Urban Agriculture: A Pathway Out of Poverty

Grasmere, Johannesburg

The Meriting Urban Farming Hub, situated in Grasmere, Johannesburg, is a testament to the transformative power of community-driven initiatives. This case study explores how this hub emerged, evolved, and continues to make a positive impact on its community through urban farming.

Inception and partnership

In July 2022, the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) partnered with the Industrial Development Corporation‘s Social Employment Fund to undertake two vital projects: “Urban Farming Hubs” and “Informal Settlements Profile Data.” This collaboration aims to equip communities across different South African provinces with the required skills and resources to execute the projects. The central objective was to establish 40 urban agriculture farm hubs in five municipalities, in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, North West, and Free State provinces.

About the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC)

The Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) is a formally registered non-profit organisation (NPO) that supports the social, strategic and administrative practices of FEDUP and ISN. CORC’s support to FEDUP and ISN includes savings, data collection, peer-to-peer learning exchanges, community-based planning for projects and engaging with government, funders and other actors. CORC’s mission is to support poor communities that are willing and able to help themselves.

The Meriting Urban Farming Hub’s journey

Located in Grasmere, the Meriting Urban Farming Hub started its journey with immense dedication and a passion for urban farming. The hub embraced innovative water-saving and soil optimisation technologies, such as growbags that uses wicking to efficiently water crops. This commitment was driven by a collective desire to make the farming process effective and beneficial for the entire community.

Community impact

One of the most significant outcomes of this initiative so far, is the hub’s ability to support disadvantaged households. By donating vegetables, strawberries, and peanuts, the Meriting Urban Farming Hub has contributed to the wellbeing of underprivileged families in the community. This act of generosity exemplifies the hub’s commitment to creating positive social change.

The role of the Social Employment Fund

With guidance and support from the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (Fedup), the 40 workers at the Meriting Urban Farming Hub embarked on a path to financial empowerment. Each worker started saving a minimum of R20 per month. This diligent savings strategy enabled them to initiate a pig farming project. At present, the hub is home to four pigs, one of which recently gave birth to four piglets in October 2023, with two more expected to give birth soon.

Sustainability and expansion

The Meriting Urban Farming Hub remains committed to its mission of self-sufficiency and community support. The ongoing savings initiatives aim to facilitate the expansion of the hub’s farming activities. By ensuring sustainability, the hub aspires to continue thriving even after the SEF program concludes. This long-term vision includes plans to engage more unemployed youth and extend assistance to other informal settlements looking to embark on their urban farming journey.

Gratitude and community impact

The hub expresses its profound gratitude to the Social Employment Fund (SEF) for the life-changing opportunity that has not only touched the lives of participants but also benefitted the entire community. The hub’s ability to provide support to impoverished families, coupled with its goal of offering hope to young people who may have lost it due to challenging living conditions, exemplifies the far-reaching positive impact of the SEF programme. In the process, it contributes to reducing crime and suicide rates, instilling hope and dignity, and uplifting communities.


In addition to SEF, the hub acknowledges the pivotal role played by Fedup in introducing them to the concept and power of saving. With approximately R40,000 in their business account, the Meriting Urban Farming Hub is poised to explore new opportunities and business ideas that will sustain its operations and continue to make a meaningful impact on the community. This is a classic example of how a social employment programme can create a pathway out of poverty.

National Community Exchange – Durban to Cape Town


**Cross-posted from the South African SDI Alliance blog.**

By Yolande Hendler, CORC South Africa

Informal settlement leaders from Kenville and Foreman Road in Durban are mobilising their communities to upgrade their settlements with better services and improved spatial layouts. Last week’s exchange to Cape Town (29 April – 2 May 2014) therefore presented a first-hand opportunity for them to draw insights from fellow community leaders.

Over the week the Durban visitors were hosted by Kuku Town, Flamingo Crescent, Langrug & Mtshini Wam communities in and around Cape Town. Each day was dedicated to an in-depth visit of each settlement. This included a detailed site visit, discussions on  collecting savings, enumerating and profiling settlements and contributing to planning and mapping. Besides bringing leaders together on a national level, the exchange also connected communities locally: for leaders from Kuku Town, Flamingo and Langrug the exchange comprised a first time visit to the other settlements. Exchanges are thus the most important learning vehicle in the South African Alliance, facilitating the direct exchange of information, experience and skills between urban poor communities.

Day one in Kuku Town: Upgrading & Savings 

Community leaders met in Kuku Town, a small settlement that recently completed re-blocking and in the process secured one-on-one water and sanitation services from the City of Cape Town. Read more about Kuku Town and re-blocking here. In the discussion community leaders took the visitors through a step-by-step picture of Kuku Town’s experiences. ISN representative, Melanie Manuel, explained that


Community leaders share their experiences around organising and upgrading in Kuku Town community hall.


“What we do in ISN is not only to beautify our settlements but to actually change the way we live. Savings and partnerships – like we had with Habitat for Humanity and the municipality – are an important part of this.”

Yet, before partnerships can be formed, a community needs to know its settlement in terms of the number of (un)emloyed people, the number of structures and families and details on service provision (electricity, sanitation and water). This information is collected in enumerations. Kuku Town community used its enumeration data to plan its re-blocked layout and to negotiate the provision of one-on-one services and short-term employment opportunities through the City’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).  Community leaders explained that they organised themselves in clusters to be able to navigate the logistics around communication and construction during re-blocking.

Among a variety of questions, the visitors took special interest in understanding the connection between savings and upgrading, especially the role of community contributions. Melanie explained that

“Savings contributions enable us as communities to take ownership and responsibility of the changes and upgrading in our settlements. We want to move away from a ‘free for all mindset’ and restore dignity and pride to our communities”

But collecting savings poses a continuous challenge. How to go about motivating communities and responding to accusations? Flamingo Crescent’s community leader, Auntie Marie, shared her experience:

“Getting the community’s commitment for daily savings is difficult. People only want to act when they see that things are happening. You’ve got to be tough. If you’re not tough you won’t get anything right”

For Kuku Town community leader, Verona Joseph, the partnership with the City and its support in this regard, was crucial.  This became evident at Kuku Town’s official handover that afternoon which was attended by the ward councillor and City officials.  The handover and a site visit completed the first day of the exchange, demonstrating what a tangible community-government partnership can look like.


Exchange participants join handover ceremony in Kuku Town. 


Kuku Town site visit: Inspecting water and sanitation units provided by the City. 

Day two in Flamingo Crescent: Re-blocking and Partnerships

Flamingo Crescent is about to begin re-blocking and – in partnership with the City of Cape Town – is set to receive one-on-one services. On a walkabout through the smoke and dust-filled pathways community leaders received a thorough impression of the settlement’s layout. Most structures – consisting of old cardboard, zinc, timber and plastic pieces – are situated around a broad, u-shaped pathway that is intersected by smaller, narrow footpaths. Flamingo’s population of about 450 people resides in 104 structures. The entire settlement makes use of only 2 taps and 14 chemical toilets that are emptied three times a week. The absence of electricity means that fire is used as a central source for cooking and warmth.


In a nearby community hall, Flamingo’s steering committee explained its relationship with ISN and the challenge of collecting savings contributions due to its high unemployment rate (50%). Flamingo’s enumeration acted as a powerful entry point to negotiating an improved layout and service provision with the City of Cape Town. Together with students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (USA) the community designed the re-blocked layout and conceptualised plans for a crèche and a play park.  Later, the visitors joined the steering committee’s meeting with a Cape Town City official who provided an update on the City’s contribution to upgrading.  For the visitors this was of particular value as it emphasised the crucial role of partnerships and the number of actors involved in a given project. The question at the forefront of many minds was: how can we do this in our communities at home?



For Auntie Marie, Flamingo community leader, it is evident that

“If it wasn’t for ISN, I don’t know where we would be. Through ISN we were introduced to the City and we got a partnership. We started thinking, ‘Now something is going to happen’. Flamingo is going to be re-blocked!”


Check back here in the coming days for more on this exchange. In addition, you can take a look at an additional report on the exchange, put together by the Durban representatives, here

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.


NIMBYism Blocks Development in Havelock, Durban

Havelock Settlement

**Cross-posted from the South African SDI Alliance Blog** 

By Jeff Thomas, CORC, South Africa

Havelock informal settlement is located 8km outside Durban central, close to the northern suburb of Greenwood Park. The first settlers – a coloured man and his wife – settled on this land in 1986. Since they were “scared of living alone” – as they put it – they invited other people to join them. In the early years, the new settlers were continually harassed, especially the women, who were vulnerable to attacks on their way to the main water sources. In subsequent years, the settlement grew to a sizable settlement of 389 residents living in more than 200 shacks. The land is privately owned; one part by the Kwa-Zulu Natal Provincial Department of Human Settlements and another part by a private owner. Havelock is built against a hill and the shack density is high. Read more about the background to the settlement in this profile.

Havelock settlement profile from South African SDI Alliance on Vimeo.

In the following report, I endeavour to give context to the unfolding dynamics in Havelock, where to community has completed all the design, received an in-principle go-ahead from government, and started preparing the site. The re-blocking project has been approved by Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF), an alliance seed capital fund, and the eThekwini Metro has indicated a willingness to collaborate. The report tracks the activities over the weekend of 10 – 12 May. The Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY), a wicked complex layered with racial, class and land rights dynamics, have blocked the incremental upgrading of the settlement.

Thursday 9 May 

Over the past few weeks, the reblocking site has been cleared which required tree felling, clearing away undergrowth, and gathering together discarded pieces of building material. A consulting Civil Engineering firm manager and his operator arrived in the morning to discuss how we should proceed with the terracing work.  Points made were:

  • need to stay well clear of the sewer line that runs between the site and the church property above it
  • further cutting up of the logs from the felled trees to allow the tractor to carry them up to Havelock road for later disposal
  • need to remove various bottles lying around that could puncture the tractor’s tyres

the engineer’s preliminary assessment of the work was that it would take at least 4 days. We arranged for the tractor would come on site on the morning of Monday 13. In the afternoon another engineering firm, a subcontractor to the municipality’s Water and Sanitation Department tasked to install new services (following a presentation by the Havelock community on their re-blocking layout plan and dire shortage of ablution facilities), came to site to assess the need and contemplate possible locations for further ablution containers.   The outcomes of the visit were:

  • confirmation of the position of the sewer line between the site proposed for locating the re-blocked structures and the church property
  •  there is another sewer line across the settlement  parallel to the first but about half-way down – almost where CORC architect and the community had allowed for additional ablution facilities in the layout designs
  • the open area on the other side of the small stream and adjoining the bottom of Sanderson Road is the best first option with the one within the settlement to be contemplated only once re-blocking has progressed to that point
  • community should liaise with the owner of the property adjoining the site at the bottom of Sanderson Road to identify if the manhole that is shown on the map the engineer had with him is indeed there. Poor visibility meant that surveyors could not accurately plan the line from the proposed ablution container to this existing line.
  • the engineer also commented on the extremely poor condition of the existing ablution containers and said he would propose that these be replaced with new ones.

Havelock Settlement

Monday 13 May

Over the weekend the community had attended to the preparations required by the civil engineering firm to bring their tractor on site.  Having cleared a way through the bushes down to the area to be terraced it proceeded to cut a “road” down past the ablution containers, thus creating easy access for possible removal of these and replacement with new ones, as suggested by the subcontractor. Then a line was pegged across from South to North to ensure no encroachment on or damage to the sewer line between the area to be terraced and the church property.  After this, the community and supporting engineers started to work on the top terrace, cutting and leveling the soil and removing stumps.

At this time, they were approached by a group of people from the Greenwood Park neighborhood’s ratepayers association, who demanded that the work stop.  Allegedly the ratepayers went as far as threatening to burn the tractor if it continued to operate.  The Havelock community was obviously angered by this perceived interference in something that they felt had been well-negotiated with all parties and there was then a stand-off between the two groups.

Havelock Settlement

Somebody from the formal community group had already contacted the Land Invasion Unit of the eThekwini Metro and some of their staff, including a senior officer, arrived on site.  Somewhere within the ensuing discussion the issue of a High Court interdict order (Order 3329/2013) allowing the Municipality and the police the right to demolish structures and to evict people who occupy or attempt to invade certain designated pieces of Municipal land was introduced. This comes after the courts’ clampdown on alleged “land grabs”, as a front page article of the Mercury, a local Durban paper, reported.

The upshot was that the Land Invasion Unit told the Havelock settlement that in terms of this broad order granted by the High Court they could not proceed with the terracing and re-blocking. The small area that had been leveled would need to have some of the stacked soil returned to it so that there was no place where a structure could be constructed.  However, this seems to be highly inconsistent: Why now, when the ratepayers called the Anti Land Invasion Unit a week prior regarding tree-felling activity – at which time the community explained about the re-blocking – they didn’t refer them to this Court Order?

Once the Land Invasion Unit had left, a group of the neighbouring residents continued to stand at the top of the site where it adjoins Havelock Road in order to see that the tractor operator adhered to the instructions of the Land Invasion Unit.

At this point I arrived and was confronted by the ratepayers with a barrage of questions and complaints, on the one hand, and an understandably irritated Havelock community on the other.  The ratepayers complaints were ill-informed despite the fact that ISN had printed notices some of which were distributed in the area and others put on light poles. I then contacted the Land Invasion Unit to confirm exactly what his instructions had been. I wanted to understand whether the tractor should replace the soil.

By this stage the local DA Councillor for Ward 34, Mr Ganesh, arrived and was also vociferously greeted by the questions and complaints of the ratepayers. The Havelock community was displeased at the situation since their continuous interactions with him and the ANC PR Councillor up to date. The community felt that the councillor had failed to keep the Municipality adequately informed about what was happening. A pastor from a local church stepped into the situation and suggested a mediated meeting between grievances of the ratepayers and the community. The meeting is scheduled for the 1st of June at the nearby Greenwood Park Primary School. Representatives from CORC, ISN and the Municipality will also be present.

 Way Forward

In order to find a way forward that might allow for the re-blocking project to continue the following actions are proposed:

  • Make contact Legal Resources Centre, who has recently been involved in the Madlala Village community in Lamontville. We need to come to grips with the implications of the High Court order. But the primary litigation point will be the 37 sites to which it apparently refers as well as to possibly explore any legal action the community can take.
  • Set up a meeting with the Land Invasion Unit to understand why the project was not stopped when the trees were felled.
  • Co-ordinate a meeting of CORC and ISN with the Housing Unit who is also a member of the Interim Services Committee (responsible for informal settlement upgrading) on Havelock project plans issue tabled at the many previous meetings
  • Attend the mediated meeting with the ratepayers to negotiate outcomes
  • Discussion of the Havelock issue at the next Ward Committee meeting to be held on 15/5


Partnering with the City of Cape Town in Mtshini Wam: Day 2 of the 5 Cities Seminar


Community members showcase model homes in Mtshini Wam. 

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

The second day of the 5 Cities Seminar kicked off in Mtshini Wam, a settlement of roughly 200 households located in the greater Joe Slovo Park area of Milnerton, Cape Town. The day focused a lot of attention on the change that is possible through re-blocking, or blocking out, a community-led upgrading methodology that reconfigures a community’s layout to transform tiny passageways, dangerous and impassable, into wide walkways with courtyards where children can play and women can hang washing to dry. Shacks upgraded with fire-retardant material face each other, providing added safety for families who can now find shelter from the Cape’s sometimes harsh conditions. 


A wide walkway and upgraded shacks in re-blocked Mtshini Wam. 

Mtshini Wam was founded in 2006 when settlers occupied open spaces of a government-funded housing settlement in Joe Slovo Park. Though the Western Cape Anti-Land Invasion Unit responded with threats of demolitions, The South African National Civic Organization (SANCO) and Informal Settlement Unit (City of Cape Town) were able to prevent evictions. 

Mtshini Wam settlement expanded and continued to grow. Households in Mtshini Wam depended on water and services from the formal RDP houses, paying up to R50 (USD $6) a month for water. When Mtshini Wam asked the City to provide them with service delivery, they were told this could not be done because the settlement’s density was too high and there were no access roads. Greg Exford, Informal Settlements Manager for the City of Cape Town, said during his welcoming remarks on Wednesday that, “This area was, per capita, so dense that under normal conditions the City would never have been able to make it work.” 

In 2009, responding to a lack of services and the challenges they had faced in trying to work with City, community leadership from Mtshini Wam approached the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) for support. “Prior to re-blocking, the settlement was very dense,” said community leader Nokwezi Klaas, “There were no passageways and when there were fires it was virtually impossible to get into the settlement. All the toilets were on the outskirts and there were only three water taps for over 200 households in the settlement.”

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Local community leader Nokwezi Klaas describes her work in Mtshini Wam.

2009 was the starting point of a partnership between the Mtshini Wam community, CORC and ISN and the City of Cape Town. To date, this partnership has allowed the community to carry out a settlement-wide enumeration and re-blocking process, install chemical toilets and water taps, and upgrade their shacks using durable, fire-resistant material. Both the City and the community agree that this would never have been possible without a strong, dialogic partnership.

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Representatives from ISN, including Western Cape coordinator Mzwanele Zulu (pictured on far left) and the City of Cape Town, including Greg Exford, Informal Settlements Manager for the City of Cape Town, were present at the gathering in Mtshini Wam on Wednesday. 

“This project will go down in the history books of human settlements,” said Mr. Exford, “It shows what can be done when the community works together with partners in government… In order to make government work for informal settlements, we have to fuse the conventional with the unconventional, otherwise it’s not going to work.” 

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg, the Mayoral Committee Member for Utilities Services, echoed this point, stating that, “Unless you physically take the community with you and ask them how we are going to achieve change together, you are going to get nowhere. In this way, you can find the synergy between what is demanded and what is feasible.” 

Luthando Klaas, another community leader and supervisor for the Mtshini Wam technical team, described some of the more technical aspects of the upgrading process in Mtshini Wam. There are seven teams, made up solely of community members, responsible for different aspects of upgrading. These include a technical team, gardening team, carpentry team, cleaning team, compacting team, demolition team and a building team.

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Mr. Klaas describes the various aspects that influenced the design process for the layout planning of the settlement. “When they started the design process,” he says, “one of the important things was to see how to improve services and improve safety and security so that police and emergency vehicles can come into the community and the community can feel safe in their space.”

In addition to this, he describes the sometimes-challenging process of negotiating with the community about the size of structures. During the enumeration, it became apparent that the size of structures varied considerably from one household to the next. In order to make adequate space for each household, community members agreed that no structure would exceed 20 sq. meters in size, allowing those households occupying the smallest shacks (some under 5 sq. meters in size) to live in more comfortable, livable spaces. This willingness to sacrifice individual gain for the benefit of the whole community is something that is quite understandably nearly impossible without a community-led process. 

Mr. Klaas spoke confidently about the community’s plans for the future, stating “we don’t want to be in shacks forever.” Members of the technical team showcased housing models that illustrate the community’s hopes for permanent, brick houses and their determination to continue upgrading their settlement. Klaas emphasized that, “it does not end with iKhayalami [upgraded] shacks. The community was able to move from wooden shacks to safer structures, and now they want to continue to move up to more livable structures for themselves – brick houses.” 

Following these presentations by the community, the group of roughly 100 participants had a chance to walk around the settlement and witness the change made through the processes of re-blocking and upgrading. Wide walkways give way to courtyards where clothes hang to dry and kids play under their mothers’ feet. Each cluster contains between 10-15 shacks and is built around a courtyard, sharing a communal vegetable garden that grows everything from spinach to dill to tomatoes. Shacks without adequate exposure to sunlight are lit with low-cost solar lights made from a plastic soda bottle filled with water and bleach. A community member welcomes a few others and me into his home so that we can see just how much light one of these bottle-lights can provide.

Mshini Wam Site Visit

A community member from Mtshini Wam describes his solar-powered light to another community member from Zimbabwe. 

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Community leader Nokwezi Klaas shows a community garden to a community member from Ghana. 

All in all, the most striking thing about Mtshini Wam is the spirit of the community. They have transformed their impassable settlement into a neighborhood. There is a sense of pride and enthusiasm that is contagious, a reality which is evident in the inspired words of the city officials present at the gathering. 

After a morning in Mtshini Wam, the afternoon was spent in the chambers of the City of Cape Town government building. Participants were given the opportunity to discuss and reflect on their experiences in Langrug and Mtshini Wam. The afternoon session began with introductions by Vuyani Mnyango, a local ISN leader, and Mkhabela Estavao, a FEDUP leader from KwaZulu-Natal province. Mr. Mnyango began by describing the formation of the ISN in Cape Town and the steps that were taken to build a partnership with the City. 

Mshini Wam Site Visit

“In 2011,” Mnyango says, “it was decided that the partnership needed to take action on the ground.” Today, CORC, ISN and the City of Cape Town are engaged in re-blocking processes in the settlements of Mtshini Wam, BBT Section of Khayelitsha, Vygieskraal and Masilunge.

Mkhabela Estavao describes South Africa’s Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), a national network of women’s centered savings groups that, in partnership with CORC and ISN, mobilizes poor people to improve their lives. FEDUP was started in 1991 and is one of the oldest federations in the SDI network, having given birth to a number of other affiliates across the African continent. Membership currently sits at roughly 20,000, but Ms. Estavao emphasizes that this number does not even begin to capture the number of families that have been impacted by the work of FEDUP. For example, she states that over 80,000 families have received housing through the Federation’s processes. When FEDUP realized that they could have even greater impact by involving men more actively, ISN was formed.

Leon Poleman, Project Manager with the City of Cape Town, was next to speak. He spoke of his experience working with CORC and ISN on upgrading and re-blocking, of his inexperience planning for informal settlements and his initial skepticism at the somewhat unconventional methods already being implemented by ISN in Mtshini Wam when he arrived on the scene. 

Mshini Wam Site Visit

“I come from a formal engineering background,” he said, “When you go to university and technikon, no one speaks of the design of informal settlements, or at least not in my time. So it was quite simple: In my day there were no informal settlements, and this re-blocking thing, we don’t know anything about it, so off you go! And back into our meetings we went to keep discussing how we go about this.”

But what Mr. Poleman quickly realized was that these unconventional methods were the perfect compliment to his formal engineering background, and that through working hand in hand with the community, they were able to find solutions that would have been impossible had the community not been involved. He concluded with a reminder to the other professionals in the room: “We have to understand that this is informal by its nature,” and that therefore, the solutions we find must speak to this informality.

Shortly after this, the discussion was opened up to comments and questions from the floor. Councillor James Slabbert, Portfolio Head for Human Settlements for the City of Cape Town, expressed a keen interest in learning more about the work being done in Langrug, and welcomed CORC and ISN’s input in utilizing their experience with re-blocking to provide input to the drafting of policy around informal settlement upgrading for the City. Mzwanele Zulu, ISN Coordinator for the Western Cape, was pleased to hear the City’s willingness to make re-blocking part of informal settlement upgrading policy, and urged the City to stick to its word on this point. Following the meeting, arrangements were made by CORC staff and ISN leaders to meet with Mr. Slabbert at a later date to continue these discussions.

Another issue that came to the fore during this session was the question of secure tenure for residents of settlements like Langrug and Mtshini Wam, questioning whether upgrading and re-blocking do enough towards this aim. Patrick Magebhula, national coordinator for ISN, confirmed that  “the reasons for upgrading is to allow people to live where they are now, so re-blocking is just another way to give people land tenure where they live.”

Mshini Wam Site Visit

Greg Exford echoed this point, stating, “If we do upgrading [in our informal settlements], people are given security of tenure. If we do enumerations, as soon as we have that person on [the City’s] database, they have security of tenure.”

The meeting closed on a positive note, with a colleague from Zambia commending CORC, ISN and the City of Cape Town. “What you have achieved in Mtshini Wam is a huge achievement. This is a wonderful first step. Now how do we get other communities on board so that we can spread upgrading to more communities?”

This is the key question for the 5 Cities Programme. Earlier in the day, Mzwanele Zulu had expressed his eagerness to scale up the activities in Mtshini Wam to settlements across Cape Town. In Cape Town, thanks to a growing partnership with the City, this becoming more of a reality. Despite challenges and setbacks, experiences like that of Mtshini Wam is evidence of the promise these partnerships can bring when the community takes the lead. 


Diary of BM Section Fire: Community Empowerment in Crisis

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

By Andy Bolnick, CORC & iKhayalami, South Africa 

31st December 2012


File photo. Image by: MIKE HUTCHINGS / REUTERS taken from http://africajournalismtheworld.com/tag/khayelitsha-fire/

1st of January 2013


AFP Photo / Rodger Bosch – RT.com

On the 1st January 2013, Tuesday in the early hours of the morning a man in the furthest eastern part of BM Section informal settlement in Khayelitsha fell asleep while he was cooking food on a hotplate stove. A fire started at 4am. With gale-force winds blowing the fire quickly swept out of control. With the strong southeaster and being hampered by lack of access the middle of the settlement the fire department failed to contain the blaze, finally ‘putting out’ the fire at 10.30am when it had virtually run its course – blazing a trail of destruction right through the settlement leaving approximately 5000 people homeless, 1 000 shacks guttered, 3 confirmed deaths and one person in a critical condition. On January the 2nd of January a fourth body was found in the debris and on the 4thof January the man who had 80% burns passed away in hospital.

On the 2nd of January, Wednesday Phumezo Sibanda who resides in Khayelitsha and is a leader of the ISN called Andy Bolnick from Ikhayalami to talk to her about the disaster and start thinking through what kind of support could offered. It was agreed that Phumezo would go to site to assess things and meet with the BM leaders. 

Shortly after Phumezo’s call one of Ikhayalami’s main funder for disaster relief/re-blocking efforts (for the past 6 years), Mr. Gerald Fox from the Percy Fox Foundation, called. He had heard about the devastating fire and offered immediate resources so that Ikhayalmi could respond with a sizeable number of shelters in order to potentially attract more resources to a response effort and to do a re- blocking. Bolnick then sent a letter to senior Corc and SDI staff and ISN leaders (who have access to email) in an attempt to bring everyone on board and develop a coordinated response.

In the meantime Phumezo who rallied support from two other ISN leaders in the Khayeltisha area – Thozama and Nombini Mafikhana – attended the tail end of a Disaster Management meeting at the OR Tambo hall, which has since become the nerve center of relief efforts.  Following the meeting they engaged with some of the BM leadership.


Phumezo then asked Bolnick to come to site to meet with some of the leadership who informed us that they ‘want the city to level the area and open up roads’. They said that this is what they discussed in the meeting with the city that morning.

Bolnick enquired about whether the leadership had a list of all the residents of BM. The leadership said that there is a list that the city has. Bolnick suggested that they get hold of this list, verify it and if need be start compiling their own list. Phumezo and Bolnick also spoke about the potential of spatial reconfiguration in addition to merely demarcating roads. Mention was made to the potential of the availability of between 150 – 200 shelters from Ikhayalami (20 immediately and the remainder after the 15th) to assist with a spatial reconfiguration/re-blocking if the community decided to go this route. There was also some discussion about the potential of arranging an exchange visit to Sheffield rd and Mthisni Wam for BM leaders.


While on site the leaders were informed that a fourth body had been found in the debris. We left the leaders to attend to the pressing issues at hand. 

The site is so vast – standing in the middle of the site – on the one side people were still collecting rubble and clearing the site, on the other side the site was almost cleared. 

3rd of January, Thursday community leaders and NGO support staff attended a joint meeting of stakeholders. Those present were members of a crisis committee that was formed the day before comprising of a few leaders from BM section, delegates from the city (Disaster Management dept), Social Dev Services, SASSA, Home Affairs, Law Enforcement, KDF, SANCO, VPUU, Amaxesibe Traditional Council, an ANC delegation, a church group and other people from the community and our delegation. Important points were raised but no one was listening to each other. As soon as an important point was made another person would talk about something inconsequential or petty and the vital point would be lost. There was also information that a separate disaster response committee comprising of provincial government members was meeting separately in Belville. This created further frustration. Party political issues were being raised that included laying blame and arguing. The BM leadership were getting angry and wanted action.

Issues that were raised pertained to insufficient food, the need for more mattresses, frustration that the city had not started leveling. The city called for all the debris to be removed by the community, talk also revolved around how to take care of people’s debris who were still in the Eastern Cape on holiday – where could it be stored and how the city would take care of the debris so that when construction began people could get their burnt material back to use for reconstruction. It was agreed that all the debris would be removed from site by 2pm the following day. There was also an urgent plea to get the ‘list’ verified. This task was given to the Principle Field Officer (PFO) and VPUU.

Bolnick suggested that it would be imperative that the BM leadership be involved in this process. On behalf of the SDI alliance delegation attending the meeting she offered support to the city and VPUU to work with the leadership on getting the list of victims sorted. This being a key SDI tool it was felt that it could act as an entry point for ISN to start mobilizing the community and give them the power with regards to information (the list) and start building a working relationship with VPUU.

Bolnick also mentioned that should the BM leadership and the people of BM (as well as the city) agree to do a blocking out Ikhayalami had raised funds for the provision of 200 shelters and would support this process together with our alliance partners.

With regard to the ISN supporting the City, VPUU and the leadership in compiling a verified list the first time Bolnick mentioned this, the point was lost. The second time she managed to get the offer accepted by City’s the Principle Field Officer.

After the meeting the ISN members as well as NGO support staff met with four of the BM leadership to discuss a way forward. It was agreed that at 4pm that afternoon an exchange would go from BM section to Sheffield Rd and Mshini Wam. Vuyani and Nkokeli felt that ISN should not be involved with supporting the leaders, VPUU and the city in sorting out the list of victims. Their rationale was that the leadership knows their own communities. Corc staff felt that they could not support the BM leadership if ISN had decided not to assist with the compilation of a verified list. At 2pm we all left the OR Tambo Hall.

Vuyani and Nkokeli went to Du Noon to offer support and assess the situation following a fire that occurred there on the 31st of December where 125 shacks had burnt down. A meeting was arranged for the following morning at the Corc offices for ISN and staff to regroup especially if we needed to make a decision concerning supporting Du Noon and or BM section.

At 4pm Melvyn from Ikhayalami and arrived at the OR Tambo Hall to fetch members of the BM community who had been elected to visit Sheffield Rd and Mshini Wam. The exchange was positive. The leaders from BM who attended the exchange were able to get a better grasp of what was meant by blocking-out.


4th of January, Friday – the regroup meeting scheduled for 8.30am was called off. Nkokeli reported that people in Du Noon had already rebuilt their shacks and that ‘we should focus our attention on BM’. It was agreed to meet at OR Tambo Hall to attend the crisis committee meeting. The Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, Councilor Sonnenberg, E.D Mr. Seth Maqetuka and Head of Informal Settlements Department Mr. Zwandile Sokupa as well as other officials from the various departments’ attended this meeting.

The Mayor would hear non-of-this and became angry that people were meddling in politics while there was a crisis at hand. She also confirmed all the support that the city had provided up to that stage. Fortuitously Naledi Pandor the Minister of Home Affairs walked into the meeting. She too said that it was not a time for politics and that the focus should be on aiding the people and moving forward. Minister Pandor made a number of practical recommendations with regard to processing ID’s and the immediate provision of portable toilets.

A site-specific report was given. Mr. Maqetuka reported that ‘the City is working on a short-term plan and is also developing a short to medium term plan’.  The Mayor asked that the meeting focus on the immediate disaster response. The city engineer reported that ‘there was an agreement for Solid Waste to clear the material and that they were on site and machinery will come on site this afternoon to do leveling’.

Councilor Sonnenberg stressed the importance of a verified beneficiary list. Mr. Sokupa and Mr. Maqetuka acknowledged Ikhayalmi’s offer to support the process with the provision of 200 shelters should there be a need for a re-blocking.

The Mayor agreed to be part of the crisis committee and said that all her engagements will be done through the Ward Councilor in line with protocol.

After the meeting Mr. Maqetuka and Mr. Soup met with the SA SDI Alliance delegates briefly. Bolnick requested access to the site layout for fire-breaks/roads. They informed us that the City was not yet sure in which direction the relief effort would go as they were in consultation with the Province and there was a likelihood that they would embark on a UISP project, so as of yet there were no concrete plans. They asked us to be a patient and said they would draw us in when needed. Thereafter most of the officials and political leaders went on a site visit. The alliance delegates stayed in the vicinity of the hall and managed to meet a city engineer who said that there was layout for the roads but that he did not have it with him.

On 5th of January, Saturday Phumezo, Thozama, Nombini and Bolnick went to the OR Tambo Hall to meet with the engineer and attend the crisis committee meeting. Disaster Management chaired the crisis committee meeting. The Mayor and officials who had been in the meeting the previous day were not present. Disaster management reported on progress with regards to the delivery of more mattresses, medi-packs and nappies. The responsibility of distribution had been given to the BM leadership. The confirmed number of people registered and staying in the OR Tambo hall was 1660 made up of almost an equal number of males, females and children and 55 babies. The confirmed list of fatalities were given – 3 deaths reported on the 1st, one found on the 2nd of January in the rubble and the fifth person who passed away in hospital from 80% burns on the 4th of January.

It was also confirmed that disaster management and social services would remain on site until further notice. Discussion arose around WB Section where there had also been a fire on the 31st Dec affecting 54 households. People complained that WB Section was not getting the same kind of support that BM was getting. It was reported that people in WB had already received the city’s starter packs and that most people had rebuilt their homes. The crisis committee agreed to find ways of supporting victims in WB section.

With regard to work on the site it was reported that two front loaders and one digger loader where on site clearing and leveling the land and that a land surveyor was on site assessing where the firebreaks should go. Another plea, this time from SASSA was made for the urgent need for a verified beneficiary list. The meeting was then adjourned.


Phumezo, Nombini and Bolnick decided to go to site with two BM leaders. En route they checked the measurement of an existing road to get a sense of scale in anticipation of finding out the width that the city was planning to use.

The main reason why they decided to go to site (apart from viewing the leveling) was to find a land surveyor, engineer or even a truck driver, in fact anyone who could give them some information about the proposed fire breaks as these would be key starting points in thinking through a new layout and at the very least to consider if the proposed roads make sense to the community. 

While on site they found a city official who was able to disclose the type of information they had been seeking. Firstly he told them that the width of the roads would be 5m. Secondly the City is planning on putting in two roads through the settlement and one ring road around the area that was burnt (there was previously a road at the bottom of the settlement) and thirdly the city was going to arrange for a plane to fly overhead and take high-resolution aerial photographs. From these photographs the proposed roads would be confirmed.  As things progress it is clear that these images will be vital for planning purposes and are images that the alliance should try to access as soon as possible.

After this engagement the group walked to the middle of the site to assess things and think things through from a spatial perspective.

Looking at the site it did not make sense to put a ring road around the burnt area (the sides and bottom were virtually from one section of the settlement to the other so this could make sense but the top section still has shacks that did not burn and is about 17m to the main road). The width of the burnt out area looked around 35m wide with a length of approximately 100m. The top part of the ring road was the road that did not make sense as in essence if they are to go ahead with this it would mean that 500sqm would be taken up (over and above the other justifiable roads) for purpose of a road as apposed to land for those affected. It would make more sense to extend the two roads in the middle of the settlement to meet Landsdowne Rd. From the edge of where shacks still remained to Landsdown rd it is approximately 17m. This would mean that 17m x 5m x 2 roads = 170sqm would be used for roads as apposed to 500sqm. It is reasons like these that it is important that community leaders get drawn into the design processes so that they can make recommendations that make sense and work better for the broader community.

On the 6th of January, Sunday at 9.30am Mr. Sokupa phoned Bolnick to confirm the number of shelters that Ikhayalami could provide, how soon and how many per day. Bolnick confirmed that should a plan be reached and all parties including the BM leadership and ISN agree then Ikhayalami could make 20 shelters available immediately and from the 17th of January when factories re-opened could supply 20 per day.

Thozama, Nombini and Phumezo went to the OR Tambo Hall to attend the crisis committee meeting where the Mayor was scheduled to attend. The Mayor and the Premier arrived at the confirmed time, that being 2pm. They insisted that the crisis committee and other people in the boardroom vacate so that they could hold a meeting with the Ward Councilor. People who were in the boardroom (where meetings had been held every day since the disaster) were outraged. After some commotion two separate meetings took place –one with the Premier, Mayor and Ward Councilor and one with the crisis committee. The Ward Councilor came to the crisis committee meeting and said that he would represent the crisis committee in the meeting with the Mayor and Premier. At times he came out of the meeting to consult with members of the crisis committee.

The Premier and Mayor stated that only 250 families will return to the site, the rest will be relocated to the area next to the OR Tambo hall and others next to Busasa on SANDF land. The BM leadership informed the Ward Councilor that the Premier should not put a set number to how many households will return to the site ‘as the community intends to work on their own layout that would accommodate many more than the 250 households

On Monday the 7th of January it was time for the SA SDI alliance to regroup. A meeting was convened to reflect and strategise going forward. Vuyani, Nkokeli, Bunita, Olwetu, Zipho and Andy formed part of this meeting. A report on the past 5 days was given comprising the above.

In the reflection meeting it was agreed that the situation in BM is a complex and that the community is ‘about to go to a big war without any tools’ (Vuyani). As such it is imperative that the ISN work with the BM leaders with whom there is now a connection and go deeper so as to reach the street committee leadership and the community at large. The idea is that three Khayelitsha ISN leaders who have been involved in meetings on site since the 2nd of January will work with Vuyani and Nkokeli to develop a strategy on how to deepen ISN’s presence within the broader community. It is also vital that FEDUP get drawn in into this process so that woman can start supporting one another in this difficult time.

It also became clear that Vuyani and Nkokeli’s reluctance to get involved had to do with fact that they are not from the Khayelitsha area, that they view the situation in BM as highly political and that previously in 2010 as leaders of the ISN they did not succeed (through no fault of theirs) in doing what the BM leadership had asked of them and were worried this would come back to haunt them. It was agreed that in spite of all the difficulties and complexities it is vital that the ISN support the BM community in their time of need.

On Tuesday the 8th of January Phumezo, Nkokeli, Thozama, Vuyani and Nombini met at the OR Tambo hall. They agreed that they should call a meeting with the BM leadership that includes the street committees. Unfortunately this meeting did not materialize and ISN are planning to do it as soon as possible. That evening a leader from BM called Phumezo and Bolnick saying that the crisis committee (of which Ikhayalami had previously been invited to participate by the broader committee) would be meeting with the Mayor on the 9th of January.

Wednesday morning the 9th of January at 9am Ikhayalami’s support at the meeting at the Civic Centre was confirmed by the BM leadership.

In the coming days things will unfold and we will constantly assess what type of support we can offer. Politics is firing and misfiring everywhere from petty politics to political mud slinging to high level politics. The petty politics and mud slinging politics are bedfellows. Every community forum/organisation in Khayelitsha has been jostling to be ‘powerful’. Disaster Management and other government relief effort departments are trying to complete their tasks and get the hell out of there. The high level politics are invisible to most, taking place behind closed doors and off site.

In an attempt to offer support and respond to the disaster Ikhayalami’s involvement has been to 1) to support the BM leaders/community to see through and make sense of the murky waters so as to be in a better position to plot an equitable as possible way forward, and 2) to assist them in starting to think one step ahead and to open doors for the ISN and FEDUP.

The alliances role going forward should include the following agenda – to support the BM leadership to negotiate with the state, to act as a bridge between community and the state, to support our city partners in this huge task in a way that gives voice to the BM community, to gain access to the plans and aerial images and draw the community into the planning and to set up women savings groups.

Communities Continue Fight Against Evictions in Johannesburg

Evictions in Marlboro

By Kwanele Sibanda, CORC South Africa 

As had been agreed upon in last night’s mass meeting, in Marlboro Industrial Area, Johannesburg, the Marlboro residents began to mobilize one another and demonstration began as early as 3am on Wednesday. Throughout the protest, no arrests took place. Only roads leading into the community were barricaded. Teargas was only fired once when the residents attempted to barricade the old Pretoria road opposite the Total Garage. The demonstration and barricading of roads was done by the residents to protect themselves and shelters from further destruction by the JMPD as well as drawing the attention of the officials that include the councillor and the Mayor. The protest ended at about 11am. The leadershisp then decided to go and meet with the station commander of Bramley Police Station (SAPS).

Evictions in Marlboro

The leadership, with support from four ISN members and CORC, met with the Station commander and five other officers who were present during the demonstration. The purpose of the meeting was to request the SAPS to play a mediating role in the conflict between the concerned residents and the JMPD. The Marlboro residents expressed their disappointment in the lawlessness being demonstrated by the JMPD in spite of the community’s efforts to engage in formal legal procedures. In addition to the above, a background of the eviction was given and this was outlined up to the current desicion made by the High Court. The station commander had a full understating of the community’s position and his response was that it is in his best of interest to protect the community, however in so doing he does not want the SAPS to be caught up in legal issues without proper knowledge of the current court ruling.

Evictions in Marlboro

Before the arrival at the police station, the SAPS had already been given a letter by the City’s legal representatives that states that the Judge’s ruling only allowed the residents to occupy the open space ERF 799 and 1008, but hindered them from erecting any form of shelter. In so doing the City’s lawyers did not provide the court interdict to the SAPS. The provision of the original interdict copy by the residents and the explanation that if the CITY/JMPD disputed the court’s ruling or could not comprehend enhanced the understanding of the SAPS in the sense that the JMPD/CITY was supposed to make an urgent court application for further clarity from the High Court. While the meeting progressed, the station commander immediately contacted one of the JMPD head of officers and immediately arranged a meeting that will be facilitated by the SAPS. By the time the meeting ended, attempts where still being made to contact the City Officials so that they can also be part of the meeting. The JMPD agreed to avail themselves and it was agreed that the meeting shall be held at the Bramley Police Station on 23 August 2012 at 9am. The community leaders shall take part in the meeting with support from ISN and CORC.

During the day, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) arrived on site to assess the situation on the ground. Their site visit was mainly triggered by the letter they received yesterday from the city’s legal representatives who deny knowledge of yesterday’s destruction of shelters erected on ERF 799 and 1008 after the court had authorised the temporal return of the former residents of the aforemetioned sites until the 29th of August when the matter is finalised. Before the end of day yesterday, LHR had already made an urgent interim interdict application to the high court. Tomorrow at 10am the matter shall be heard in court. The leaders of Marlboro have already deployed members to attend the SAPS/JMPD meeting at 9am as well as the High Court matter at 10am.

The Dark Side of Planning: On the Demolition of Chico’s Ice Cream Factory

Yesterday we reported to you about evictions taking place in Marlboro Industrial Area of Johannesburg. Today we have a full write up from the South African SDI Alliance on the evictions, and the ways in which FEDUP, ISN and CORC have been fighting against this brutality. 

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

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

On the 13th of August, heavy machinery rolled in on the tattered and teared Marlboro Industrial area. Charles and Tapelo, community leaders in Marlboro, had to look on as the bulldozers started tearing into Chico’s Ice Cream Factory, which was home to 109 families, or 282 people. Chico’s Ice Cream Factory is but one of 53 derelict buildings that the Marboro community, in partnership with ISN and CORC, enumerated between September and October 2011. Community members were trained to administer the questionnaire and worked closely with the CORC Johannesburg office in capturing the data into databases.

Early in August, the Alliance reported on the evictions that started on August 2nd when Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) cracked down on the settlement with no eviction order. In the early morning hours, when residents were leaving for work, the JMPD moved in on 3 occupied sites and demolished 300 dwellings. They refused to talk to the community leadership and presented no formal interdiction from the court, only offering NGO representatives a hand written statement in a note book as paperwork for such eviction. They claimed that notice was given with no supporting documentation, then went on to say they don’t need to give notice because the of the 72 hour trespassing by-law which according to legal representatives requires even more paperwork than a general eviction order. The JMPD has not communicated its mandate with the housing department and now as result over 400 residents of Marlboro are now out on the street with no alternative housing options.

Evictions have been ravaging the area since the 2nd of August, leaving many people homeless. The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), and more specifically, the by-laws management department, have been carrying out these illegal evictions. These are illegal, because according the laws protecting poor people from the onslaughts of local governments and/or land owners, the evicting party needs to formally obtain an eviction order, which is granted by regional courts. In these hearings, the judges consider all the aspects of the evicting party’s request, which includes whether alternatives to upgrading has been considered (such as upgrading the informal area), what the impact on vulnerable people would be (woman, children and the elderly), and what the relocation options are (such as consolidation with other informal areas, housing developments, etc). Constitutional Court cases have resulted in a number of processes that needs to be adhered too. The JMPD did not follow any of these legal routes, and have been on a rouge mission to clear the Marlboro area of all informal settlers.

Chico’s is one such a factory that is now being destroyed, and all 282 inhabitants have been displaced. Although the Alliance, through the Community Upgrading Financing Facility, have been able to secure three army-style tents to the value of R30,000, this merely serves 40 families. More tents are now forthcoming as relief donations are trickling into Marlboro area. There does not seem to be any hope that the residents of Chico’s will be sleeping in even the most elementary accommodation for the next while.

The factory used to have a very peculiar housing typology. To make more space available, the community built a sturdy 2nd level of shack above the first. These pictures illustrate the nature of settlement in one of these factories.

With the decline in industrial activity in the late 1980s, the factory owners rented out these buildings to poor families living in overcrowded conditions in neighboring townships such as Alexandra. Charles, a community leader in the area, mentioned that

the history here is actually that people started staying in these factories. They were renting because some owners advertised for rentals. So the people came in their numbers. But later on, the City actually gave some court orders that people had to vacate. We boycotted that and went back to the owners and they ran away and stayed with the City. We had a media statement that says we can not be moved from these areas unless they have an alternative. So that is how they started staying in these buildings.

Chico’s used to be an Ice Cream factory located on 4th street, where not even the brave footsoldiers of Google Streetview dared to venture (when dragging the Google Streetview icon over Marlboro area, on 5th Street is covered). But the enumeration of Chico’s, as with all other 53 factories in the Marlboro area, goes much deeper than technology can reach. The enumeration has captured a socio-economic and demographic profile of all the residents that used to live here. Although the residents have faced fires in the past, such as the 18 June 2010 fire that destroyed a large number of shacks, as reported by Africa Media Online, the community has been able to regroup and assist those who lost it all. These social ties are more than moral solidarity but display the resilience of communities to adapt and recover.

Chico’s factory is also called Building 77. These building were referenced by these numbers before the enumeration started. The enumeration data therefore has two levels: by building, and by shack number (which was numbered in the enumeration exercise). By referencing both building data and shack data, a common dataset is developed that serves as the basis for spatially tagging enumeration data. In this way, the data becomes alive. The data tells the stories of what used to be left of Chico’s Ice Cream factory.

In October 2011, CORC produced a short video documenting the impressions of Marlboro community leaders on the enumeration process. At 2:18 in the video, an interview with a young man living in Chico’s is captured. He said,

I live here in Chico’s. I have been living here for 11 years. I stay with my mother. Here in Chico’s we are very poor, if I can put it like that.

In another interview, a young man living with his girlfriend said the following when asked by Charles what his expectations are for development in the area:

Up to date, I have been living in this area. Now the problem that I am having is unavailability of jobs and better accommodation. From the information I am receiving from different people, there are promises to improve the area, but I don’t know how long it is going to take.

CORC has drafted a preliminary enumeration report on the findings. The enumeration breaks down the enumeration data of all 53 factories and categorises the findings by population statistics, migration, education levels, social grant recipients, occupation and income levels, and finally, tracks the communities’ development aspirations. On the enumeration process, Charles said

The ISN and FEDUP have introduced a programme of enumeration. So with the enumeration, we are trying to arm ourselves and say to the City, “We are the people of Marlboro. How many are we? We stay in a space of this size”. And so we will be able to talk how then the development will be. So we hope with the programme of the FEDUP and ISN we believe that something will come up. We are saving, and saying to the government, “This is what we are doing, then can you come in and join us in making the area we are living in better”.

Charle’s wishes will not realise. Chico’s have been destroyed. But the sword cuts both ways. While the positive side of community based knowledge generation through enumeration, as experience by millions of people making up the federations aligned to Shack / Slum Dwellers International (see this series of research papers), materialises citizenship when this grassroots knowledge drives development agendas, the data will now be used as a protections mechanism in the court of law. The community possess the most detailed data on the individuals and families affected in the evictions. The sword of knowledge will now be deployed to fight back on the inhumane and draconian actions of the City of Joburg.

Marlboro community is working alongside Lawyers for Human Rights and instructed them instructed to demand an end to the evictions and failing that, to proceed on an urgent basis to the High Court for relief. Said Louise du Plessis, senior attorney in LHR’s Land and Housing Unit,

This situation is shocking. The law is clear. There are countless court orders requiring a court order before an eviction can take place. This blatant disregard for what the courts have repeatedly said is especially worrying considering JMPD is tasked with upholding the law.

Who are giving these orders? Are the factory owners involved in the eviction process, or is this a rouge mission by the JMPD? These are the questions that the community with support by CORC and Lawyers for Human Rights will be uncovering.


The Art of Ark Building in Langrug, South Africa

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**Cross-posted from the CORC blog**

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

The dystopia of the urbanisation of poverty is a confounding reality, to say the least. People eek out a living in the harshest environment, are subject to environmental torture, and have little prospect of escaping the vices of modern life. Under imperial and apartheid South Africa, the right of non-Europeans/ non-whites to urban life was continuously supressed, if not denied fully. In fact, the very existence of the racist regime was premised on segregated urban spaces. This is why, argues philosopher Achile Mbembe of Stellenbosch University, “most social struggle of the post apartheid era can be read as attempts to re-conquer the right to be urban.”

This confounding reality is often worsened and aggravated by government policies that do not recognize the urban crisis. For many years, governments have shied away from devising comprehensive policies that tackle the challenges of urban poverty, and that harness the potentials for innovative development, which have historically been associated with urbanization. In the global South, the import of modernist planning norms and standards from the global North has perpetuated the existence and recurrence of peripheral urban slums by creating sanitized spaces for the elite.

What are the real prospects for social and political change in this new democratic dispensation? The high waves of market forces, income inequality, and worsening human development indices rock the tattered and bruised vessels of the urban poor. For some miracle of resilience and agency, the poor continue to press forward. In many cases, the hope of a more equal and fair society has found expression in the agency of the underclass, of the excluded, of the marginalized. These societies have depended on a forgotten art: the art of ark building.

Despite the introduction of potentially more progressive, transformative and situational responsive policies contained in the “second generation” of human settlement legislative frameworks (the first ten years being a dismal failure), local governments have struggled to come to grips with the extensive community engagement and difficult engineering and geotechnical interventions implicit in the upgrading of informal settlements. Organised communities are filling the voids created by lack of political will, social facilitation, and technical expertise by generating a resource base they own: knowledge about their settlement.

For this reason, Premier of the Western Cape, Ms. Helen Zille, paid a visit to Franschhoek on the 8th of May. She wanted to witness the progress made by the Langrug community in partnership with the Stellenbosch Municipality. Langrug is a large informal settlement on the slopes of Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Franschhoek. Seasonal laborers working on the wine farms and a large dam construction project established the settlement in the early 1990s. This settlement construed a forgotten people for many years, until the municipality was forced to action when the neighboring farm owner obtained a court interdict against the Municipality for the settlement’s greywater runoff into his irrigation dam. The municipality was forced to start negotiating with the settlement, because 14 families were to be relocated in the reserve earmarked for an access road construction. Cape Town’s Informal Settlement Network (ISN) was introduced to the settlement after the municipality engaged the network, opening a year-long relationship-building window. Ever since, a full scale in-situ upgrade project has been launched; providing better service with minimal disruption to residents’ lives.

Premier Zille visits Ruimsig settlement[1]

Premier Zille opened her address by saying that there is no more difficult policy environment than housing. The question of the spread of resources – either a serviced house for a few or better services and incremental tenure security for many – has continually shaped the South African housing policy debate. During the visit, Zille commented, “the important point about this informal settlement is that it is one of the first where we have a viable partnership with the community. And now, working with the community, we are installing stormwater, greywater systems, toilets, washing facilities, road and upgrading the place generally … but the existing thing about this project is that we are upgrading shacks where they are instead of moving people out and starting from the beginning”. Western Cape MEC for Housing Bonginkosi Madikizela said: “It is a fantastic model. The message to the rest of the country is that any development is a partnership between government and communities. They become partners rather than passive recipients”.

Much attention was called to the “model” of community participation espoused by Informal Settlement Network (ISN). Zille argued that this new “model” could be better articulated by having a single window policy approach to refining the government’s ability to navigate complex (and fragmented) policy frameworks. Although such an approach could be instructive, a model without agency has no value. Organised communities have an agency to transform urban landscapes by transforming their settlements. One of the failures of the government-driven and top-down implementation of housing developments in post-apartheid era was exactly this: the entrenchment of the forgotten apartheid ghettos. But informal residents are taking the lead in integrating their development with the greater evolution of their surrounding urban spaces. The ark communities are building is an inclusive one; one that has the capacity to deliver social and political change. This ark does not look or function like any of the government’s planning apparatuses, which are often founded on principles that entrench existing spatial inequalities. No, this ark is different. It is different because the ones designing the ark are different. Communities and government can only revive the lost art of ark building when they partner around deliverables such as improved living conditions. In this way, power is shared, and solutions are co-produced.

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FEDUP celebrates two decades with a house opening in Orange Farm


Photo: Gauteng Province Department Local Government and Housing

**Cross-posted from the CORC Blog**

By FEDUP & uTshani Fund 

The Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and the uTshani Fund are two organisations working in alliance to bring the urban poor in South Africa together and bring their huge collective resourcefulness, creativity, energy and social force to the task of delivering secure, affordable housing to everyone. The FEDUP / uTshani Fund alliance has initiated housing projects in urban and peri-urban communities across all nine provinces, improving the lives of some 17,000 households so far.

FEDUP’s primary vision has been to ensure that the urban poor – and particularly poor women – gain full citizenship rights and become key actors in determining the development priorities and policies of cities. The Federation has worked to move both urban policy and poor communities away from crisis-led reactive interventions to gendered long-term partnerships in which the urban poor themselves play a key role as visionaries and partners in generating “win-win” solutions that create revised models of development.

At a mass gathering on March 1st, attended by local, national and international shack dwellers, city officials and NGO staff, FEDUP reasserted its vision to build inclusive and pro-poor cities by positioning the poor as central actors in urban development. They were gathered at Stretford Park in Extension 6 of Orange Farm, where joyous singing and chanting resounded throughout the park, overlaid with the DJ’s big dubstep beats.

While the gathering buzzed and hummed, the deputy minister of Human Settlements Ms. Zoe Kota-Fredericks, and Gauteng Members of Executive Council met in a private meeting to discuss the unlocking of People’s Housing Processes in the province. Patrick Magebula, national FEDUP leader and advisor to the minister of Human Settlements Mr. Tokyo Sexwale, mentioned that the processes in Orange Farm are unfolding across the country, and poor people’s groups across the country are actively contributing to changing the way government engages poor residents. Since March 1992, when women across the country mobilised around savings collectives, the Federation has engaged with formal banking institutions and all three tiers of government, helped setup Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) by participating in and leading international exchanges, and most importantly, ensured the material improvement and tenure security in the lives of thousands of poor people. The FEDUP has shared their successes (and failures) and supported new savings initiatives in encouraged and supported savings groups in Angola, Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

On Ms. Kota-Fredericks’ arrival, she addressed the crowd and said, “We are encouraged that people take their own initiatives rather than waiting for the government to come to them. Through your savings you were able to build yourselves better houses, much better than the RDP houses that the government provides. The government needs this kind of commitment from the community so that we can be able to provide services faster and more efficiently”.

Houses built by the Federation through the People’s Housing Process have been of significantly higher quality than those built through privately contracted government delivered starter houses. The current houses being completed with the subsidy pledge are all larger than 50 m2 in size with a fully fitted bathroom, a kitchen with a sink as well as three to four spacious bedrooms. The houses are fully electrified. The finishing includes plaster inside and outside, and is also painted inside and outside. These are achievable through the savings and contributions of the beneficiaries.

The beneficiaries on the projects are mainly elderly women. Young men and women help the beneficiary to construct the houses. Subsidy forms are completed among the members and submitted to the provincial housing Department for approval before building can commence for any beneficiary.

Said Mrs. Manthoka and Mr. Mangena of Orange Farm about a poor people’s movement, “It was a good experience to work with the Federation. It brought us happiness! It was so unfortunate that the whole thing came to a standstill now… There was a problem with the interpretation of the subsidies. People thought that government would be paying the subsidies upfront”.

Poor people have always been in charge of their own developments, building very innovative, very large, and very effective shelters that meet their needs. These creative, colorful, and appropriate homes tend to constitute the vast majority of the architecture of the Global South. It is thus imperative that shack dwellers themselves be involved in the struggle to house the urban poor. They have the appropriate skills and vision to develop their own, comfortable settlements, with a small amount of professional and financial support from the experts and politicians.

Ms. Kota-Fredericks mentioned the long standing relationship between the FEDUP and the national department of Human Settlements. It started with the pledge from Minister Joe Slovo in 1994, which was followed up by Sankie Mthembu-Mahanyelele. Minister Sisulu also pledged subsidies to FEDUP and uTshani Funds in 2004, but provinces have been slow to release these funds for a number of reasons. Rose Molokoane, national coordinator of the FEDUP, commented that a lot of work still remains, as many people still live in harsh conditions. Said Molokoane, “The majority of our people are still poor and can’t afford proper houses. They are living in appalling conditions in informal settlements. But we are confident that our partnership with the government will grow stronger and will achieve more. When we started banks could not loan us money as we were regarded as high risk customers. But we have never lost hope, we decided to do it on our own and it worked”.

Some quotations borrowed from the following online articles: