of African cities will migrate from rural areas to urban areas (UN-Habitat, 2014). In South Africa, rapid urbanization has resulted in the growth of informal settlements that are associated with negative impacts on the urban fabric as they are characterized by poor living conditions, poverty and unemployment. However, they serve as a foothold for migrants in search of social and economic opportunities. Residents of informal settlements engage in livelihood strategies that enable them to meet their basic needs and reduce household poverty. This study analysed how informal dwellings function as an economic asset to generate an income. A case study was conducted in Kwa-Mathambo informal settlement in Avoca, eThekwini Municipality. The municipality and a local community organization have implemented Emergency Housing Units and Re-blocking Units as recovery strategy in KwaMathambo and interim services, including water and electricity, have been provided. Informal settlements face various challenges that result in residents using their dwelling space to accommodate livelihood strategies. Engaging in wealth creation activities is a way of coping with population’s demands in urban areas. This study aims to identify the different economic activities that informal dwellers engage in, examine the use of the dwelling space for both residential and economic purposes, and to assess whether the provision of interim services enhanced the use of the informal dwelling as an economic asset. It also sought to identify the challenges associated with using the dwelling as an economic asset and to make recommendations on how informal settlements can be managed. A qualitative approach was adopted, with questionnaires, observation and in-depth interviews used to gather information from 20 residents of Kwa-Mathambo, two municipal officials and three members of the community support organization. The study found that the informal dwelling is a household wealth creation tool, which enables residents to meet basic needs and reduce poverty. Access to interim services in Kwa-Mathambo has created economic opportunities through enhancing the economic activities that informal residents engage in. Despite the fact that many regard informal settlements as a blight on urban areas, the findings suggest that they can be managed through supporting livelihood strategies. While the intention is not to promote the growth of informal settlements, municipalities and community organizations should acknowledge the use of informal dwellings as a physical asset that supports livelihood strategies. The results can inform policy to support and enhance informal residents’ livelihood strategies through training, programs and capacity building, to promote economic growth and self-reliance in marginalised communities.