Between the “informal” and the “formal”: Slum upgrading in South Africa

Sheffield Road


By Benjamin Bradlow
SDI secretariat

Building a bridge between the “informal” and the “formal”: Reflections on slum upgrading in South Africa

In January, the South African SDI Alliance affirmed a vision to build city-wide networks of informal settlement communities that mobilize to upgrade their settlements. Nearly six months later, about 30 representatives of the Alliance partners — the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP), Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), iKhayalami, and uTshani Fund — met in Cape Town to reflect on the upgrading work that has been accomplished thus far.

On 7 June, visitors from elsewhere in South Africa visited the settlement of Sheffield Road. There, the ISN and CORC have worked with community leadership to re-arrange or “re-block” shacks in the dense settlement built on a road reserve. In addition to re-arranging the settlement spatially, they have built upgraded shack shelters. As the project has fallen within the ambit of a city-wide partnership between the Alliance and the Metropolitan Municipality of Cape Town, the community has been able to work with the City to install new toilets in locations planned by the community as part of the arrangement of shacks.

The Alliance then spent the next two days reflecting on the way in which the upgrading process has unfolded in Sheffield Road. The lessons from this case study served as a springboard for a deeper discussion around basic principles for upgrading projects ongoing or still to come both in Cape Town and in the Alliance nationwide.

The underlying lesson of this discussion is that upgrading informal settlements is anything but the technical exercise presented by many in the formal world such as governments, professionals, and academics. The primary challenge lies in the basic fact that upgrading settlements requires the inclusion of whole affected communities in the processes that go into such improvements. Whether we refer to the political, financial or planning aspects of upgrading, it is the initiative and leadership of organized communities that is the essential ingredient in making a project successful.

Evaluating and learning from Sheffield Road

Critical feedback from all participants emphasized both positive and negative aspects of the process and outcome of the Sheffield Road project. Positives included the demonstration that in situ reconfiguration of space within a settlement can make a large contribution to the building of social bonds and life within a settlement, as well create a safer environment from both crime and natural calamities. Further, the relationship of the city-wide ISN and the leadership of the Sheffield Road community helped build a bridge to municipal officials. This resulted in the provision of new toilets located as part of a spatial layout plan developed by the community. Though leadership structures have been challenged throughout this process, the existence of strong leaders able to mobilize residents through a risky process of tearing down shacks and rebuilding, has been a powerful impetus for the success of the project.

Participants noted an apparent dependency on technical support from the NGO, insufficient contributions from savings, difficulties with uninterested or unaccountable leadership structures, and a general lack of “sensitization” of the community. It was emphasized that community mobilization is the key to the sustainability of any upgrading project. As long as the NGO drives the process, the project fosters a growing sense of entitlement in the community and prevents residents from taking ownership.

What is blocking out?

Blocking out is a way of refining the planning of informal settlements. Put more simply, “blocking out” or “re-blocking” refers to a rearrangement of shacks in an informal settlement. Re-blocking is a way of addressing the larger concept of spatial reconfiguration versus the simple delineation of sites. The difference is between focusing on individual households or space that is used by whole communities. The space can be used for communal amenities, or to create lanes for installation of services such as water, sanitation and electricity.

Blocking out is also understood as a way to increase tenure. It demonstrates community capacity with regard to planning, and makes way for installation of services, which can provide a greater level of security to residents.

Shelter provision

In the case of Sheffield Road, iKhayalami, a NGO linked to CORC, provided replacement zinc shelters to residents who moved their shacks as part of the “re-blocking” exercise. The Alliance debated whether this should be linked to “re-blocking” and how it should be done.

Positive aspects of provision of shelter are primarily related to the fact that residents’ shelters may be damaged in the course of moving their shacks. Further, they are only given four walls, so they contribute to the building of their new shacks, breeding stronger ownership of the project. Finally, the provision of a shelter upgrade through iKhayalami was considered necessary for mobilizing the community in a non-disaster situation.

Criticisms of this approach centered on the linking of private housing space — the upgraded shack — to what is primarily a project about public living space — the re-blocked settlement. Some participants noted that the upgraded shelter may be seen as minimizing the existing investments that residents make into their shelters prior to the re-blocking exercise. A related point was that informal settlement residents have demonstrated great resourcefulness in building shacks and sourcing material for these shacks. Therefore, provision of a new shelter may distract from larger upgrading projects. Some suggested that the provision of new shelters in the context of re-blocking could amount to a reduced form of “RDP” housing provision, and could set an example for a R5,000 subsidy for improved shack versus a R50,000 subsidy for a government house.

Another critique suggested that it would not be cost-effective for CORC/iKhayalami to provide heavily subsidized shelter upgrading solutions at any kind of meaningful scale. While some participants saw this as a critique of working to upgrade private shelter through provision of modular iKhayalami-type materials, an additional view was that this was also a way to access the resources of the State for the poor. The NGO would be making an up-front investment to get much greater returns in terms of the potential resources that could be secured from the State. The view is that funds such as those coming from Emergency Housing Fund or Urban Settlements Development Grant could be made available at large scale for such an upgrading protocol, given a proper demonstration model. The popularity of the iKhayalami shelters in the projects proposed to the Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF) board, even with a 10% required contribution on the part of informal settlement residents, indicates that this may be a favorable option.

Finally, there was a discussion about the difference between finance for public upgrading improvements — eg. public space, basic services — and funding constraints for individual improvements — eg. shelter. This led to a discussion of the possibility of trying to implement a financial instrument for shelter upgrades. It could be partly microcredit, which would help provide some recognition for the investments that families make to upgrade their shelters. By the same token, the discussion acknowledged that upgrading an informal shelter is a risk that would be very difficult to get banks to take on without some kind of further guarantee. Hence a mix of grant funding and microcredit was proposed as a way to a) provide access to finance, and deepen formal acknowledgment of investments that the poor make into their shelters, and b) to develop a potentially sustainable mechanism for both securing finances for upgrading informal households from a State nominally keen on providing subsidies for poverty alleviation, while simultaneously “banking” an “unbanked” sector.

How do communities organize to upgrade?

“Blocking out is actually a mobilization tool more than anything else. We are saying that we are an Informal Settlement Network. So we need to be preaching informal settlement upgrading.”

— Rose Molokoane

The case of Sheffield Road highlights a number of challenges regarding community organization. The long time frame of the project is due primarily to difficulties in mobilizing savings contributions for the shelter upgrade. Further, the ISN leadership engagement with the community included the institution of a new community leadership structure that was not initially accepted by the community. Ultimately, there was a sense that it was especially difficult to build a constituency for upgrading at Sheffield Road without dangling the carrot of a shelter upgrade.

But if a community-led approach to upgrading is to be taken to scale within the Alliance, then everyone agreed that the key conversation is about how communities organize themselves. Savings has long been the backbone activity of the Alliance partners. Yet savings has been one of the most difficult activities to mobilize in the upgrading process. A central contradiction is that savings has long been a membership-based activity linked primarily to FEDUP. But upgrading is a community-wide process, which therefore requires community-wide pooling of financial resources.

In Sheffield Road, re-blocking has been done in clusters of about 15 shacks, and savings has also been organized at that level. In Umlazi in Durban, the community divided itself up into five different sections, and has begun saving by section for upgrading projects.

Such strategies for community-wide savings have a big impact on the methods of organization that communities are finding necessary for upgrading at the whole settlement scale. In Slovo Park, in Johannesburg, the community leadership realized that it had to organize structures all the way down to the block or street level in order to be effective. “We realized that we were holding lots of meetings and people weren’t coming,” said community leader Mohau Melani. “We realized that we have to go down to the block level.”

It was further noted that enumeration can be an effective tool for promoting such organization. Perhaps even more importantly the use of enumeration as a tool for understanding the most important needs of a community was underlined. Participants agreed that, in most cases, the enumerations taking place within the Alliance are not being used to the full extent of their potential effectiveness.

A social movement aimed at the upgrading of informal settlements is an issue-based social movement. Therefore, the primary activities of this movement need to be geared towards identifying developmental issues — through tools like enumeration, profiling, and regional dialogues — as well as the pooling of political and financial resources — through the establishment of deeper leadership structures, savings schemes, and participation of women.

The challenge of scale

The establishment of the Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF) is an initiative of the Alliance designed to encourage a constituency for community-driven upgrading projects nationwide. CUFF operates through a bottom-up structure. Informal settlement and backyard shack dweller communities make proposals to a board composed of a majority of slum dwellers, for grant funding for upgrading projects.

The intention of CUFF is to demonstrate a wide multiplicity of upgrading solutions, methods for community leadership of upgrading projects, and institutional structures for bottom-up, city-wide finance facilities for upgrading that can eventually be adopted by the State. CUFF was established earlier this year, but few of the projects that the board has approved are yet up and running. Participants in the meeting agreed that a renewed focus on deep mobilization, as detailed in the previous section, needs to be the primary focus in order to generate a constituency for projects that will be creative, effective, respond to community need, and have potential for going to larger scale.

Key resolutions

  1. The number one determinant of an effective upgrading project is an organized community. It was resolved that the following factors are key to evaluating an effective community:
    1. Leadership structures are constituted all the way down to the street or block level. At the settlement-wide level, a Community Development Committee that include all existing structures in a community (eg. women’s forums, business forums, task teams, etc.)
    2. Regular community meetings where residents have a chance to bring up their needs and have them recorded.
    3. Community-wide savings. There are different methods that can exist for how these are organized, but the key is to have transparent and accountable systems that breed trust in the process.
    4. Enumeration. A clear and participatory account of the needs and make-up of the community.
    5. Regional dialogues to draw out the type and scale of needs that exist at the regional or city-wide level.
    6. Participation of women.
  2. Partnership with local authorities. These are designed to increase learning around the challenges and successes of community-led strategies for informal settlement upgrading, and to get these methods adopted as policy.
  3. NGO role is to link communities, provide strategic support for external partnerships, and advise network leaders on building their movement. NGO professionals do not mobilize communities, and should not become primary implementers or managers of a project.
  4. Focus on existing community investments in their settlements. Shelter upgrades should not ignore the pre-existing capacity for building, maintaining, and upgrading shacks in informal settlement communities.
  5. Alliance goal is to develop a large variety of upgrading solutions, and not to standardize a one-size-fits-all approach for all settlements.
  6. Shelter upgrade can accompany other upgrades, but mobilization (meetings and exchanges) should make clear that such work is entirely de-linked from other types of upgrading (eg. blocking out). Role of shelter upgrade is to provide a model that can access further resources from the State for the poor.


New MoU with UCLG-Africa

SDI federations have long understood the strategic importance of brokering partnerships with local government. This stems from the understanding that in order to scale up federation practices, experiences, and learning, the formal government has to be engaged actively.

At the end of April, SDI’s Zimbabwean affiliate federation — Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation — and support organization — Dialogue on Shelter — were invited to the executive meeting of United Cities and Local Government in Africa (UCLGA) in Dakar, Senegal. There, the Zimbabwean team discussed community-based processes for organization and collection of information.

The Zimbabwean federation has been working in the city of Harare under a new partnership with the city authorities, to jointly collect information and upgrade informal settlements. This is an incredible breakthrough towards a decidedly pro-poor approach in a city where informal dwellers have previously experienced some of the largest mass forced evictions worldwide in the past decade.

The engagement in Dakar has resulted in a new partnership between UCLGA and SDI, which includes a Memorandum of Understanding. Both networks have agreed to support city-wide profiling of informal settlements by communities. The goal will be to mobilize community organizations, and to orient local government towards a partnership-based approach to deal with the growth of informal settlements.

The initial projects in this partnership will take place in two cities, which are yet to be decided. Activities of the project will primarily revolve around information collection such as joint enumeration and mapping. This will serve as the foundation for participatory platform for planning and slum upgrading rooted in the information collected.

This project is to be supported by the Cities Alliance. Both SDI and UCLG — the international body of which UCLGA is a part — are members of the Cities Alliance partnership.

Back to Basics: Expanding Enumeration Processes across SDI

By Mitali Ayyangar

In January, 2011, the Indian Alliance of SPARC, NSDF and Mahila Milan hosted a four day workshop with SDI affiliate members from across Africa and South-East Asia to consolidate members’ enumeration processes and experiences. The workshop was intended to create a space for, firstly, collective reflection on the importance of this fundamental SDI activity and, secondly, to develop strategies to strengthen the SDI Secretariat’s ability to assist member federations expand and deepen their enumeration processes.

About Enumerations: Functionally, enumerations and surveys are tools by which the community collects information about its resources, land ownership, history, services that are provided and the community’s priorities. The various forms in which enumerations are exercised are detailed here. This information forms an important basis for addressing deprivations in slum areas, long-term strategic planning and for negotiating with authorities for land, tenure and infrastructure.

However, enumerating activities do much more than that. They are used not only as a tool to collect information about their communities, but also as a means of connecting and reaching out to people, and through this process, give individuals a collective sense of identity. They provide communities and their aggregated federations with a sense of who they are, what their collective needs are and information and data to produce insights about their situation. People learn to explore processes of contestation with the state about information the state has generated about the poor, which is often not comprehensive and can generally not be disaggregated to produce projects and investment possibilities or to benchmark what needs to be improved upon.

Workshop and its Objectives: In SDI’s collective experience, enumeration processes have been invaluable. Enumerations need to be expanded and carried forward at a large scale – and it was with this overarching objective in mind that the workshop was organised. Within this, a sub-objective was to focus on how support professionals and NGOs can improve their roles in assisting their federation-partners design and execute surveys, manage data and prepare reports.

The Workshop was therefore designed to create a space to:

  • Discuss each participating country’s enumeration process, with the goal of clarifying and strengthening the various activities involved, identifying challenges and planning strategies to overcome these challenges
  • Identify opportunities for the SDI Secretariat to support country-exchanges for federations to learn about various enumeration processes strategies
  • Increase capability of federations and supporting NGOs in terms of data management and analysis
  • Exchange thoughts and ideas about the potential for standardization of basic data used by cities and countries
  • Discuss the possible future uses of GIS for mapping settlements and possible future production of biometric ID cards

Participants at the workshop included representatives from the SDI Secretariat and NGOs and federations from Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Philippines and India.

Structure of the Workshop: The Workshop was spread over 4 days. Introductions and outlining individual participants’ expectations of the Workshop dominated the first half of the first day, while the second was dedicated to “setting the stage” – i.e. identifying the current status of federation work, common challenges and an overview of SDI’s near-future objectives. The second day included presentations from each country representative about their enumeration “journey” – each followed by a Q&A session which probed deeper into the role and value of enumerations in addressing needs of federations in that country. On the third day, the Indian Alliance organised a field visit to Pune, where local Mahila Milan presented, on site, their journey from savings and credit activities to enumerations to negotiations with governments to improved housing and sanitation. On the final day, participants evaluated whether their expectations had been met at the Workshop, developed action plans to expand their enumeration activities and identified key peer-to-peer exchanges that would, with the support of the SDI Secretariat, facilitate their goals.

Main themes discussed: Several important issues emerged over the course of the workshop, particularly during the individual country presentations. A brief on each participating country – their enumeration history, processes, key achievements, challenges and top priorities – is included in the full report. Some of the prominent and common issues that emerged were:

  1. The ‘age’ of NGOs and federations, in terms of experience and capacity for enumerations, in creating processes that lead to effective engagement at the individual/community level and enable a strong federation to take root.
  2. The importance of building the legitimacy of enumeration processes and data gathered to, firstly, facilitate engagement with outside partners and stakeholders and, secondly, to transform relationships so that federations are valued as partners in national development processes
  3. Balancing the fundamental commitment of the process to be accountable to its constituents with the demands of governments (and others) to “make data look” a certain way – in an effort to produce information in ways that suit the needs of both, the communities and others
  4. Understanding the subtleties of the process – including survey design
  5. Understanding the data – in terms of its findings, its role in bringing communities together and in promoting ownership of the process (translating the data back to the community)

*** A full report with country briefs and other key insights can be downloaded here***

A new approach to learning, monitoring and evaluation

By Carrie Baptist

SDI embarked on a Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation (LM&E) process more than a year ago, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation. A workshop in Mumbai, India, held on 27-29 April was a key milestone in consolidating lessons learned thus far, and to refine and expand LM&E practices for many more SDI affiliates, and the network as a whole.

***What follows is a summary of the four-day workshop. A full report with key quotes and insights from individual participants can be downloaded here.***

At a meeting in Nairobi last year, LM&E was first discussed and 5 countries chose to begin an intensive LM&E process with the support of two organizations commissioned to assist in designing the LME process and facilitating it in these 5 national affiliates. In Asia, Sri Lanka and Nepal began the LM&E process with the support of PRIA, an Indian N.G.O. In Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana were supported in their processes by IPA, a Ghanaian N.G.O.

The purpose of this workshop was to share the process that these 5 countries undertook for LM&E and to envision ways in which these processes can be expanded throughout SDI. This workshop was also intended to continue the processes of clarifying and defining what Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation means for SDI. Principles and purposes of LM&E were articulated for SDI as a whole, as well as specific ways in which LM&E might begin and be incorporated into ongoing learning processes.

The workshop was spread over 4 days. The first day included presentations by the 5 countries which have been doing an in-depth LM&E process this past year. The second day we went over the Mind Map of SDI’s activities in 2011, our projects and relationships, making sure everyone was up to date on the full picture and to fill in any gaps. We then broke up into group discussions about the purposes and principles of LM&E for SDI, and then methods and strategies for implementing LM&E. On the third day, we again split up into small groups, by regional hub, and outlined the specific activities each country would be undertaking in the upcoming year for LM&E. On the afternoon of the third day there was a field visit to Dharavi. On the fourth day, there was a field visit to the federations in Pune, where there is currently an in-situ upgrading project underway.

A lot of important issues were brought up during the workshop, but a few central themes emerged:

  1. The importance of being able to define for ourselves what M&E is and what it means to us, so that the federations and SDI really own the processes and have a strong internal rationale for it.
  2. Thoughts on the relationship between working in rural and urban spaces, and possible lessons which can translate between each setting; the importance of M&E relating and reflecting the local needs of the federations and affiliate.
  3. The foundational importance of the core SDI rituals, savings, enumeration, exchanges, and the ways in which M&E might help strengthen and support these ongoing processes.
  4. The importance of incorporating M&E into core federation processes, differentiating between M&E for processes and for projects, and actively engaging with it, so that this is something that we do consciously and with commitment.
  5. The importance of exchanges and the role of regional hubs in supporting M&E.
  6. That M&E is as much an attitude of critical engagement and reflection as it is a concrete process and that it should strongly reflect SDI’s theory of change.
  7. The importance of viewing M&E broadly, so that we reflect not just on the number of people saving or the amount of savings, but on women’s empowerment, community organization and strength, advocacy on government policy etc. How we measure these things is also important, as they can be difficult to quantify, ex: how do you measure the empowerment of a community?

What are our principles and purposes of M&E?

The most often mentioned purposes were:

  • Review and measure our progress based on the plans we make – track whether we are on the right path.
  • Set benchmarks and see whether we achieve them or not.
  • Serve as a guiding tool for helping to develop systems within ourselves –self regulation.
  • Learn from our mistakes after the review and make changes; identify problems and enable us to develop solutions.
  • Strengthen the relationship between local and regional networks; clarification of roles and responsibilities.
  • Create documentation which empowers federations/participators – information is power, and also helps to asses/review the federations– build their capacity.
  • Facilitate learning between affiliates; increase participation in the process by sharing new ideas and new experiences.
  • Strengthen the credibility and integrity of the federations in SDI; protection and management of the reputation of the federations and SDI; manage reputational risk.
  • Increase the self-reliance of the federations and SDI.
  • To remind the federations of their identity.
  • Increase the visibility of SDI and expose more information about the federations.
  • Help with being accountable to outside groups and to ourselves.
  • Create chances for mobilizing resources through monitoring progress; help effectiveness in reaching objectives and translating that into ability to manage our resources well.
  • To create unity in the federations; partnership and collaboration between the federations and government.
  • Strengthen downward accountability to our constituencies.
  • For SDI at a corporate level to increase standardization and our ability to aggregate and maintain coherence of SDI’s work, shared vision.

The most often mentioned principles were:

  • Ownership of the process by federations
  • Transparency and accountability to the federations, Secretariat, SDI as a whole.
  • Honesty in learning from mistakes and growth
  • Making sure that it is suitable to the federation
  • The issue of gender has to be reflected.
  • Basic standardization of how to capture and aggregate data
  • Complimentary role of LME, so it is not something separate, rather it is integrated into things we already do.
  • To create a broader process of advocacy.
  • Participatory at all levels, not just the federations but also the N.G.O; increase participation through more communication and knowledge sharing.
  • Commitment to the process; being consistent and following up on commitments
  • Using practical indicators, so that is is understandable to everyone.
  • Use data as an opportunity for dialogue and discussion; more information dissemination.
  • To reflect the participation of the community in all levels – local, national and international.

How does this compare with mainstream M&E and how is it different?

  • Mainstream M&E’s primary purpose is accountability for use of funds and it is linked to the project log frame.  It is done in a manner that is ‘objective’ in the sense that it is undertaken by outside parties uninvolved with the work being evaluated.  It assesses time and cost efficiency. It is the exercise of external judgment.
  • Our process includes a focus on learning and participation. It is interested in qualitative as well as quantitative indicators, which are defined and owned by the federations, not be an outside group. We are interested in efficiency and quality, but also in the quality of our core processes, not just our projects. Our process is about self-reflection and is internally accountable, reflecting on our commitments to ourselves as well as our outside partners.

***A full report with key quotes and insights from individual participants is here.***