Reflecting on the Enumeration Process in Cape Town

by James Tayler

Burundi, Mfuleni, Cape Town

By Skye Dobson and Charlton Ziervogel, SDI Secretariat

22 July 2011  |  The South African enumeration process has been underway since 1995. Enumerations are essentially community-run censuses, managed and conducted by slum dweller federations throughout the SDI-network.  Enumeration is one of SDI’s key rituals for mobilizing communities and generating the crucial inputs for collective action required to improve the quality of life in informal settlements. The household information collected – on tenure, income, employment, and services – is vital to combating the invisibility of those living in slums and constitutes a powerful negotiating tool when communities approach their local and municipal governments.

To reap the full benefits of enumeration community ownership of the process is absolutely essential. This truth was discussed at length at an enumeration reflection meeting held in Cape Town on July 23rd, 2011. The meeting was chaired by Mr. Jack Makau, from the Kenyan Alliance, who has been instrumental in facilitating the enumeration process in many of SDI’s member Federations.  Enumeration leaders from various settlements were in attendance, these included representatives from Barcelona, Bosbou, Burundi, Europe, Joe Slovo, Macasar, the Manenberg Backyarders, and Shukushukuma.

Mr. Makau opened the meeting by telling the assembled enumeration leaders that he was humbled to be chairing such a meeting, especially given the fact he learnt much of what he knows about enumeration in South Africa while participating in the process in Gauteng. . He also thanked the South African Federation for the inspiration it continues to provide throughout the international network. South Africa has long been associated with inspiring social movements and the Federation is continuing that honorable tradition of collective action to combat injustice.

The purpose of the meeting, Mr. Makau explained, was to reflect upon the enumeration process thus far. Ever the consummate community organizer, Mr. Makau was not there to provide answers, but to guide the community to find their own by asking insightful questions and probing the community to suggest strategies for combating the issues they themselves identified.  He opened the discussion by reflecting on the enumeration exercise conducted in Burundi settlement two days earlier. To do so he simply asked, “Why do we do enumerations?”

Things started slowly – as such meetings often do. Those used to speaking started the discussion and highlighted their successes to date. Many of the achievements were stated in generic “development-speak” to begin with, but with a little probing from Mr. Makau, quieter members spoke up, the stories became more personal, and a fuller picture emerged.

The Federation members highlighted the contribution the enumeration process has made to mobilization efforts and the increased attention their groups have garnered. This was particularly true of the women from the Manenberg backyarders who noted the very many discussions they had whilst conducting the survey. Aside from merely asking the recipients to respond to the questionnaire, they answered many questions themselves – about what the Federation is, what it does, and why enumerations are conducted.  The group identified the purpose of enumerations as being a tool to give a voice to communities and strengthen their case when it comes time to negotiate with municipalities and other urban development authorities.

The members also identified the deepening of their own understanding of the settlements in which they live. The Manenberg group were shocked and deeply saddened by the horrid conditions “backyarders” live in, and the exploitation they suffer at the hands of their landlords. The group has since taken their enumeration data about the number of backyarders in their settlement to the municipal council demanding that there be budget line committing the council to support these most vulnerable residents.

Others were also able to prioritize certain vulnerable groups for action based on enumeration data. In one settlement it became clear that disabled persons had no access to toilet facilities and the community has approached their council to rectify the matter. Another group found an elderly woman sleeping under a plastic sail and sought donor support to provide her with adequate shelter. Still others cited the ratio of toilets and water-points to residents to be of primary concern.

Melanie Manuels, from the Manenberg backyarders, explained their approach to the enumeration. Before commencing, the group mobilized an effort to map out local stakeholders in their area to whom community members with particular issues could be referred. Despite severely constrained financial capacity, the group knew it could direct vulnerable residents to certain service providers free of charge. This approach received much praise from those assembled in the reflection meeting and will likely be incorporated into the efforts of other groups.

The power of community-driven enumerations was highlighted in an account from Mzwanele, a community leader from Joe Slovo.  He explained to the group how their particular enumeration proved that there were less people than originally thought within the settlement.  This meant that upgrading could be done in situ without having to relocate people to the periphery.

The meeting then turned its attention to some of the challenges encountered thus far. Of principal concern was the difficulty maintaining community enthusiasm for the effort. Some leaders cited teams of 50 dwindling to teams of 15 by the end of an enumeration, while others expressed dissatisfaction that many enumerators see their contribution as a job, rather than a collective effort to improve the lives and livelihoods of people within their community.  The group agreed that real community involvement meant everyone should understand why enumerations were conducted.  More importantly the discussions revealed that enumerations should be a tool for inspiring community members to learn about and take action on issues facing their settlement.

Mr. Makau was able to comfort the group by informing them that it is a problem encountered by many Federations. Instead of providing them with a solution, he told them stories of other enumeration processes throughout the world and how other Federations attempted to resolve the issue. He then gave the assembled members a chance to mull over these strategies.

The group concluded that their issues came down to effective mobilization. They decided that it is their job to make sure Federation members see them as role models who are part of the Federation because of a deep desire to seek the greater good for their communities. In so doing, they concluded, the Federation would be encouraged to feel that same passion. They resolved to return to their own communities and reinforce the key SDI rituals and spirit that had drawn them in, and ensure the enumeration exercise is viewed as ritual like any other – conducted to strengthen collective efficacy and capacity in the community. There was agreement that the enumeration exercise should be perceived as a process – rather than a discrete activity. 

In addition, the Federation members decided it would be wise to ensure members of the community being enumerated take an active role in enumeration of their settlement. In so doing, it is hoped the value of enumeration will be internalized more wholly and the Federation can minimize the occurrence of members perceiving the exercise as a sort of employment.

The group resolved to share the conclusions from the meeting with their respective settlements and discuss them in greater depth in order to determine specific strategies for more effective mobilization. A powerful suggestion came from an elder in the group who suggested inspiration be taken from the leaders’ own motivation for doing what they do and for getting involved in the Federation in the first place. The group agreed and decided that the way SDI rituals are introduced when first contact is made in a community is very important. False expectations and misinformation in this regard were identified as part of the reason why community enthusiasm may dwindle over the course of an enumeration

Mr. Makau thanked the members for their contribution to a productive reflection meeting. Such meetings are crucial to the collective learning SDI seeks to promote and help to ensure the Federation remains nimble and effective in its work – collectively conscious of strengths, weaknesses, and strategies for success that reflect its core values.