The Alexandra Township De-Densification Project during the Covid-19 Crisis: Challenges and Potential Lessons, pp. 63 - 83
In response to the Covid-19 (hereafter referred to as ‘virus’) pandemic, the South Africa government established different measures to try to slow down the spread of the virus. One of the strategies was to focus on population density, specifically in informal settlements. The argument was that high population density in informal settlements could increase the risk of transmission of the virus. The Bloomberg CityLab reported in 2020 that urban density does play a role in the transmission of the virus. South Africa is no exception, as its major metropolitan areas have borne the brunt of Covid-19 infections, with Cape Town and Johannesburg classified as epicentres. However, there is debate amongst scholars and policy-makers as to whether de-densification is a good strategy, given the various ways in which urban life benefits from higher population densities, and whether density does or does not increase the spread of the virus.
The Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation (DHSWS) in South Africa launched its project to de-densify (or re-block) informal settlements as a strategy to combat the virus in areas where preventative hygiene and social distancing measures are a challenge to implement. This project was launched in all three spheres of government (national, provincial and local level). The City of Johannesburg (CoJ) Department of Housing received a budget from the national Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation (DHSWS) to focus on the establishment and delivery of temporary relocation areas (TRAs) in terms of the Disaster Management Act 2002 (Act 57 of 2002). The aim was to use these areas to de-densify informal settlements. The de-densification programme was to be implemented in the following informal settlements: Diepsloot, Alexandra, Zandspruit, and Soweto. This paper will focus only on Alexandra, as it was identified as a high-risk informal settlement. At the time of writing (almost a year and a half later), these projects have not been completed. The aim of this paper is to discuss corruption, the de-densification project, problems, and the lessons that could be learnt. It also discusses how the failure to complete these houses has impacted on the Covid-19 crisis.