What is a home?

27 November 2018 | Story Charlene Stanley
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Back row, from the left: Prof Danie Brand (Director of the Free State Centre for Human Rights), workshop co-organiser Helen Carr (Kent University), and Ellen Maphalane (home owner) with workshop participants during a visit to Ms Maphalane’s home, an example of alternatively constructed housing in Bloemfontein.

The body of a sixty-year-old homeless man is discovered in a tent on the outskirts of Canterbury, Kent, UK. Cursory research reveals that he had been refused a place on the council’s housing register and that he was a former member of the British armed forces – a group that makes up close to a quarter of the ‘rough sleepers’ in London. This raises questions about the complex relationship of politics, campaigning, gender, and welfare in homelessness law, policy, and practice.

Jump across the Atlantic Ocean to Klapmuts, Western Cape, South Africa, where beneficiaries of an RDP housing project are benefiting from the shelter provided in the form of private home ownership. Yet, they are not using these assets to its full potential, e.g. as security for credit to start or expand a business. This raises questions about whether the less expensive route of providing public housing with tenure security would not be a better option.

International workshop on housing

Diverse issues such as these came up for discussion as planners, geographers, architects, art historians, social activists, and lawyers recently met during a workshop at the University of the Free State to discuss what a home constitutes, and how best to provide and protect homes in a sustainable and inclusive manner in 21st century cities. The workshop was hosted by the Free State Centre for Human Rights on the Bloemfontein Campus.

Participants presented papers and engaged in discussions on home-related topics as diverse as Hannah Arendt’s conception of the intimate and political spheres; Henri Lefebvre’s notion of a right to the city; alternative, environmentally conscious building methods; court cases dealing with the concept of home; the right to a domestic garden as a component of the right to a home; and constructing the home as a subversive and empowering alternative when it comes to giving birth.

Going forward

The same group of participants will meet for a follow-up workshop at Kent University in the UK in February 2019, and a third workshop in Belo Horizonte in Brazil in June 2019, with the project culminating in the publication of an inter-disciplinary book containing the papers workshopped at the three events.