A pledge of renewal in South Africa












By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Slum dweller community leaders from throughout South Africa made a historic commitment last week to build and network community organizations in order to upgrade informal settlements at scale throughout the country’s cities. The three-day meeting at the Kolping House in Cape Town brought together over 100 delegates from the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), Poor People’s Movement (PPM), Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), uTshani Fund, uDondolo Trust, and Shack Dwellers International (SDI).


This wide-ranging alliance of community organizations and non-governmental organizations linked to SDI agreed to a program of action designed to build community leadership around issue-based development. Key activities include capacitating communities to collect their own information through household surveys, so as to be active participants in planning for their settlements and cities.


Further, a cornerstone of the agreed resolutions was an intention for networks of community organizations to build partnerships with municipal authorities. These partnerships will form the basis for a program of community-centered planning for upgrading settlements, and managing urban growth.


“Our strategy is a version of that old rally cry: ‘Nothing for us without us,’” said Patrick Magebhula, ISN chair, FEDUP president, and advisor to Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale. “The kind of upgrading we speak of is not about land and services alone. This is about realizing real citizenship and equality in our cities.”


Magebhula made the remarks at a ceremony on Friday, 21 January, where the South African SDI Alliance joined hands with housing officials from the municipalities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch to reaffirm their partnerships to upgrade informal settlements. The Cape Town partnership has already led to upgrading projects in 7 informal settlements with active involvement of the local community, facilitated by the ISN as a network of informal settlement communities throughout the city. In total, the Alliance and the municipality have already agreed to work in at least 20 informal settlements.


“I have been walking this road with the Alliance for two years. I have shared the pain and I have shared the joy,” said Mzwandile Sokupa, director of the Cape Town municipality’s informal settlements department. “We bring all resources to the table, in terms of people, in terms of funding, in terms of will … We are also saying, ‘nothing for you without you.’”


Johru Robyn, Town Planner in the housing department of the Stellenbosch municipality, noted the transforming effects of his department’s partnership with the SDI Alliance. “We have pursued many public-private partnerships, but our partnership with [the Alliance] has led to a total rethink of our housing strategy,” he said.


The shift has been two fold. Firstly, Stellenbosch had never before considered an informal settlement upgrading program. Johru also noted the impact that the Alliance has had on the way Stellenbosch engages with informal settlement dwellers: “Now we don’t go to the community to talk to the community. Now we go to the community to speak with them.”


One of three planned partnered upgrading projects is already underway in Stellenbosch, and the city is exploring the creating of a jointly-managed “urban poor fund,” for wider scale upgrading in the municipality.


Nation-wide, the South African SDI Alliance has 23 pilot projects for informal settlement upgrading underway in 7 cities. Another 32 are planned, for a total of 55 pilot projects. Such work is done in partnership between communities, municipal governments, and, in 2 instances, also academic institutions.


FEDUP has long been the largest civil society initiative to empower the poor to build houses for themselves utilizing the governmental People’s Housing Process subsidy. Since 1994, the Federation has built over 15,000 houses.


Federation national coordinator and SDI deputy president Rose Molokoane reflected the Federation’s shift in focus to incremental upgrading during the round of singing that punctuated Friday’s ceremony. After singing an old Federation song about building houses, “Zenzele” (do it for yourself), she pointed to Magebhula who wrote the song. “ Now I want someone who composed this song to make a remix,” she said.

SDI Partners with African Planning Schools

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat, and Andy Bolnick, iKhayalami

SDI affiliates have long pioneered effective tactics of community organization such as daily savings and community enumeration. SDI affiliates throughout Africa are beginning to move to scale in upgrading informal settlements in the cities and countries where they operate. Consequently, they have understood the need to build partnerships with a range of stakeholders. SDI federations have always been engaged with governments at all levels in order to strike pragmatic deals that empower the urban poor to take charge of their own development.

A new Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), institutionalizes symbolically a growing number of relationships with architects, planners, and the academic world. Plans for the MoU were first discussed at a groundbreaking conference on “Revitalizing Planning Education in Africa,” hosted by the AAPS in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in October 2010. At the gathering, Jane Weru, a board member of SDI and director of the Akiba Mashinani Trust in Kenya, and Lamech Nyariki, of the Muungano Support Trust in Kenya, presented on their work supporting the Kenyan slum dwellers federation (Muungano wa wanavijiji) to partner with architects and planners from University of Nairobi. Weru and Nyariki’s presentation, combined with the participation of additional SDI representatives from elsewhere in Africa, encouraged coordinators of AAPS and SDI to pursue more formal links.

Though partnerships between federations and academic institutions have existed for some time in individual countries, SDI began to think about a wider approach in June 2010 following a Community Architects Conference in Thailand. Six delegates from SDI were in attendance at the conference, which was hosted by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR). There, SDI delegates saw how effectively ACHR works with planning schools. Following on from this conference the delegates committed themselves to furthering this agenda.

At an informal signing ceremony in December 2010, representatives of both SDI and AAPS expressed the hope that the collaboration will lead to practical partnerships throughout the continent. These will amplify and refine the tools that the poor use already to upgrade their settlements. A concurrent intention is for planning and architecture students in Africa to become comfortable working with the poor, and to pursue practical studies that address the urban challenges in their countries.

The MoU stipulates that the AAPS will encourage its member institutions to pursue relationships with SDI affiliates. These may include student internships with SDI support NGOs, invitations to SDI affiliates to present at or develop curricula with planning schools, and the joint production of documents for use in advocacy and lobbying.

Further reading: 

Read the Memorandum of Understanding here.

AAPS’ web site on the partnership with SDI.

In South Africa, the University of Cape Town is collaborating with the South African SDI Alliance to devise a module for second year Master’s planning students. The module will be practical in nature and will focus on a development plan for an informal settlement in conjunction with the community, CORC and the City government of Cape Town. Profesor Peter Ngau, from University of Nairobi, Kwa-Zulu Natal University to impart his experience of working with the SDI Alliance Kenya. His department continues to provide support and interns to Muungano and MuST.

Another example of the kinds of practical partnerships to be pursued under the MoU includes the relationship between the Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation and the University of Zimbabwe. George Masimba of Dialogue on Shelter, a NGO that supports the activities of the federation, wrote about a recent workshop held between the federation, the Harare municipal government, and the University of Zimbabwe.

Of particular relevance to SDI affiliates’ work with planning institutions is the longstanding practice of SDI federations to conduct community-led household surveys, known as enumerations, and citywide slum profiles. Irene Karanja, of the Muungano Support Trust, and Jack Makau, of the SDI secretariat, wrote about the profile of Nairobi on which they supported Muungano wa wanavijiji.


“I dreamt of sleeping in a dry house”












Cross-posted from the Actogether Uganda blog


By Lutwama Muhammed, Actogether Uganda

Katana Goretti , 35, lives about three miles from Kampala City Center with her family. While juggling several seasonal and short-term small businesses, Katana faced domestic violence at home. She alone provided for her five children. It was difficult. Her business required her to spend most of her time away from home and unable to care properly for them. Katana said, “I never felt alive at that time, although I could breathe and walk. I had no confidence in myself.”

In 2007, ACTogether and members of the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation mobilized and sensitized residents in her settlement about savings and working together to solve their problems. She helped form a savings group and was elected as both the secretary and the collector. She participated actively and worked tirelessly to balance these new roles with her business and household responsibilities. “I started dreaming of sleeping in a dry house.  I was tired of sleeping in water and the children fell sick all the time,” she said. 


Using her savings, Katana bought 4 bags of cement and presented them to her husband, demanding that the family build another house. “That shocked me a lot, but somehow we pulled it together and started construction,” said James. He used his carpentry and masonry skills to provide most of the labour for the construction.


“Participation in federation activities has changed a lot of things in my life. The first time my husband, James, saw the importance of saving was when he did not have money for school fees. I just withdrew money from my savings and paid the school fees.” James agreed to join the federation and start saving too.


The family is now united, sharing problems, joys and responsibilities. Katana runs a small business in Owino, the biggest market in Kampala City. She plans to seek training in business skills and management to improve her current business as well as explore new opportunities. 


In addition to saving, some training on rights and responsibilities, problem solving, and leadership skills was provided by the federation. The settlement she lived in was threatened with eviction and Katana actively mobilized the community to come together as a ‘single voice’ and demand Government protection from eviction. With support from LWF and ACTogether, the eviction was stopped.


Thanks to daily saving, the family has abandoned their old flood damaged house. Katana’s dream of sleeping in a dry house is becoming a reality. A wheelbarrow of cement, sand and bricks welcome you at the new three-roomed house being constructed with the savings of Katana and James. The raised foundation of the new house will help to keep them dry during times of flooding, protecting them from sickness and disease.