Tackling the Challenge of Sanitation in South Africa


Cross posted from the SA SDI Alliance website

By Ava Rose Hoffman (on behalf of CORC)

In this blog, Mzwanele Zulu—National Informal Settlement Network (ISN) Coordinator—discusses the process of identifying community priorities and engaging with local government to construct the Midrand Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Facility, which will become operational in the coming weeks.

Midrand is an informal settlement located in northwestern Port Elizabeth, situated in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality. The settlement was formed around 2007-2008, when backyarders and shack dwellers from nearby areas began squatting on the land—an open space owned by the municipality. Mzwanele describes that the situation in Midrand was “very destitute” given the high unemployment and crime rates. Nonetheless, Midrand’s favourable location provided an excellent opportunity for carrying out in-situ upgrading. Mzwanele describes:

They are close to transport and they are not far from the city as well. People do not want to go to the peripheries—they’re always being chased away from the cities. They want to be developed where they are so they are able to access employment opportunities and walk to workplaces and places that they’re looking for jobs. So we’re hoping that working closely with the municipality will create an opportunity for them to remain there.

When the ISN began engaging with Midrand, the settlement was not recognised on the Municipality’s informal settlement database and as such, the settlement completely lacked basic public services. At that point in time, in the absence of services provided by the Municipality, the ISN began mobilising the community. Mzwanele describes:

When we identified the settlement, there was no water, no electricity, no toilet facilities… When we started, I think 7 years ago, engaging with Midrand and with other communities in the Eastern Cape Region—in particular in Nelson Mandela Metro—we started talking about the challenges that communities are facing… We believe in people helping themselves. We started capacitating leaders to engage and talk about their challenges, and of course we did enumerations and profiled the settlement.

Community members map the settlement layout


Community members number shacks, one phrase of the enumeration process

Through the profiling and enumeration process in Midrand, it became clear that the principal challenge facing the settlement was sanitation. Bringing the WaSH facility to fruition began with the process of savings—community contributions that are applied toward the total cost of the project. Mzwanele recounts:

The community was very receptive to the idea of saving—they are continuously saving. They are seeing value in what we are doing through this process. They started saving and it took about four to five years to be able to get a buy-in from the municipality. We’ve been engaging with the municipality—trying to convince them to assist us in working together and ensuring that these people will be improving their conditions with the support of the Municipality. So, that’s how this process unfolded in the beginning.

During these early stages of engagement between the community, the ISN and the Municipality, Mzwanele describes that “the Municipality was shocked to hear about Midrand—they didn’t know about it—and they started by putting one tap for the community.” The installation of the water tap, connected to the public municipal system, marked significant progress in alerting the Municipality about Midrand’s needs and getting local government “on board” with the upgrading process. After the installation of the water tap, replacing bucket and pit toilets with proper flush toilets constituted the next item on the community’s upgrading agenda.As such, the design for the WaSH facility was developed by the community with technical support from iKhayalami building team who project managed the building of the facility by working closely with community members who were employed through the project and who also received training from the iKhayalami team. The first phase was funded by the SHARE project through iKhayalami; the second phase will be funded by the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC). The facility consists of ten flush toilets, wash basin facilities for doing laundry, and a caretaker room where an upkeep employee will store amenities such as soap and toilet paper. Mzwanele describes that for the time being, the facility does not include showers: “This is setting a precedent. If in the future, we need to do it, we can consider putting in showers as well.”

The facility will become operational in a few weeks once the municipality finalises issues relating to supply chain management and connects the facility to the bulk electricity and waste systems. Mzwanele describes that engaging with Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Municipality was never a problem, but in the past, implementing projects proved to be a difficult and often lengthy process: “They were always promising that things would happen, but they were taking a long time.” The finalization of the facility—which will significantly improve sanitation conditions in Midrand—marks a breakthrough in the relationship between the community of Midrand, the ISN, and the Municipality. Mzwanele describes:

We started this process not knowing if either the mayor or senior officials of the Municipality would be happy with the kind of approach that we are doing with the community. But as we speak, we are working towards signing a Memorandum of Understanding [with the Municipality]. It’s not an easy thing—it takes time—and of course, the politicisation of our program is one of the key challenges that we are facing. Some of the people in the Municipality were doubting us, as the Alliance—that we perhaps belonged to a political party. But in the end, everyone understood that we are just helping those that are ready to help ourselves and that we are trying to organise and prepare communities that are ready for upgrading and development.

Mzwanele suggests that the implementation of the Midrand WaSH facility has paved the way for scaling up in-situ upgrading throughout the municipality and beyond, in other municipalities—however, change must be achieved incrementally, beginning at the community level:

At the moment, our key objective is to set a precedent with this one project so that they are able to see that we are not just talking. We are having some things on the ground that are happening so they can be able to see the improvement of services being done at the community level. Because if these people are able to use flush toilets, then of course, we’ll be talking about electrification of these settlements and other services that are required for the community. The other challenge that the community is facing—it’s a common problem nationally, of course: housing. They are living in wooden structures, plastic structures, but what else can they do? Whilst they are waiting for housing from government, they are living there. They’ve proposed with us that they would like to re-block their settlement. That means that they need to improve their top structures. Working very closely with the municipality, we will be able to bring more innovation.

The nearly complete Midrand WaSH Facility


“Learning From Those Who Have Walked the Path”: Sharing Learning from the 5 Cities Programme

5 Cities Seminar

Community members and government partner from Harare, Zimbabwe talk about their experiences with the 5 Cities Programme. 

By Chantal Hildebrand, SDI Secretariat 

Following the first two days of site visits and walkabouts in Mtshini Wam and Langrug, the final day of the 5 Cities Seminar consisted of country and municipality presentations and discussion in the City of Cape Town government building located in the heart of the city.  Unlike the first days’, which focused on sharing the Cape Town partnership, projects and overall experience, the final day’s schedule was dedicated to learning from the other 5 Cities around Africa.

After brief opening remarks from Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services Shehaam Sims thanking all the delegates for the participation in this conference, the delegation from Ghana was given the floor.  Through the 5 Cities Programme, the collaboration with the municipality of Ashaiman and the Ghana Homeless People’s Federation has made significant strides in terms of innovation around sanitation. Based on a common goal of providing toilets and waste management services to slums in Ashaiman, an area included in the Greater Accra region, the municipality and communities have come together address this community priority. As stated by the government official, Mr Anass Atchulo, this partnership has led to some significant changes in policy, with the creation of an informal settlement-upgrading department in the city of Accra is underway. Adding to Mr Atchulo’s words, Mrs Janet Abu, a community leader from Old Fadama settlement in Accra, mentioned the importance of community’s involvement, stating that without their initiative and work none of these projects could be realised.

Following Ghana’s presentation, Mr Costly Chanza from the Blantyre City Council, shared the challenges and successes experienced during the formation of a partnership between the Municipality of Blantyre and the Malawi Homeless People’s Federation. Proving that all slums are decidedly unique, the slums of Malawi are rather peri-urban, with low densities and characteristics reminiscent of a rural villages. As it was explained by Mr Partick Chikoti, a member of the supporting NGO in Malawi, “We cannot plan like the communities of Langrug or Mtshini Wam because the nature of our slums are completely different [with structures made out of home-made brick and cement]… so we find our own way of planning.” This is where the City comes in, sharing their technical support and advice to help the community implement projects such as sanitation units and drains. Similar to Ghana, the outcomes of this collaborative work has led to both the communities and city planners advocating for the creation of a human settlements planning section of the municipality to further meet the needs of the slums in Blantyre.

Continuing to share other experiences, the Zimbabwean delegation highlighted crucial lessons learned through the 5 Cities programme and the realities of creating partnerships. Through the partnership between the city council of Harare and slum dweller communities, the weight of responsibilities the city is faced with in terms of providing for its people has been lifted with the help of community-run initiatives. Mr James Chiyangwa from the city council of Harare shared that the communities “provide back-up systems of services that the city has failed to provide [to slum communities].” In turn, the city provides technical assistance, equipment, and advice to the communities in terms of planning. This collaboration has led to crucial changes in policy, including incremental buildin, which have been adopted as city policy, and the creation of a finance facility for the funding of slum upgrading to which both the governments and communities contribute. Drastically changing the mind-set of the government of Harare from the pervious belief that slums did not exist in Zimbabwe to beginning to recognize the existence of these settlements and finally to creating a working relationship between these two parties, this partnership allows these previously unseen informal settlements to take an active role in improving their living conditions and participating in local governance. As Mrs Sekai Catherine Chiremba, a federation member from Zimbabwe, summed it up, “we are planning with them, not them planning for us.”

The Uganda delegation finished the round of presentations adding their striking work in sanitation, water and waste management in multiple settlements in Kampala and across Uganda. With projects focusing on these central issues facing slum communities (along with the collaborative work between the community and the city), the KCC (Kampala City Council) has asked the National Slum Dwellers Federation in Uganda to submit a proposal of how the city can scale up current community-run sanitation and solid waste programmes. This achievement, along with the joint-work teams made up of the community members and city planners, has graduated the federation of Uganda to “a key ally [of the KCC] in terms of the processes geared towards improving the living conditions of slum communities,” (Mrs Sara Nandudu, federation member). This status has also been replicated in other municipalities where the federation and communities have begun partnerships with local governments.

5 Cities Seminar

Sara Nandudu of the National Slum Dweller Federation of Uganda. 

Although there are notable achievements that have been realised through these partnerships, it would be unrealistic to omit the challenges. All the delegations (including those from Cape Town and other South African cities) mentioned similar challenges, including:

  1. Slow results – as mentioned by multiple delegates from Uganda, Malawi, Cape Town, Ghana and Zimbabwe the processes are slow and the work takes time which can lead to community and municipal frustration and tensions;
  2. The struggle faced by many politicians and technocrats to learn how to do planning the way it is done by slum communities – as explained by many city representatives, planners do not learn how to work with or like the community, so the way communities plan does not follow the guidelines and procedures that the planners are taught. This can cause clashes between the two and can obstruct the progress of projects;
  3. Federation creating strong relationships with some departments in municipality while other departments are reluctant to participate in the partnership;
  4. Confusion of roles and responsibilities within municipal departments;
  5. Disagreements between federation members and municipality of how to proceed with the work;
  6. Strains due to lack of funds.

As Mrs Melanie Manuel summarised it − using a metaphor coined by Ms Rose Molokoane comparing these partnerships to marriages, “husbands and wives always fight…like we do in our partnerships… [Now we must think of] how do we enhance our partnership? How can we make this marriage work?”

It was agreed that the best way to answer these questions is through trust. Borrowing the phrase of Mr Chinyangwa of Zimbabwe, “without trust you cannot move forward.” Both municipalities and communities must learn to trust each other through these relationships. However, for this to be successful it is essential that these partnerships be inclusive, where slum dwellers are involved from the planning stages through implementation and finally into evaluation. Without community participation throughout the process the work is not sustainable. As Patrick Magebhula said, it is essential to have “community involvement, not just leadership…this is what is needed in order for projects to succeed.” 

Following the presentations of the visiting countries, the podium was opened for the representatives of municipalities outside of Cape Town, including the city of Johannesburg, Buffallo City and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. 

These presentations included little mention of current or future community participation or partnerships. Programmes already in place in many of these cities demonstrated a separation between communities and their governments, treating the slum dwellers as solely beneficiaries rather than key partners in upgrading initiatives. When questioned about this fragmentation, some of the municipalities mentioned their perception that the informal communities are disorganised, making it hard to work with them and appealed to ISN and CORC to help these communities mobilise.

5 Cities Seminar

Lutwamma Muhammed of the Ugandan support NGO. 

In concluding the conference, Ms Rose Molokoane posed a final question to the municipalities: “What are the critical issues that we would like to do with communities?” This brought up the topic of sharing between municipalities. Mr Lutwama Muhammed, from the support NGO in Uganda, shared that the municipalities’ presentations talked “more about what they are doing in terms of projects rather than describing how they learn from one another.” The invitation to these South African cities was extended in order to encourage learning and spark future plans for exchange visits and learning workshops. Ms Molokoane extended this invitation further by sharing a vision of these five cities (Buffallo City, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Cape Town and Stellenbosch) becoming the examples of a national level 5 Cities programme for South Africa. 

The ending reflection brought up key points to address upon delegates’ return to their own cities and to discuss in future 5 Cities seminars. These subjects included:

  • Discussions of how the pioneers who work with SDI can help share the core practices and support other cities who show interest in creating inclusive processes;
  • Need to capacitate communities to create their own partnerships or, as Trevor Masiy eloquently stated, “communities need to learn to speak for themselves.”
  • Begin looking at the structural issues of why we have slums and the root causes of their existence;
  • Considerations of other forums for these discussions and exchanges (such as the South African City Network);
  • How to ensure that agreements made in these forums and conferences will be realised on the ground;
  • And finally, the importance of scaling up and bringing these discussions and initiatives to city-wide and nation-wide levels.

Ms Molokoane tied off the three-day 5 Cities Seminar with these final words, “Let’s not only look at building projects, but building ourselves, taking care of ourselves, and making our lives better.”