Do not remove the people, bring services to them
Lindiwe Sisulu’s de-densification of informal settlements to deal with Covid-19 repeats a 120-year old recipe for failure
On the first weekend of the lockdown, human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu announced a programme of “de-densification” of informal settlements to enable anti-Covid-19 social distancing. By de-densification she means relocation of at least some residents to other areas. She pitched this as if it would be a reluctant imposition on people living in informal settlements, a service to “assist them to de-densify the areas”.
This is notable not because it is radical, but because it is ordinary: government housing policy has been some variation of “de-densification” for 120 years. Johannesburg’s first forced removals were conducted in the name of disease control. In terms of urban planning, apartheid was largely just US-style suburbanisation with the racism dialled up to 11. It created low-density settlements in good locations for white people, and in progressively far-flung locations for Indian, coloured and black people...