Congested: People live on top of one another in shacks and backyards. The population pressure has resulted in sewage flowing in the streets. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)
Depopulating Alexandra by relocating people to other nearby areas could be the only answer to the overcrowding in the township where the majority of residents are jobless.
This is according to academics at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) who conducted a review of the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) last year.
The project was one of eight urban nodes to benefit from the integrated sustainable rural development and urban renewal programme announced by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2001. The project was meant to address housing in townships. In 2011 the ARP was allocated a budget of R1.3-billion over seven years.
UJ town and regional planning lecturer Zenzile Mbinza, who is part of a three-member team that reviewed the ARP, said there was nothing to renew about Alexandra because the township had never been developed in the first place.
“The word renewal implies there was something good to begin with. Maybe another term should have been used instead of renewal. What is there to renew if nothing was developed before?” asked Mbinza.
He said the main problem was that the infrastructure cannot accommodate the huge number of people living in the area.
“There has been overpopulation and the infrastructure cannot handle it. That is why you see water and sewage on the streets. Between 250 000 and 300 000 people live there, so population per square kilometre is double the [previously] estimated 25 000 per square kilometre,” he said.
Alexandra covers seven square kilometres and 25 000 people multiplied by seven comes to 175 000 people.
“Even if you build high-rise buildings it doesn’t help because the infrastructure will not cope.”
Mbinza and his colleagues George Onatu and Brightness Risimati found that the “average backyard shack rental is about R200 per month for an area of about 3x3m2. The population has overloaded the infrastructure such that water pressures are low, sewers frequently block and overflow, and it has a high demand for electricity that leads to thousands of illegal connections”.
“Maintenance of such a system is very difficult because the high densities and congested nature of the backyard shack development makes access for maintenance very difficult or impossible in places.”
The team found that renovation of hostels would be problematic too because the tenants would oppose new residents moving in.
“The issue of backyards that have become a source of revenue is that it’s adding to … overpopulation,” said Mbinza.
This week he told radio station 702 that Alexandra needed people to be spread more evenly. “Alex is in dire need of something similar to what happened in Diepsloot. Relocating is the best advice in this case.”
A number of people from different places were moved to Diepsloot in 2001 from densely populated areas, including from Alex.
Alexandra recently became a battleground after residents set up the Alexandra shutdown committee, which spearheaded protests over crime, substance abuse and inadequate housing.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura visited the area and accepted a memorandum this week after Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba failed to meet residents.
Makhura said the issue of housing was a historical one and that he was willing to work with Mashaba to fix the problems relating to the ARP.
Mashaba has claimed that money meant for the ARP was used as a slush fund for the ANC. He promised a full forensic investigation into the ARP through the office of the city’s anti-corruption unit, led by Shadrack Sibiya.