Joint Communique Against Forced Evictions Affecting the Urban Poor


Read the Joint Communique Against Forced Evictions Affecting the Urban Poor. 

Last week the West Africa Regional Hub released a joint communique addressing the recent spate of forced evictions in Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria. The communique condemns the use of counter-productive demolitions and forced evictions against the urban poor and calls on governments, development partners, and regional organisations to join hands with organised communities of the urban poor to take concrete measures to prevent these practices. Read the communique here and keep an eye out for more news from last week’s West Africa Regional Hub meeting in Ghana.

SDI, WIEGO & Avina: Growing a Global Coalition of the Urban Poor

**Cross posted from the SA SDI Alliance Blog**

By Yolande Hendler, SA SDI Alliance

Piesang River – the home of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), a meeting place filled with sounds of Portuguese, isiZulu, Spanish and English,  a place filled with expectations of what a four-day learning exchange might hold for its participants – representatives of urban poor networks from across Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and South Africa. Are there joint mobilisation strategies? How does each movement build partnerships? And what does advocacy from the perspective of community leaders look like? These questions shaped the purpose of the four-day learning exchange from 21-24 September in South Africa’s east coast port city, Durban.


The participants included community leaders and supporting organisations from

  • the Brazilian Alliance of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI)
  • the Ecuadorian Waste Picker Network
  • the Ecuadorian Network for Fair, Democratic & Sustainable Cities
  • the Association of Recyclers in Bogota, Colombia (Asociación de Recicladores de Bogota)
  • Fundacion Avina in Peru & Ecuador
  • Women In Informal Employment : Globalising & Organising (WIEGO)
  • Asiye eTafuleni in Durban (AeT, network of informal workers)
  • The South African SDI Alliance as hosts: Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC)

What brought together representatives from such different locations? Their affiliation to SDI (Brazil & South Africa), WIEGO (Colombia & Asiye eTafuleni, South Africa) and Fundacion Avina (Ecuador). All three are global movements of the urban poor. Although their approaches may differ, SDI, WIEGO and Avina share the vision of building equitable, just and inclusive cities. The learning exchange was convened by Cities Alliance, of which WIEGO and SDI are both members. Envisioned as a two-part exchange, the first was hosted by SDI in South Africa, while the second will be hosted by WIEGO in Colombia.

The exchange focussed on exposing the visitors to the South African Alliance’s approaches to- and outcomes of community organising. This included a visit to housing and informal settlement upgrading projects, a savings scheme, conducting practical data collection, a partnership meeting with government and getting to know the context of informal workers.

A People’s Approach to Housing and Upgrading

Visiting a people driven housing project at Namibia

While each movement shared its main focal areas and organisational approaches in presentations on the first day, a real sense of getting to know each other occurred through questions and anecdotes that opened windows into personal and collective experiences:

“In Colombia waste-pickers have been organising for more than 30 years – recycling is an option for poor people who are old or don’t have access to jobs. I was displaced during the war. My husband was killed by guerrilla fighters. Through recycling I was able to support my family” (Ana Elizabeth Cuervo Alba, Colombia)

“As waste pickers in Ecuador we lobbied the government to a point where we now have a national agreement that pays waste pickers for recycling” (Elvia Pisuña, Ecuador)

“Urban informal workers usually face extreme challenges with people resisting their presence in public spaces .We called ourselves, Asiye eTafuleni because it means – come to the table. Let us negotiate for the inclusive future of the working urban poor.“ (Richard Dobson, Asiye eTafuleni, Durban)

Incidentally, Piesang River also displays the fruits of FEDUP’s militant negotiation with national government around housing delivery. FEDUP leaders explained that the vast housing settlements in Piesang River and Namibia Stop 8 (a further area visited that afternoon) are a result of their success in convincing government to grant members direct access to their housing subsidy. This enabled them to self-build larger houses, culminating in the adoption of the People’s Housing Process (PHP) policy. Although it has not been without its challenges, PHP represents a breakthrough in altered approach from “delivery” to “collaboration”.

Recycling Exchange

In contrast, community leaders of the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) elaborated on their difficulty in achieving breakthrough in municipal support for informal settlement upgrading. With over 2700 informal settlements in the country and an increasing housing backlog, the ISN supports communities with tools and plans for negotiating with local government around service delivery through incremental upgrading. During a visit to Mathambo settlement, community leader and regional ISN coordinator, Ndodeni Dengo explained that despite the settlement’s relatively small size, existing structures were located in high density to each other, with most not larger than 9m2 – and a deficit of water, sanitation and electricity services. The community had collected data about its settlement through a detailed household level enumeration that helped them negotiate upgrading plans with the local municipality. By using wooden boxes for planning a new layout that would enable service installation, the community established their ideal design for the upgraded settlement.

How do urban poor communities organise?

Over the next two days the visitors were introduced to the driving force behind FEDUP and ISN’s housing and upgrading projects: the practice of daily savings and data collection as tools for community organisation.

Explaining savings Kwa Bester

At Kwa Bestar savings group, the visitors saw that saving is not primarily about collecting money, but about collecting people. Savings groups are a space where trust is nurtured through daily saving, sharing needs and identifying common solutions. At present, the group of 39 active members has saved US$ 2800. It is also engaged in forming smaller saving units to access loans by generating income through small businesses. The keen involvement of young people aged 8 – 25 in the savings process was a special highlight. Once more it became evident that savings is about growing and enabling people, showcased by the rich dance, drama and music performances by the youth.

Youth savings group shares dance performance

Where savings builds self reliance, data collection builds knowledge: upon arrival at Zikhali, a small, rural settlement in the northern sugar cane fields of Durban, Rose Molokoane, National Coordinator of FEDUP and SDI deputy president, explained:

“When a community knows clearly who they are, which are their problems, it is much easier to negotiate with municipal officials”

This is how data collection through settlement profiles (of a settlement’s history, infrastructure, conditions) and enumerations (detailed household level surveys) enables partnership with local government officials. When walking around the area, the group mapped the settlement boundaries and landmarks such as water and sanitation points on GPS devices while others spoke to residents, collecting household data by using the Alliance’s enumeration form.

GIS mapping in Zikhali settlement

Household Enumeration in Zikhali

Approaches to building partnerships with government

It is through savings and data-collection that SDI’s urban poor federations leverage partnerships: saving contributions show self-reliance and community will; settlement-wide data powers a community’s negotiation capacity. On day three the visitors accompanied the Durban Alliance to a meeting with the local municipality, province and a representative from national government, discussing the progress of housing and upgrading projects.

The South Americans perceived

  • A strong relationship with government officials
  • A measure of trust and flexibility in receiving visitors at the meeting
  • Political willingness to listen and debate

Insights from the South African participants

  • The perceived trust and partnership with Municipal Government was “built by doing”, demonstrating results and inviting the municipality to be part of the social process
  • Despite the working group and formally conducted meetings, the municipality often does not give prompt answers to the most urgent needs of communities

The visit to Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) added rich insight to the experience of informal workers and an added dimension to partnership building with local authorities. The group was introduced to AeT’s work in developing inclusive spaces that support sustainable livelihoods for informal workers. The shared realities of informal settlement dwellers and informal workers became particularly evident on a walk-about through the bustling Warwick market in Durban’s inner-city. For AeT and the SA SDI Alliance the encounter highlighted similarities and differences in approach but most of all established a platform for increased collaboration in the future.

Government Partnership Meeting

View on to a section of Warwick market


Walkabout in Warwick Junction

Reflecting, Learning and Joint Advocacy

With a rich collection of experiences and impressions, the group gathered on the last morning to reflect and share on the ….

  • Non-monetary value of savings. Savings are about collecting money and people (building social capital, trust, self-reliance)
  • Power of information: data collection is crucial for building self-reliance, identifying common goals and establishing negotiating power
  • Key role of women as cultivating transparency and accountability
  • Cultural factors present in South Africa: welcoming, joyful people, ability to join efforts and to coordinate
  • Youth work: value of young people generating and managing their own savings to use in initiatives of their choice (e.g. creative arts)
  • Global similarities in poor people’s struggles
  • Recycling as Income Generation: value in using opportunities around you (e.g. waste = recycling opportunity = income generation)
  • Increased awareness of interface between shack dwellers and informal workers

… and on strategies for the road ahead:

  • Mobilisation Strategies: Gain understanding of waste picker movements in South America
  • Building Partnerships: Plan further exchanges with local (i.e. national) counterparts of global movements
  • Prepare for Joint Lobbying at Global Events such as Habitat III.

As the global development community gears up for Habitat III, global movements of the urban poor are establishing a firm coalition. This learning exchange forms an integral part of that process, “allowing networks organised around livelihood and habitat to come together, share their experiences and strengthen their capacity to organise and advocate in favour of the urban poor” (Cities Alliance, Exchange convener). When speaking with a united voice, advocacy has the potential to influence policy discussions on increased collaboration between communities and governments.

“By referring to our connection with one another, WIEGO, SDI & Avina can make a strong case for a pro-poor agenda. Only if we come together as poor people we can show our governments that we are influencing their policies to meet the needs of the people. “ (Rose Molokoane, FEDUP Coordinator & SDI vice president)

The Days of Spurious Opposition Are Over, but What is Going to Happen to Spurious Democracy?

[caption id="attachment_11089" align="alignleft" width="660"]11056598_10154272792883502_1403721991027586980_o Via Imraan Christian[/caption]


By Joel Bolnick and Ted Baumann

Since well before 1994, the élite of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has comprised two broad factions: True Believers and Entrepreneurs.

The True Believers — mainly educated technocrats — adhere to the Leninist doctrine that capitalism can be used to strengthen the state, which can then be used to engineer revolutionary change. The Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, just want to get rich and thereby eventually to displace South Africa’s white capitalists. This means that neither faction has an incentive to end white domination of capital — instead, the want to use it for their own ends.

The two factions are united by African nationalism, which holds that any advancement by black Africans is progress, even if it’s within the distorted capitalist framework inherited from apartheid. True Believers might want ultimately to get rid of capitalism, but in the meantime having black faces in the boardrooms and society pages serves their purposes. In any case, their race-based consciousness dictates that black capitalists will automatically be more progressive than whites, so black workers will win too.

True Believers and Entrepreneurs also share the assumption that the ANC’s historical legacy, as the party of liberation and Mandela, can survive long enough in the popular consciousness to allow their plans to unfold, even if not much changes in real life. Indeed, past election results have given the ANC nearly 2/3 of the vote every five years.

It should not be forgotten that the recent violent anti-government protests by black and white students on South Africa’s university campuses come hard on the heels of massive shifts in South Africa’s political landscape. In addition to a populist breakaway party in parliament (the Economic Freedom Front), the ANC’s labour wing, COSATU, has suffered significant defections. NUMSA, its largest affiliate, has officially withdrawn from the so-called “tripartite alliance” of the ANC, COSATU, and the SA Communist Party (home to many True Believers). That’s a big deal.

These two processes — one middle-class and the other amongst workers — are closely related, and illuminate the fundamental weakness of South Africa’s ruling party and its project.

[caption id="attachment_11091" align="alignnone" width="660"]12038613_10154272792748502_6633564175570984640_o Via Imraan Christian[/caption]


The student’s protest shows that the ANC’s historical legacy cannot protect it from widespread anger and resentment amongst the “born frees,” those South Africans who have grown up post-apartheid. Whereas their parents generally cling to the idea that all will eventually be well if the ANC stays in power, the youth sees the party as the corrupt vehicle for personal enrichment, technocratic domination, and the de facto protector of white capital that it has long been. That makes sense: Whilst their parents collect government welfare and pension cheques and are allowed to join the queue for free houses, the youth face 50% joblessness and a dismal future.

Notably, even “ethnic” ties, such as residual Zulu affinity for President Jacob Zuma, count for little amongst these young adults. They see no progress — quite the opposite, as the economy slows to a crawl and prices skyrocket. And they no longer buy the story that it’s all white people’s fault.

What about slum dwellers? For one thing, South African informal settlement dwellers number less than 15% of the country’s urban population — much less than other countries in Africa. Two social movements define the organized sector of the urban poor. Both have had periods of significant scale and impact, but are relatively quiescent at the moment. One of these is the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), whose practice has been defined by a pragmatism that has sought to combine confrontation and challenge with brinkmanship and negotiation. The other is Abahlali Basemjondolo, who have taken a more direct, confrontational path in a fight against inequality and injustice. Neither organization currently commands the kind of scale of support that could make a meaningful contribution to political change in the country. But this could shift in an instant.

Most activism in the informal sector has taken place spontaneously through localized service delivery protests — actions that have presaged, in many ways, the current student protests. Here too, disgruntled and alienated youth have been at the forefront. But shack dwellers, more than any other sector of South African society, are in the thrall of politicians and officials who have consistently controlled their lives through a relentless mix of patronage and institutional violence. These realities and apartheid demographics make it difficult for shack dwellers to unite and to replicate the scale that the students have achieved in recent days. Nevertheless, if and when the current wave of resistance jumps these barriers (most likely in middle-sized towns like Grahamstown or Stellenbosch) the foundations painstakingly built by both FEDUP and Abahlali may serve a much broader movement very well.

For their part, those shack dwellers who are also formal workers have learnt everything they need to know about the supposed progressivism of black African capital from the Marikana Massacre, where cops sent by a black cabinet minister murdered dozens of miners protesting poor pay by a company with prominent ANC-connected members on its board. It was the worst single instance of state violence since 1994, and it was for the benefit of black bosses who were supposed to be more progressive by virtue of their skin colour. In fact, they have behaved no differently from white bosses, because they thought they could hide behind the shield of the ANC’s legacy.

The upshot is that the ANC stands exposed. It is increasingly reliant on itself — on the mutual back-scratching and self-dealing that occurs between factions who rely on access to the state and to the continued existence of white capital to distribute riches. It cannot rely on the working class, the youth, or the millions of unemployed and uneducated people in essentially unchanged townships, with no jobs, educations or futures.

Of course the ANC completely controls the government apparatus and much of the mainstream press, so opposition will require much effort. But important forces within South Africa smell blood in the air, as do the foreign investors who have withdrawn millions from the country over the last six months, sending the Rand into a nosedive.

The ANC has recently spent a lot of time and effort cosying up to China, holding it up as a model of development. But China has no meaningful democracy and the Chinese Communist Party is struggling to contain the rising discontent produced by its own missteps. Both the missteps and the discontent are bound to escalate in coming years, and while the South African technocrats aspire to learn from the Chinese counterparts, the most meaningful exchange of knowledge and tactics may be in counter-revolution — not in development.

What may trump them both, unfortunately, is that the ANC may need to adopt more features of the Chinese model sooner than it thinks, beginning with an even more severely diluted democracy. It will probably have to, since like Mugabe to the north in Zimbabwe, this will create the conditions that will enable it to refuse to be voted out of office.

The problem is that the ANC, like the Chinese Communist Party, has no viable path other than the one they’re on. That means things will get worse before they get better.

KYC.TV Is Born!

Our Know Your City TV youth film makers deserve a rousing thumbs up upon the launch of their first productions.  These are the voices and images of slum dweller youth capturing life in the slums through their own eyes.

Like the KYC.TV Facebook page  to get regular updates from youth teams across Africa.

You can also follow KYC.TV on YouTube and watch the videos on SDI’s videos page. 

Communities Drive Progress in Slum Sanitation


By Diana Mitlin and Noah Schermbrucker

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make a clear commitment to universal sanitation. This is to be welcomed. But for the SDGs to be realized, they must be grounded in practical actions that can be replicated affordably, rapidly, and at scale.

The challenge is evident in the failure to achieve the sanitation targets outlined in the SDGs’ predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report for 2015 tells us that the percentage of the African urban population with access to improved sanitation increased by just one percent between 1990 and 2015, from 39 to 40 percent.

In absolute terms this means that almost 100 million urban citizens did gain access to improved sanitation during this period – but it also means that 225 million urban sub-Saharan African are still in need.

For those living in the highest-density settlements, standards for universal sanitation are problematic. Present definitions of “improved” sanitation take no account of population densities and risks like water table contamination and the flooding of fecal sludge over pathways, yards, and playgrounds – obvious health risks that incur massive costs both locally and nationally.

In the face of such staggering needs, and existing development plans and programs which struggle to address them affordably and at scale, slum-dweller federations in the Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) network have been working with local governments to explore workable alternatives.

SDI’s slum dweller President Jockin Arputham has spent so much of his life committed to this issue that, as he says, “I’m known world over as ‘Toilet Man’. In South Africa, where it’s a stigma to say ‘toilet’, I made them talk about it. In the United Nations, I built a demonstration toilet in the UN plaza.”

Progress has been made. In Mumbai, a partnership between government and SDI’s Indian Alliance has residents managing toilet blocks in their communities. One thousand toilet blocks have been built by the Alliance, providing 20,000 seats and one million users – roughly half of those in need within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

In Blantyre, Malawi, both SDI members and the wider community have provided over 700 eco-sanitation units benefitting 2,300 households. Some 14,000 people (both landlords and tenants) share these facilities. Hundreds more households in Zambia and Zimbabwe have replicated this design, while in Namibia communities have saved, paid for, and installed their own sewerage pipes linking to trunk services.

In Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian SDI Alliance has been drawing on the experiences of the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan, to fine-tune designs for a simplified sanitation system that is already providing facilities for approximately 100 households.

What have we learned? When community members refuse to accept the status quo and innovate new ways of organizing, sanitation provision can improve.

The Indian Alliance was told that community toilets were unworkable – they proved these critics wrong. When governments, especially local governments, are prepared to work with organized local communities, then new solutions can be found. Community exchanges can test and spread these solutions.

But financing is needed to scale up. Community members are willing and able to pay for sanitation, but they can only contribute so much – for low-income families, anything more than US$4 a month per household is unaffordable. In SDI’s experience, capital is needed for these infrastructure costs. The best option is subsidized financing, but where this is not available SDI groups have made sanitation investments using low-interest loans.

Sanitation also cannot be dealt with in isolation. For sanitation investments to be scaled effectively and efficiently, water provision, drainage, and improved land tenure security are all important.

Different solutions are needed in the diverse contexts apparent throughout the Global South. SDI groups organize themselves at the local level, gather information on the needs of slum dwellers, negotiate with local government, and design solutions that work in their context – always prioritizing the poorest members in a community.

The local communities that make up the SDI alliances in 34 nations across the Global South do not understand why professional development assistance agencies do not support their work.

In so many places, communities see development agencies implementing small sanitation projects that are never going to address the massive needs. They see projects captured by landlords because the local context was misunderstood; they see corrupt contractors inflating their invoices; and they see poor management of facilities that soon fall into disrepair.

What are the steps forward? A first step is implementing suitable monitoring systems to collect accurate baseline information in communities. SDI has information on the sanitation situation in over 6,000 informal settlements. In SDI’s experience, such information helps communities establish their priorities and helps them to build relationships with their local governments.

Importantly, community-gathered data consistently emphasizes the priority slum communities place on improving access to sanitation, in settlements from Mumbai to Accra.

In partnership with like-minded organizations and governments, SDI is working to help achieve the SDGs by generating scalable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable sanitation solutions for the world’s rapidly growing slum dweller population. We believe that community involvement in the design, implementation, management, and monitoring of this agenda is essential, and non-negotiable.

Art in the Service of Transformation. Transformation in the Service of Art.

Earlier this year SDI co-produced a film about life in Uganda’s slums, called The Boda Boda thieves.

This was a first and highly experimental investigation of how to freely construct the everyday lives of slum dwellers and to find ways to contribute to the development of a new form of grassroots contestation – not through ideology or representation but through a social realist portrayal of life in poverty.

The Boda Boda Thieves is a modest call for a new form of art – something beyond the endless consumption of images for mindless entertainment that we are bombarded with today. At the same time it is a baby step towards a new developmental communication, one that is rooted in poor people telling their own stories of survival, struggle and triumph. 

If we focus on the everyday life of the poor and not on organisation or representation then the gap between art and transformation disappears. An authentic life, which is a life of struggle for change – especially if you have to deal with the daily indignity of being poor – makes art into transformation and transformation into art. In other words the real artistic endeavour is to eradicate poverty and alienation, and all art forms that we apply on our journey towards such a goal must have this in its sights. 

SDI’s media project is as much about transformation in the service of art as it is about art in the service of transformation. In fact, if we are only seeing our media as being in the service of our political agenda then both our art and our politics will continue to fail.









The Boda Boda Thieves has been shown at various film festivals and won more than a handful of awards since its release earlier this year.

Film Festivals

  • Africa in Motion – Scotland African Film Festival, Scotland
  • Africa International Film Festival, Nigeria
  • African Film Festival of Cordoba, Spain
  • Berlinale International Film Festival, Germany
  • Cinémas d’Afrique Festival, Switzerland
  • Durban International Film Festival, South Africa
  • Euro-African Kampala Film Festival’s, Uganda
  • Festival Cinema Africano di Verona, Italy
  • Montreal Black Film Festival, Canada
  • New Delhi Jagran Film Festival, India
  • Seattle International Film Festival, USA
  • Toronto Black Film Festival, Canada
  • Uganda Film Festival. Uganda
  • Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada
  • World Cinema Amsterdam, Netherlands


  • 2015 Africa Movie Academy Awards
    • ‘Boda Boda Thieves” star, Hassan “Spike” Isingoma, wins joint award for Most Promising Actor.
    • Rukundo Pross nominated for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award.
  • 2015 Uganda Film Festival 
    • Best Cinematography
    • Best Post Production
    • Best Supporting Actor to Michael Wawuyo for his portrayal of Goodman.
    • Special mention for the Best feature Film Award.

Learn more about The Boda Boda Thieves here.

In the next week, SDI will be showcasing movies and media coming out of slums across Africa and Asia. Stay tuned for more.

Takeaways from New York: Reflecting on the Path to Habitat 3

Upon her return from the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York City, Beth Chitekwe-Biti shared some key takeaways on SDI’s participation in the processes and activities surrounding the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. Beth highlighted in particular the challenges of grassroots organisations operating within such formal systems, the need to target city governments for implementation of the SDGs, and the obvious links between implementation and the work of SDI, particularly around the Know Your City campaign, which calls for community-driven data collection as the basis of active partnerships between organised communities and their city governments in order to co-produce inclusive upgrading and development solutions:

“The SDGs on paper seem an improvement. But of course it’s about how much political will there is on the ground to actually create tangible benefits to the urban poor. There seems to be a commitment to get the urban poor involved, but there is always a chasm between intention and what actually happens.

The systems seem very formal, so you are forcing grassroots people to be quite formal in how they work and engage with each other… I wonder if this really allows for creative engagement between different grassroots organisations and whether this really works with getting the grassroots voice heard in the UN. But at least the space if there for us to use the best way we can…

…Some of these commitments are pitched too much at the national level when it is really city government that will make a difference.  This was emphasised at the Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme event, but is missing in a lot of other discussions. This fits in with SDI’s Know Your City message and hopefully governments who sign on will realise that it is at the city level that things really need to be implemented.”

To read more, and listen to an excerpt from Rose Molokoane’s talk at an even on implementation of the SDGs, click here. 



Less Talk, More Walk: Rose Molokoane on Localising Implementation of the SDGs

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Last week New York City was buzzing with events surrounding the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit for the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were formally adopted on the first day of the summit. SDI’s Rose Molokoane and Beth Chitekwe-Biti were in New York City for the week and participated in a number of events, many of which focused on how actors in the development sector – particularly urban development – can effectively work together to implement the SDGs.

Rose Molokoane was invited to speak at a high level plenary and workshop on “the implementation pathway for the post 2015 development agenda and its SDG on cities and human settlements” hosted by the UrbanSDG Campaign. In her talk, Rose addressed the importance of productive, effective partnerships between organised communities of the urban poor and local and national governments in the planning and implementation of development priorities. She emphasised the frustration that is building in communities after more than twenty years of global conferences and forums with little change on the ground:

“…It is really creating an issue of depression to us as the people at the community because we are very happy to listen to you when you say community participation. What kind of participation are we talking about? Is it participation of coming here, sitting here, listen to Rose Molokoane making noise then after that Rose goes back to South Africa and nothing happens? Or is it participation of saying let’s create the forums that will continue to happen even after the SDGs and the Habitat 3s; where we go back locally and sit together and say ‘What did we learn from Habitat 3?What is it that we can do together?’ and the important part is planning, information, and recognition of what it is the people are doing on the ground and then institutionalising the forums we are talking about.”

Listen to Rose’s entire address below:

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What might slum dwellers want from the SDGs?


Jockin Arputham has been fighting for the rights of slum dwellers for nearly 50 years. This blog is drawn from an interview by IIED’s David Satterthwaite ahead of World Habitat Day about what the Sustainable Development Goals could mean for slum dwellers.

Jockin Arputham founded the first national slum dweller federation in India in 1976 and went on to ally this with Mahila Milan, the Indian federation of women slum and pavement dweller savers. He has spent over 20 years encouraging and supporting slum and shack dwellers federations in many other countries – and he is President of Slum/Shack Dwellers International.

Jockin visiting Mathare Slum_2

Making the SDGs action oriented

The SDGs promise so much but they are not action oriented. Many countries do not have the  capacity to act.  We see dreams of a slum-free world or a slum-free country or slum-free cities.  But that is an ideal that needs strong political will, a strong and stable economy, and a conducive environment for the community. In Europe you might expect UN promises that everyone has a decent home to be met – but is this realistic for India?

Ambitions must be achievable

My ambition for the SDGs is limited to what we can do – what is meaningful, useful and sustainable – and implementable.  So our goal is not slum-free cities but slum-friendly cities.  Not a slum-free India but a slum-friendly India.



What does slum-friendly mean?  That the SDG promises like clean water and good sanitation for all, land tenure for people, incremental housing and basic employment are met for all slum dwellers. If these five mandates are accepted, how can we set standards and measure what is or is not happening in each city?  If there is also a mandate for people to participate, and take part, then set dates by which to achieve each of these. Even to achieve the more modest goals for slum-friendly cities means that governments have to do three times what they are doing now

Will action on the SDGs be any better than the Millennium Development Goals?  So much high talk of all the goals in last 15 years but where are we in the goals and in their measurement?  Are we setting unattainable goals with the SDGs?

We have seen government commitments made at Habitat I (the first UN Conference on Human Settlements) in Vancouver in 1976; then at Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. At Habitat 1, there were commitments and targets for 1990 and these were not met.  There have been very few tangible achievements.  I was invited to go to speak at Habitat I in 1976 but the government was bulldozing the settlement where I lived, so I stayed in Mumbai where I had fought this threat for 10 years.

Habitat III is approaching (in 2016). Will this bring more unrealistic commitments? Or will it truly be a “new urban agenda” with a clear strategy for achieving the goals with new measures? New locally-generated metrics that everyone can follow.  Everyone’s participation including slum dwellers. All the UN documents and processes claim they have people’s participation but usually this is just a grand talk show.

Looking back – what was the world’s urban population at the time of Habitat 1? Just 1.6 billion people.  At Habitat II there were 2.6 billion.  And now 4 billion.

We have seen the growth of NGOs and big donors and their budgets but for slum dwellers, where has all this money gone?  NGOs and big donors are sharing a platform in the name of the poor and the poor are left out.  Local governments and slum dweller organisations are the ones working on achieving the goals but these are usually left out of these new platforms.

Communuty Meeting with Jockin 2

No forced evictions

And the threat of eviction for slum dwellers still remains.  After Habitat I, we had many sister city programmes – beautiful red wine talk – but this did not deliver land tenure. There should be a commitment at Habitat III – no forced evictions. No evictions without relocations that are acceptable to those who are relocated.  After 40 years we still have not cracked this. Now the pressures of forced eviction will grow as cities invest more in infrastructure.

The cost of decent relocation is peanuts compared to infrastructure budgets. It should be part of the cost of all projects that require relocation. But this needs political will and administrative skill to work with the people and design with the communities. The huge costs of forced evictions are not counted – for the residents, the lost homes, possessions, assets, livelihoods, access to schools….

Where people are moved, we need a package of meaningful rehousing through which the quality of life of the people moved also improves.

Jockin visiting Mathare Slum_1

What new urban agenda?

Now, with Habitat III, either you close the dialogue that has produced so little or you come forward with what we can realistically achieve in the next 15 years and set up a system of measurement that involves and is accountable to slum dwellers.  From this, we learn about what works and from our mistakes.

We need to learn how to find solutions for renters too; so often, relocation programmes only benefit those who ‘own’ their home and can prove they have lived there for many years.

Slum dwellers must become a central part of slum friendly cities especially the women savings groups who are the foundation of the slum dweller federations around the world. But how? We need community participation with a strong focus on women. Full involvement of women in developing slum friendly cities gives a clear change of life for millions of people.  As the women say, I work with my sisters, my federation, my family. Women’s savings groups can manage money and this is a big change. It helps them learn to budget, and they bring their knowledge of the local situation. Then as they join together they work at city scale and interact with city government and city politicians

For each of the SDGs, you need to connect them to the ground.  Create a mechanism to achieve each target.  You do not set up targets without setting out system of delivery – and this system has to involve community groups and local governments. And with progress monitored locally and openly – so these are accountable for all.

Jockin Arputham was regarded for decades in India as a public enemy as he fought against evictions (and imprisoned dozens of times). Latterly his incredible contribution to how to address slums (and work with their inhabitants) has been recognised in India where he was awarded the Padma Shri award and internationally.

David Satterthwaite is a Senior Fellow in IIED’s Human Settlements Group.