The working of a federation

Published : Jan 20, 2001 00:00 IST


PATRICK MAGEBHULA is the president of the South African Homeless People's Federation (SAHPF). Speaking from his makeshift office near the Piesang River Settlement in Inanda, Durban, Magebhula said: "Our Federation consists of community-based organisation s all over the country, each with its own identity and decision-making structures. All member-organisations operate from shack settlements, backyard shacks or hostels. While men are not excluded, the vast majority of Federation members are women. Saving is the central activity of these organisations. Daily savings (NsukuZonke) strengthen the bonds between members, ensure accountability and enable poor people to gain access to credit."

Will the savings be adequate to construct houses? Is there not too much emphasis on savings and self-help? Patrick presents a complex relationship between saving, housing finance and the poor: "We have no illusion that the savings will be adequate to con struct houses. However, the process helps mobilise poor people. It ensures high levels of participation and mutual interaction in an organisation. By investing their scarce finance, the members have a material stake in the organisation and in its plannin g and decision-making. Savings also create room for women to play a central role in informal settlements. This is because women are much more interested than men in saving for credit and housing."

The Federation provides opportunities for its members to acquire housing skills, through the exchange of information and the sharing of experiences. The training that goes with these exchanges covers the spectrum of skills needed to consolidate community -managed housing and neighbourhood development. Magebhula expatiates: "Saving schemes teach how to map and profile settlements and gather basic socio-economic data about the residents. These are undertaken to develop an understanding of the living condit ions of the people in the settlement. Secondly, within a financial component, members of the Housing Savings Schemes (HSSs) teach one another the basics of financial management. A third component of the scheme is house-modelling, whereby members collecti vely design and model houses of their dreams and then consider issues of affordability and amend the designs accordingly. The fourth component, once housing loans have been obtained and a design has been identified, is training in building and constructi on techniques."

The Federation's strategy has been to develop mechanisms for housing - mobilisation and management of credit, gathering of information, organisation building, house construction, loan repayment - and then to show the government how these activities ought to be supported. Elaborating the South African situation and the opportunities provided by the post-apartheid democratic government, Magebhula says: "In South Africa's formal institutions, like everywhere else, there is the assumption that people's orga nisations, especially squatter organisations, lack capacity, and that it is the job of external agents either to deliver products or to build capacity through guidance and training. The Federation seeks to change this policy and the institutional mechani sms governing housing support by demonstrating that poor people are far more capable than the government and other formal institutions are willing to admit and that capacity is built via direct everyday experience. The real lack of capacity, which needs to be addressed urgently, is among officials, politicians, banks, planners and other professionals. They need to understand this and support a people's housing process."

Magebhula is modest about the Federation's achievements: "The remarkable thing about it is that it was built entirely on the basis of the successes of the ordinary HSSs themselves. By staying with their systems and resisting incorporation into externally designed formal systems of management and accountability, the Federation demonstrated in practice that it could not only handle large-scale development finance, but put it to more effective use than the private sector. The South African government has s ubsequently offered to increase its contribution to the uTshani Fund."

THE uTshani Fund is a revolving fund providing housing finance on a collective basis to HSSs, affiliated to the SAHPF. The Fund at present holds 42 million rands in capital - consisting of R 14 million from European donors, R10 million from the Departmen t of Housing, R 10 million in loan from the Land Bank, and R4 million from deposits, together with R4 million from the Department of Welfare for income-generation loans. Currently, its annual repayment is about R 4.5 million.

The first loans were made available to HSSs in 1995. Since then, some 2,862 loans have been released to 168 HSSs.

The success of uTshani Fund loans has resulted in government subsidies for housing, which are released to the Federation through the mechanism of the Fund. In 1996, the Federation secured its first share of subsidies, and since then over 1,200 subsidies have been granted. Five provinces - Eastern Cape, Western Cape, North-West, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Free State - have signed agreements with the Federation to pass subsidy funds through the uTshani Fund to its members. These five provinces are among those in which the Federation is the most active.

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