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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 11:24 GMT
SA's controversial housing policy
By Richard Hamilton
BBC correspondent in Cape Town

The South African government has promised to remove all the country's squatter camps and shanty towns within the next 10 years.

Joe Slovo settlement, Cape Town
The government wants to remove all shanty towns
Some 9.5 million people live in these so called informal settlements which have been built up around the former townships.

The ministry of housing says it will provide low cost housing as an alternative to the millions of wooden and tin shacks, but many people are sceptical about the proposal.

The Joe Slovo settlement is one of the first sights that visitors to Cape Town see as they drive in from the airport.

And what they see are thousands of little shacks made out of strips of wood and corrugated iron, some from old oil drums. The streets are covered in rubbish and you see the odd dog drinking from a puddle.

'Total nightmare'

Thousands of people live here but across South Africa there are millions of people who live in informal squatter camps like this.

Xolani Mbaxa lives in one of the shacks in the Joe Slovo settlement with four other members of his family.

Xolani Mbaxa, Joe Slovo resident
Xolani wants to become a journalist
When he can find the time and space, he studies for his school exams and dreams of becoming a journalist. He wants to leave the settlement as soon as he can.

"I feel it's a total nightmare living in this place. It's like the opposite of paradise. Even the smell in this place is different from the smell in other places," says Xolani.

"Children are suffering. Even the plants cannot grow in this place. That's how bad it is. Even dogs cannot live. They get diseases.

"We are suffering the most in this country because it's like we've been neglected and dumped in this place."

'No more shanty towns'

In the first 10 years of South Africa's democracy, the government began the task of providing millions of homes with water and electricity.

Now their next target is removing the informal settlements.

"These are areas of squalor and indignity that no community should have to live with," says housing minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.

Housing minister, Lindiwe Sisulu
Sisulu says the shanty towns are difficult to govern
Ms Sisulu is the daughter of one of South Africa's icons of the liberation struggle - Walter Sisulu.

By 2014, she says, there will be no more shanty towns.

"These are areas where the anti-social elements of our society hide in.

"These are areas that make governability almost impossible. They are beyond the reach of normal methods of policing that we have."

Migrant labour

The informal settlements emerged in the 1970s as an act of defiance against the apartheid regime.

The wives and families of migrant male workers - came and set up home near the townships to be near their men folk.

Professor Dave Dewar from the school of architecture and planning at the University of Cape Town
Choices should not be removed, says Dewar
The apartheid government hated informal settlements and tried to knock them down.

Now for different reasons the present government is doing the same.

Professor Dave Dewar from the school of architecture and planning at the University of Cape Town says he can see history repeating itself.

"The instruments are taking a frightening similarity in the sense of being a 'shack-attack' - that somehow informal housing is seen as a problem that must be solved which means it must be eradicated," he says.

"Choices are then removed and people are forced into solutions they do not want and they cannot afford."

'Power keg'

Professor Dewar is not alone in the academic world in thinking that the government's ambition to eliminate all informal settlements is unrealistic.

They say no sooner would you demolish one shanty town than another would spring up in its place.

South Africa's housing problem has been called a powder keg.

The people are being told to be patient - just wait 10 years and you won't have to live like this anymore - the government says.

But if it fails to deliver on this latest pledge - the powder keg might ignite and eventually explode.

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