Joel BolnickandDiana Mitlin
People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter, South Africa and International Institute for Environment and Development, UK
This chapter describes the strategies and achievements of a South African people’s organization whose membership consists predominantly of women. The South African Homeless People’s Federation is a network of housing savings schemes that began in 1991 from an informal exchange and information programme between squatter areas. It is supported in its work by the People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter, a South African NGO. After some years of small-scale localized savings within the schemes, the People’s Dialogue obtained capital for a housing loan programme and set up a dedicated housing fund known as the uTshani Fund. Lending for housing construction through group-based finance was started in April 1995 and over 700 housing loans have been distributed.
The Homeless People’s Federation operates in a context in which most other institutions are concerned with formal sector government-funded solutions to housing needs. By contrast, the Federation has sought to demonstrate an alternative people-centred strategy for development which, while placing a specific focus on housing, also creates and supports a political movement able to represent those who previously lacked representation. The housing finance activities of the South African Homeless People’s Federation, the People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter and the uTshani Fund, therefore, need to be analysed from a social development perspective. The underlying philosophy behind such initiatives is that finance provides a structure for poverty reduction and community empowerment that is effective because it simultaneously enables ‘members of the Federation (to) practice self-reliance…(to) run their own organizations with their own resources…an affirmation of the dignity