Lessons from Swaziland

Savings Groups

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

“When the NGO disappeared it was like a shepherd looking after the sheep and the sheep were scattered…that is what I was picturing. To my surprise we found that all the people we found last time were still here and it gave us more courage to emphasize our support.”- Rose Molokoane

Recently a team from South Africa visited Swaziland to meet with the communities aligned with the Swaziland Low Income People’s Organisation (SLIPO). The team was made up of South African community leaders and a member of the SDI secretariat.   While professional and leadership processes in Swaziland have stuttered over the years, the exchange team learned that many of the Swazi savings schemes and communities remain committed.  Infighting amongst leadership and a lack of clarity about the core SDI rituals and how to implement them remain significant challenges. The core purpose of the exchange was to assess and re-invigorate the Swazi process and leadership, albeit with the pledge of sustained support from South Africa; in the words of Rose Molokoane “Swaziland will become like South Africa’s baby”. Although SDI’s presence in Swaziland is small, the exchange visit raised a number of issues and examples that speak to much broader and diverse challenges within, and beyond the SDI network. These came up in the nightly reflection sessions conducted by the exchange team.

Dealing with issues of Leadership:

“Lets take our caps down and say we have volunteered as the leaders to make this country better for the poor. We do not use elections we ask who is good at what! All of you come together, assess yourselves and see who is good at what.” – Rose Molokoane

One of the core issues hampering the Swazi process was a lack unity amongst the leadership on the way forward. The South African team emphasized unity of purpose and mapping a clear way forward in their engagements with the Swazi leadership. What struck me was the manner in which the South African leadership engaged their Swazi counterparts. Social movements are complex organisms, comprised of individuals with divergent opinions who simultaneously need to present a united front. Negotiating internal community dynamics involves listening, assessing and intervening in a supportive but decisive manner without undermining individuals. It involves walking a line and speaking a language unique to community members who have faced similar challenges. The anecdotes, similes and comparisons that comprise this rhetoric avoid personal antagonism while making powerful points about unity of purpose.  It is unlikely that a professional will ever understand these dynamics; drawing out points which are important but may seem irrelevant, the manner in which to listen and hear what people say, how to suggest changes subtly, using metaphors to build collective unity of purpose, cutting to the core of the issues which are hidden below the surface and learning from the engagements instead of just “teaching” others. 

“We learnt that we must find a good way to solve problems. Fighting is not the way – we must come together and talk and look at the way forward. The mistakes are there to teach us lessons and give us power. From our mistakes it should make a strong way to make SLIPO strong. We have to come together and work together.”- SLIPO member 

The lesson here is about the way in which communities speak to and engage one another, what they see differently and how they use practical experience to define such engagements. The Swazi engagement illustrated firsthand what is gained when capacitated community members engage each other on their own terms and in their own language, a learning engagement that is very different to those mediated by professionals. 

Sustainable Processes?

SLIPO Office

A topic of discussion that emerged amongst the exchange group was the long-term sustainability of the Swazi process. Despite various interventions made over the years to re-invigorate the process, SLIPO remains unable to leverage resources or move towards internal sustainability. This begs the question of how long external funds can be used to prop up social movements. Is the withdrawal of funding a disservice to the urban poor? Should leaders be doing more to make the movement sustainable since donor funding is never guaranteed in perpetuity? What dependencies emerge when donors continue to fund movements that do not have the capacity to be sustainable or leverage significant resources from government? And do such dependencies ultimately weaken communities and leaderships who continue to rely on external assistance rather than deepening their own capacities?

These questions speak to much broader themes within the SDI network and the development world. The importance of communities being involved in their own development processes is magnified when that involvement implies some form of contribution (whether financial, technical or through sweat equity). The very basis of the entire SDI network, female centered savings groups, stresses savings as a means for enabling communities to bring something to the negotiating table. The process is not merely fiscal, as it builds capacity and a collective agenda alongside a financial basis for negotiation. If a process is truly built from the bottom-up it is these savings schemes that are the building block for leveraging further resources and funding – their sustainability rooted in the social capacities that develop alongside them.

Urban or Rural?


Initial impressions of Mbabane were not of a large bustling urban center but of a town somewhere between rural and urban. While some factories and warehouses dot the road to Manzini, Swaziland remains largely rural.  Can countries like Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana, were SDI has begun to establish a presence, really be considered urban in the same sense as Kenya? Not that any two pictures of urban poverty are the same but different dynamics are certainly at work. Communities still retain strong rural ties and layouts could be considered peri-urban-a form of urbanism that is evident in many countries in which SDI works (e.g. Malawi, parts of South Africa). The long history of Swaziland as a “labour reserve” for South African industry (especially mining) has created a large migrant labor force undoubtedly affecting the dynamics of communities and urban poverty in cities like Mbabane.

As the SDI network expands it needs to develop varied responses to different cities along the continuum of urbanization. Informality in dense, urbanized and rapidly growing cities is very different to that experienced in Mbabane. Recognizing such dynamics and learning from how they play out at a community level is imperative to deeper and more insightful engagements, not just in Mbabane but also in similar cities across the SDI network.

Way forward for Swaziland:

“The federation in Swaziland is very much alive because even though they have been informed late yesterday about the meeting their attendance did not reflect this.”- Emily Mohohlo

The exchange team ended their visit by drafting, in close conjunction with the Swazi leadership, a work plan. The plan aims to re-invigorate savings schemes, draw Swaziland into the Southern African Regional Hub, capacitate leadership through mentorship by the South African process and complete construction of the SLIPO office so that the federation can have a place to meet and store records.  In the final reflection session, conducted with the Swazi leadership, the team stressed unity of purpose and the strength of local savings groups as key to the way forward.

“Now we have a proper program we can bring back the image of the Swazi federation. We have to become a strong united front. Change can happen if you as an individual can become the change – you have to be the change that you see. You have to build the unity amongst the leaders – there are many issues that are pending and through unity you can move forward with this. For all these days that we have been together we are not doubtful that we have seen progress and that this will bring positive results and positive reports to the Southern African Hub and the entire SDI family.”  – Excerpts from reflection session


Communities Work with Government to Improve Sanitation

Naivasha, Kenya

A young man walks past a pile of garbage in Viwandani ward, Naivasha.

**Cross-posted from the Muungano Support Trust Blog**

By Augustine Karani with additional commentary from Dominic Mwangi, MuST Kenya 

The delay in garbage collection was a major source of problem for the residents of Viwandani in Naivasha. When taking a walk in the Viwandani area, one was faced with more than two feet of water collected stagnantly in pot holes perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, uncollected garbage scattered haphazardly and foul stench filled the air.

The community faced harshest of challenges when it came to water and sanitation as there are no proper water drainage and sewerage systems. In addition, the supply of piped water was inconsistent and unreliable leaving the community to rely on water supplied by water vendors which was costly and inconveniencing.

About 40 plots had no sock pits, and the sewer systems had burst scattering the flow of sewage in the villages, exposing the residents to high risk of infections.

Poor environmental sanitation, lack of access to clean water and open drainage, are one of the major risk factors supporting the spread of diseases like Cholera.

It is out of these hardships that the residents of Viwandani ward came together to discuss the poor sanitation and lack of water. Through local lobbying and advocacy teams formed through Tushirikishe Jamii project, they engage in community forums, dialogue and active lobbying seeking solutions to the problems facing them.

The residents held several meetings key among them with the public health officers, Naivasha water company services, municipal council of Naivasha, National Environmental Management Authority and the District Development Officer.

For four months from January, the community engaged in to and fro shuffle activities seeking to address this problem. At one point the residents had to write a memo to all stakeholders complaining of unfulfilled promises and slow reaction to their grievances by the health office.

Their incessant efforts finally bore fruits as the Public Health Office promised to give a comprehensive report on the matter.

On June, the water and sewerage company invited the lobby and advocacy committee to their office and after further consultations, they promised to repair the entire burst sewer within 48 hrs and to always ensure that the sewer systems in good conditions. The company later unblocked all the sewage line within the 48 hours as they had promised.

The local landlords were also issued with a notice to construct sock pit for each plot and those whose premises are located next to sewer lines are to follow the necessary procedures to ensure an effective sewerage and draining system.

The municipal council on its part pledged to ensure quick collection of garbage in all the villages. Thanks to Tushirikishe Jamii project for adding new approaches to communities to the achievement of our needs.

Tushirikishe Jamii, a project of Forum Syd, implemented through Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Federation of Slum Dwellers) and Youth Alive Kenya, is funded by the European Union through the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs NSA-net Program. The project seeks to enhance community participation in devolved funds and governance.


SDI – SFI Partnership in Action: Profiling in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

SDI - SFI Exchange

By Walter Fieuw, CORC 

When the question of collaboratively testing new techniques in profiling informal settlements was raised, Cape Town was proposed as the gathering place for federations from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, India, Namibia, and South Africa. Community leaders and NGO representatives from these countries have in common the quest for improving data capture processes. The agenda has a global imperative: first, to analyse the 7,000 profiles federations have captured over two decades in more than 15 countries, and second, to look forward at improved processes for citywide settlement profiling.

SDI and SFI Partnership Background

Delegations gathered for an intense 10 day programme, which started on the 3rd of June 2013. Old friends reunited, and new contacts were made. This project is a collaboration between SDI and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), which is supported by an 18-month, $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is anticipated that this project could yield a “science of slums” if SDI’s data and SFI’s methodology are successfully paired.

SFI’s special research focus on Cities, Scaling, and Sustainability, which is the key department working with SDI, has a “… particularly important focus [of this research area] is to develop theoretical insights about cities that can inform quantitative analyses of their long-term sustainability in terms of the interplay between innovation, resource appropriation, and consumption and the make up of their social and economic activity”. SFI Professor Luis Bettencourt, who is the SFI project leader, remarked on evolving partnership with SDI in an interview with Txchnologist. “We want to find ways to make the greatest use of the data SDI collects,” Bettencourt says. “In this way, the project will help create standards through which informal communities can collect and use data about themselves and develop economic models to sustain these efforts.“ 

The project has been a work in progress since January 2013, when key representatives from India, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya visited the SFI group in the USA to discuss the make-up of the project. Sheela Patel, Director of the Indian NGO SPARC and Chair of the SDI Board, reflected on the evolving partnership with SFI in a SDI blog article. “As part of its ongoing quest to bridge informal urban settlements into city planning, an important first step has been to get communities of the urban poor living in informal settlements to believe that aggregating information about their settlement and households is a valuable tool towards improving their lives.”

After the 7,000 slum profiles were collected and analysed, Federations came together again in Kenya in April 2013. Read the article on the workshop here.

Cape Town Workshop

The workshop started with a meet and greet, and presentations and informal conversations on the vastly diverse experiences of profiling informal settlements followed. Luis Bettencourt from SFI presented on the work of the institute, bringing into focus the dynamics of city growth by drawing on recent research SFI has conducted through GIS modelling. This was also a touch point for how SDI data could help federations understand cities better. Federations shared different experiences of profiling informal settlements. At the grassroots level, the data helps communities understand their settlements better and build relationships with government. Even though this is a practice commonly shared, SDI affiliates have, over the years, developed different mechanisms and processes for collecting information. The challenge and advocacy agenda of SDI saw it crucially important to start a horizontal conversation on how to integrate all the different data sets.

Sheila, a community leader from the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, said that the federation has been profiling informal settlements since the early 2000s. Initially they had challenges to store and analyse the data, and this also delayed the feedback to communities. The Federation decided that involving members from the local savings schemes was the most efficient way to move forward. In this way, they were much more involved, and they were also the first to pick up on errors. There were accounts of political interference, because the politicians were still denying the natural urbanisation. We have now come to a point where we can compare and integrate information to find workable solutions to upgrading.

SDI - SFI Exchange

The issue of data management seemed to be familiar in the Ugandan experience. The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda is presently comprised of 355 savings groups operating in six cities: Kampala, Arua, Jinja, Kabale, Mbale, and Mbarara. Katana Goretti elaborated that the question of local language difference was a further motivator to involve local people. For instance, people would lie about how many children they had because they thought there would be a kickback for their families. This is resolved in the verification process, “We had to update the database in response to increased evictions, since the data the government cites in justification of their actions are out of date. The large database helps us assist one another in times when other settlements are facing evictions.”

The cultural and experiential exchanges were important to align the various experiences. But the main focus was on learning by doing, and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), a South African social movement linked to the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), the South African SDI affiliate, suggested that UT Section was perfect location. 

SDI - SFI Exchange

Learning by Doing in UT Section, Khayelitsha

UT Section is a dense informal settlement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, located south of iKhusi Primary School. Founded in 1985 when people moved from other neighborhoods such as Crossroads to make a new home, UT section has seen incremental development throughout the years. At first service levels were very low, and the City government handed out buckets since toilets could not be installed. Years later, the settlement received grid electricity. Listen to Snax talk us through his settlement.

UT Section, Khayelitsha settlement profile from South African SDI Alliance on Vimeo.

The delegations from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, India, Namibia, and South Africa and SFI team had several meetings in UT Section between 4 – 8 June. The new profiling questionnaire was discussed and tested with various technologies, such as an Android phone application coded with the questions, GPS coordinates, and pictures pinned to certain points of interests, such as waste removal skips. Community also experimented with identifying shack usage and mapping out shack numbers by means of large printed satellite photos.

SDI - SFI Exchange

UT Section community mapping team assisted by Shekar (far left) from the Indian SDI Alliance. 

SDI - SFI Exchange

Structure use identification through community mapping. 

SDI - SFI Exchange

On Saturday the 8th of June, the full settlement enumeration of UT Section was launched with a kick-off party. Government officials from the City of Cape Town’s informal settlement management department and principle field officers (PFO) were invited to the celebration. At the launch, PFO Natalie Samuels remarked: 

“In 2009 a partnership was formed between CORC and ISN and the City of Cape Town… and communities were able to petition the City on important needs in informal settlements. The main purpose of this exchange is the profiling of informal settlements and the value that it adds to our communities.”

SDI - SFI Exchange

The on-the-ground learning environment has been a major success. Groups have developed new skills and technologies for profiling and spatially understanding their settlements. The open and transparent learning environment will go a long way in building local capacity to generate better quality spatial and socio-economic enumeration data.


Construction of Langrug road hierarchy starts

Langrug, South Africa

**Cross posted from SA SDI Alliance Blog**

By Walter Fieuw (on behalf of CORC)

To the casual observer, a road is simply a tarmac to allow for different usages. Perhaps we can also define it as a line of communication, which is connected to a greater network through bridges, tunnels, support structures, junctions, crossings, interchanges, and so forth. Roads connect our neighborhoods and cities to one another, and give us right of passage. These road hierarchies are usually planned well, and neighborhoods and cities grow around these cadastral maps.

Langrug, South Africa

But in informal settlements, smaller pathways emerge as needed. In many ways, the informal city grows exactly in the opposite direction than the formal city. In the formal city, cadastral maps are carefully designed, but in the informal city, planning emerge through means of negotiating space in the process of place making. What then happens when formal regulations start to interact with informal ways of city-building?

In Langrug, an informal settlement located 3km outside the town of Franschhoek, an example has emerged where the informal processes of settlement has interacted with formal city-building planning processes. This article will not delve into the history of the settlement, which is available here. Important for contextual purposes, the community has been engaging the Stellenbosch Municipality since 2010 around the in-situ upgrading of the settlement, for which the community won the prestigious award from the South African Planning Institute in the “Community” category. The Stellenbosch Municipality applied for Upgrading of Informal Settlement Programme (UISP), or Part 3 of the National Housing Code, funding from the Western Cape Province. The UISP project has advanced to Phase 3, which includes full services.

Last week, the Municipality started paving secondary roads which has emerged organically through the years of settling on the land. The secondary roads have been well planned by the community, when they conducted an intense spatial mapping exercise in March 2011. The Alliance’s report on the spatial mapping in 2011 gives insight into the spatial knowledge the community has generated, which has made a significant contribution to the servicing of the settlement:

CORC supplied an aerial photograph of the terrain as well as some guidance on conducting spatial analysis, and in particular on what indicators to look for and how to identify an area’s constraints or opportunities for development. Then, photograph and markers in hand, the team went out into the February heat to locate all the infrastructure and facilities that they had agreed could benefit from improved maintenance or upgrading. The result was an interim map that detailed the position and conditions of all Langrug’s toilets, water taps, drains, drainage gullies, electricity boxes, street lights, and commercial activities, and thus threw light on some of the settlement’s most pressing issues.

In the coming month, the Stellenbosch Municipality’s appointed contractor will start the groundworks to implement a central access road. The community’s vision for an incremental upgrading approach to developing the neighbourhood has been a powerful guide in imagining what the community could look like.

Langrug, South Africa

Presentation at the Global Land Tools Network

The 16 week Planning Studio with UCT’s School of Architecture Planning & Geomatics (SAPG), a department in the Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE) faculty, has generated many other proposals for a responsive spatial development framework which can guide the future upgrading of the settlement. The Alliance will continue to report on the development of Langrug informal settlement, and the partnership with the Stellenbosch Municipality.