Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 1992
Organisation of Civic Rights


This profile was prepared when Iqbal Mohamed was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Iqbal is a champion of poor renters and squatters, the majority of urban South Africans.Challenged directly in the mid 1980s, when the government tried to remove all non-whites from the mixed area of central Durban where he and his family live, he created a neighborhood organization, the Durban Central Residents Association, (DCRA) to grapple with the problem. This is a unique issue-oriented, rather than partisan political, organization.
Building on the in-depth understanding his neighborhood housing work has given him, he is now setting out to establish a national housing lobby that will propose and press for policies that would improve, and make far more secure, the housing available for the poor. Some of his legislative proposals represent nothing more than catching up with lessons long since learned in much of the rest of the world, e.g., investing limited public resources in helping the poor obtain secure title to their plot, and in providing simple but basic services such as water, drainage, and power. It rewards the hard work of those trying to find better housing for their families.
Iqbal proposes moving in this direction by repealing a 1988 law that makes squatting a criminal offense punishable by jail or a fine of 10,000 rands. Instead, he would have government purchase the title to disputed land, financing the purchase with 10-year bonds, and then give the land to private trusts that would be charged with helping neighborhoods and their residents upgrade and rationalize the area's housing and supporting services. He would also relax building codes to recognize the very different realities of the informal housing sector. Iqbal would also like to see the government create a South African Housing Trust, a private agency given public funds to help finance improvement in the housing situation.
The large number of poor to modest-income families living as renters informal housing is a special concern for Iqbal, largely because they receive even less attention than do the squatters. His most far-reaching proposal is a needs-related rent subsidy for poor families, in effect apartial negative income or wealth tax. This approach would avoid the distortions and invitations to corruption of trying to help on the supply side. He also proposes overhauling the administrative structure, beginning by incorporating the five racially divided boards, each with their separate programs, into one. He would also like to create a housing or tenants' court where ordinary people and small neighborhood groups could bring disputes and regulatory enforcement matters for quick resolution. This court would, in effect, be a specialized small claims court.
Finally, he hopes for a national Housing Bill of Rights that would,among other things, ban discrimination, open every area of the country up to all of its citizens, and legislate government responsibility for assuring adequate shelter for the population.
At the local level, Iqbal continues to test and refine a series of fresh techniques as well. His core housing work, which includes such services as helping tenants present their cases before administrative bodies, has led him to address other community issues. For example, he has established both Crimewatch and Neighborhood Watch programs in central Durban. These programs mobilize local volunteer patrols to cut the areas's previously growing drug, crime, and prostitution problems. He has also initiated and then spun off programs to provide literacy for women pavement dwellers and training in basic accounting for street traders.
Iqbal is now setting to work to build a non-partisan coalition to press for such housing policies and services.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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