Fluid notions of home in Tshwane’s inner city

The notion of adequate housing and of a ‘home’ is a multidimensional concept that takes into account personal, social, economic, physical and ideological aspects of what a ‘home’ means to an individual. The understanding of ‘homelessness’ and ‘houselessness’ has, universally, been borrowed from the Western perspective. It suggests that a person is ‘homeless’ when he or she does not have a formal structure in which to sleep on a regular basis. However, in developing nations more than half the population do not have a formal structure in which to reside regularly. It is neither affordable, nor practical, to attain such regularity because of the high levels of mobility in the pursuit of daily livelihoods.

The inner city of Tshwane, like those of other South African metropolitan cities, is a prime destination for migrants from the rural hinterland and less vibrant, smaller urban centres of other provinces and African countries. For my research it proved to be a useful case study in understanding the fluid nature of the housing situation of young, low-income men in the context of developing countries such as South Africa.

Backyard shacks in Salvokop, inner city Tshwane. Lené le Roux.

The inner city of Tshwane is a place where the majority of the population is ‘youth’ and more than half are male. Approximately two-thirds of the population have either no or minimal income, leaving them with limited livelihood resources to afford adequate accommodation. Young men often have to endure severe living conditions such as sleeping on the streets, in ‘shacks’ or in overcrowded, sublet apartment rooms. With no alternative in sight, there seems to be a general acceptance that adequate housing must be sacrificed in order to attain independence, freedom and access to socio-economic opportunities.

These men find themselves facing a gap in the housing subsidy system – as prescribed in the South African National Housing Code (2009). It does not directly address the single, dependent-less, poor population of South Africa in need of adequate housing, unless they are part of an informal settlement that is due for in-situ upgrading. Although the Institutional Subsidy Programme and the Social Housing Programme were developed to grant funding to accredited institutions to develop and manage affordable rental housing for such individuals, amongst others, the number of social housing institutions active in urban centres is simply not enough to address the demand for adequate housing for the dependent-less, poor.

In the fight and desire for urban opportunity, young men have little options for adequate housing if they do not have the resources to afford housing market rates.

I find it problematic that disadvantaged youth are often forced to sacrifice basic levels of adequate housing – and little is understood on the direct impact this has on their identity and personal development into adulthood. Young men are the future fathers, workers and leaders of South Africa. Without better understanding the impact a ‘shack’, a shared room, or the skeleton of Schubart Park has on the psyche, masculinity and perception of self-worth of a young man, we cannot know what kind of South Africa we are building.

Lené le Roux is a Junior Development Planner working in the private sector. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Pretoria and is a candidate graduate for a master’s in Built Environment (Housing) from the University of Witwatersrand. Her core interest and professional training thus far encompasses human settlements, socio-economic development and local government

Read Lené’s previous post Gautrain and Metrorail perpetuate South African inequalities.


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0 Responses to “Fluid notions of home in Tshwane’s inner city”

  1. Lesedi

    Why the focus on young men, surely this is a problem that affects women equally, if not more so, due to the considerable safety issues that must come with such living environments?

    If the answer is that women are supposed to be offered state housing, is this a reality in SA? From the outside looking in, it seems as if the government isn’t doing much in the way of state housing for anybody, including women with young children… 

  2. Lene le Roux

    Hi Lesedi

    I had a particular interest in how young men manouvre and operate in the inner city for this research project. The intension was not to make the needs of women and children in housing less important. However women and children are generally considered as vulnerable groups in society whose needs should be prioritised, while men are not. I was interested in the lifestyles of low-income young men who moved to the inner city, the challenges they face and opportunities they get living centrally. I was also researching some of the short-comings in adequate housing provision – whether privately or publicly supplied.

    The South African Housing Subsidy Programmes offer various housing options for various individuals or households/families, however there is a criteria that a person must meet. The successes in the delivery of housing within these programmes are also varied. The provision of subsidised housing for single people (without dependents), whether male or female, has been less successful thus far because there are not many housing institutions active in the country to provide for this need. It is largely through these institutions that single people can be assisted. Housing for the lower end of the market (i.e. affordable housing for low-income people) is not yet affordable and at a decent standard for living. This is especially true in central urban areas. 

    Despite the state’s efforts, the provision of housing for the low-income or poor cannot solely come from it. Urban land markets need to be developed and transformed to be more inclusive of all income groups.


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