State ambitions and peoples’ practices: An exploration of RDP housing in Johannesburg

Charlton, Sarah
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University of Sheffield
This study investigates the programme’s outcomes in Johannesburg through the perspectives of both RDP beneficiaries and state housing practitioners. Findings transcend the denigration of RDP housing as ‘poorly located’, revealing people’s complex interactions with their housing which show its flaws and limitations but also their attachment to it. To minimise the shortcomings of the housing benefit RDP settlements are appropriated, adapted and transformed, households composition may be re-configured and alternative accommodation off-site brought into play. In general the state has limited insight into this intricacy, little institutional appetite to explore it and holds contradictory positions on the outcomes of the programme. Despite the evident resources and power of the state, it is confounded by the complexity of people’s practices. More broadly, the study contributes to housing and planning literature through its focus on the interface between state and beneficiary practices. Peoples’ responses to RDP housing emphasise both the state’s limited capacity in addressing the housing need, but also the catalytic value and potential its intervention triggers. Rather than portraying the state and the subaltern as clashing over conflicting rationalities, it illuminates their overlapping aspirations and mutual shaping of space.
South Africa’s RDP housing programme has delivered ownership of a house and serviced land to millions of first time home-owners since 1994. Intended to both provide shelter and address poverty, the housing programme is typical of improvement initiatives of the modern state aimed at advancing the physical, economic or social situation of a target population. Yet little is known about the results of the South African housing programme for recipient households, except that some beneficiaries attract state censure for interacting with their houses in unexpected and unwelcome ways. Despite the lack of clarity on its effects, the large-scale costly housing programme continues to be implemented.
RDP Housing South Africa, South Africa Housing Programme
Charlton, Sarah. (2013). State ambitions and peoples’ practices: An exploration of RDP housing in Johannesburg. A thesis in fulfillment of the requirements for the doctorate in philosophy at Sheffield University.