By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat
A slum dweller community leader has become a close advisor to Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale. Patrick Magebhula, a long-time community organizer and activist from Durban, is the only community-based actor on new five person panel to advise the Minister on human settlements policy and practice.
The panel was inaugurated on Tuesday, 31 August, at a meeting in Johannesburg.
Magebhula is a founder and president of the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), the largest community-based organization in South Africa, which organizes communities around women-led daily savings, and community information gathering. FEDUP has had a relationship with the national department of housing (now “human settlements”), since the tragically brief tenure of Joe Slovo as minister in 1994. That relationship has resulted in over 15,000 houses built by poor communities themselves.
As an advisor to the Minister, Magebhula said that he hopes to begin a dialogue on aligning national policy to maximize the capacities and energy of organized communities of the poor: “It’s important for the poor to build a relationship at that level with the minister. It should go a long way in opening up the space for working with poor people. It has the potential to put people’s struggles and people’s processes at the center of the agenda.”
FEDUP is part of the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), an agglomeration of settlement-level and national-level organizations of the urban poor in all major municipalities in South Africa, for which Magebhula serves as the chair. ISN is the first major initiative since the end of Apartheid to bring together residents’ committees, community development groups, as well as national organizations to work to upgrade settlements, build partnerships with all levels of government, and construct a people-centered agenda for solving the crises of human settlements and poverty.
Prior to helping found FEDUP in 1992, Magebhula was the founder of the United Democratic Front branch in his community of Piesang River in Durban in 1985. In addition to his positions in FEDUP and ISN, he serves as a member of the board for Shack Dwellers International, an alliance of slum dweller organizations in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.