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The painful deterioration of South C

It was meant to be an upmarket neighbourhood. But South C, which was designated for settlement by Asians in the colonial days, is slowly deteriorating.

What was once a neat, small neighbourhood with a few people and controlled development has now ballooned into a home for thousands of inhabitants and sprawling buildings.

South C – also known as Southside or South Compton – is now home to highrise buildings that go up to 11 storeys, even though the suburb is under Zone 10, where buildings should not go beyond two storeys.

Makeshift structures have also cropped up, with the estate now hosting three informal settlements — Cotton slums, Bypass slum and Mataa village.

Mr Kuldeep Singh Nayer, whose family was among the first to settle in the estate, says that the plot where South C stands was allocated by the colonial government between 1956 and 1957 to Asians, who could not be allowed into European settlements such as Karen.

The original South C was a big rectangle with crescent courts and no fences or perimeter walls, and being just 200 metres from the Nairobi National Park, wild animals would freely graze in the area, peacefully co-existing with the residents.

“It started as a small estate with only three houses built 100 metres from each other on 50 by 100 plots. We were the first occupants in the area, with my father building our house in 1957. I was a small child then, about nine years,” he said.
“There were no small estates that now make up the (South C) ward. It was a quiet area and you would drive home in the evening nudging your way among the wild animals.”

The ward, which is now part of five such wards making up Lang’ata Constituency – others are Karen, Nairobi West, Nyayo Highrise, Mugumu-ini – used to be part of Nairobi South Constituency.

The houses were either single- or double-storeys and no development was allowed to go any higher, with all of them single houses, except for two areas that had flats, where multiple dwelling was allowed.

“In 1963, we watched the entire independence celebration (in Uhuru Gardens) as then we had a clear view,” he says.

NO ACCESS ROADS

At the time, there were no access roads and if one wanted to move to the neighbouring Nairobi West, they had to go to Mombasa Road, then to the Nyayo roundabout and finally to Nairobi West.

“I used to walk to Highway Secondary School to and fro. There were no matatus and no traffic. We would even go back home for lunch and go back in the afternoon,” recounts Mr Nayer.

However, post-independence, the neighbourhood began to open up, fueled by the tarmacking of roads, which enhanced accessibility.

But even by the end of the 60s, there weren’t that many people.

Temporary houses next to permanent buildings in South C in Nairobi on August 30, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL
Temporary houses next to permanent buildings in South C in Nairobi on August 30, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL

Slowly, other estates started coming up and South C started expanding and evolving and many original owners sold their houses and moved out. Original owners from the 1970s and 80s have also handed down their houses to younger generations.

Today, haphazard development, with sprouting highrises to accommodate the ever-growing population, has put a strain on resources, with water availability now a problem. The sewerage is stretched and social amenities crowded.

“The turnover of house owners has been quite alarming – changing hands several times. On my street, I am probably the only original owner left. The crescents have now transformed into estates. The older people will feel the beauty of the place has been spoilt,” observes Nayer.

South C Residents Association chairperson Ranjanah Raj, who has lived in the estate for the past 20 years, concurs with Nayer, saying what has been witnessed in the area is “forced development” fueled by its strategic location as it is only a five-minute drive to the Wilson Airport and 10 minutes to the city centre.

HIGH-RISE FLATS

Bungalows hosting a single family have been demolished in favour of high-rise flats with dozens of residents.

Investors, both local and international, are trooping in to cash in on the land value that has increased over time, further fuelling the trend.

Raj points out that South C now has a population of more than 100,000 despite services and resources not growing in tandem.

Currently, she explains that there are close to 100 mini estates in South C, some with between 350 and 400 houses, with no social amenities to match.

“Our infrastructure is 45 years old, meaning our roads are six metres, not 12, sewerage lines six inches, not 12 and we have no culverts, yet we are in a basin. When it rains, water from Nairobi West, Mombasa road and Lang’ata all converges at South C, turning it into a sea,” Raj laments.

Some of the tall buildings in South C, Nairobi. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL
Some of the tall buildings in South C, Nairobi. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL

“We have sewerage bursting into houses almost every rainy season. We also only get water once, every Wednesday. It has changed for the worst. South C is now a total mess. Approvals have been given without due considerations.”

Informal settlements are slowly sprouting in the area, with Cotton slum – which started by housing casual labourers working at Wilson Airport –, Bypass slum made up of 100 families kicked out of land belonging to Moi Educational Centre and Mataa village behind Kongoni School that borders Kenya Power sub-station.

“We call it the second Eastleigh (the populous neighbourhood in Eastlands with hundreds of flats). Maybe a degree or two posher than Eastleigh. When the government locked down Eastleigh, we got an influx of 75 per cent of its inhabitants coming to stay in South C,” she adds.

However, Lang’ata MP Nixon Korir has blamed City Hall for the current state of South C pointing out that planning is a function domiciled with the county government and any failure in that regard should be borne by Governor Mike Sonko.

SHANTIES

He warned that South C is going to be a pool of flats if the current trend is not controlled as the county government has been issuing approvals to change developments from single user to storey buildings.

“Planning is a county function and if there is a failure in that regard then it is the governor who should tell us what he is doing,” said Mr Korir.

On the sprouting makeshift structures, he said the shanties are coming up because of a lack of markets that should have been provided by City Hall, which Governor Sonko had promised to put a budget for its construction in the county’s budget.

“When we were campaigning we promised the residents a market. The area MCA Osman Khalif, who sits at the Nairobi County Assembly, is supposed to be the eye of the residents and should be pushing for the same. But I will continue pushing to make sure the market is done,” he said.

On matters water, he said he has pushed for drilling of boreholes by NMS.

Kenyan entertainer, the late E-sir Mmari. FILE PHOTO | NATION
Kenyan entertainer, the late E-sir Mmari. FILE PHOTO | NATION

After all is said and done, South C is famous for its association with local music heavyweights such as the late E-Sir, Nameless and the Longombas, among others.

It also houses the headquarters of the Kenya Red Cross Society, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Training School of the Kenya Police, National Environmental Management Authority headquarters, Kenya National Bureau of Standards head office and the expansive Toyota Training Academy.

Big hotels – Red Court, Ole Sereni and Eka – also call South C home, while the estate maintains the enviable record of having had a drive-in cinema, at Bellevue, near Mombasa road.