Women Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye
By Skye Dobson, SDI
As the Black Panther movie continues to smash box office records and enthrall the world with fearless female African superheroes, a meeting in eThekwini last week suggests we brace ourselves for Women Transformers – coming to a city near you.
The words stretch out across her bosom: Women transforming the slums of our cities, the jet-black shirt and white lettering convey the same no-nonsense, bold authenticity as the woman with the sky-blue doek (headscarf) and thick wooden walking stick. Sitting at the shiny boardroom table in the Mayor’s parlor of the eThekwini Municipal Council offices, wiping the sweat from her brow, she looks decidedly like someone who understands that transformation is not a development cliché, but an overdue national imperative.
Mama Mkhabela, (full name, Nombulelo Anna Estevao) joined the shack dwellers federation (now called FEDUP) 30 years and one month ago. She recalls the first time she sat in on a savings group meeting in Lindelani informal settlement and heard women from the settlement talking about the need to come together to solve their problems. She says the women were telling each other that poor people can’t wait for government to give them things, but must start making change themselves. Shy and quiet back then, she recalls sitting back and listening to figure out what was going on. She soon joined the Sophumelela Savings Group and quickly gained the trust and respect of her fellow savers.
At first her husband was suspicious of her work with the federation. She recalls him secretly following her to a meeting in another community one time. The meeting lasted so long that he had to stay the night and help everyone get back to their places the following day. “From then on, he stopped fighting with me. He saw that I wasn’t up to any trouble and we were just working!” she says with a chuckle. The Sophumelela Savings Group secured housing loans from Utshani Fund – a part of the South Africa SDI Alliance – in 1999 and the women in the group set about building their own houses. Mama Mkhabela managed the loan repayments and moved from a bookkeeper to a treasurer and is now the regional leader of FEDUP in Kwa Zulu Natal. The region has 70 savings groups with 9,672 members and has built over 2,500 houses.
Mama Mkhabela had not come alone to see her mayor. Two comrades from FEDUP, Rose Molokoane and Emily Moholo, accompanied her. The three women have been engaged in the struggle to transform the lives of the poor for decades.
When apartheid ended and commitments were made to house the poor, there was a sense in many communities that the battle was won. Of course, it was soon painfully clear to communities living in shacks that the structure of society rather than the lack of houses was the true cause of their deepening poverty and exclusion. FEDUP and SDI supported communities in KZN to understand the need to shape policy and practice in the city – to support people-driven housing as well as informal settlement upgrading, improved livelihoods and savings, and better access to land and tenure security. “When we started”, says Mama Mkhabela, “there were very few women in city council. The officials were all men and they were very, very difficult. Only the late Patrick (former leader in FEDUP and the Informal Settlements Network) could penetrate the city.”
But times are changing.
Rose Molokoane, President of FEDUP and the Coordinator of SDI, grew up in an informal settlement called Oukasie in the South African town of Brits. Today Rose sits on a plethora of national and international bodies tasked with shaping land, housing, and urban policy and practice. Last year she was elected Chair of the World Urban Campaign where she champions the role of grassroots communities and local government partnership for implementing global agendas. On the international stage, eThekwini’s leadership frequently encounters Rose and other SDI community leaders. SDI’s unique local to global presence has slowly but surely convinced the city of the need to partner with shack dwellers in eThekwini and has quite literally secured these women a seat at the mayor’s table.
Emily Moholo, meanwhile, was born in Mafikeng and is a member of Ithuseng Savings Group. She is a regional leader of FEDUP in the Free State and chairperson of the provincial joint working group on partnerships between the municipality, provincial government, and the Federation. She is also a member of the SDI Management Committee, and supports the SDI affiliates throughout the Southern Africa region to build strong slum dweller federations and partnerships with local government.
Mama Mkhabela, Rose and Emily invited one of the Directors of the SDI Secretariat (a woman) and the Chief Executive Officer of Global Infrastructure Basil (another woman) to accompany them. The women’s joint mission was to: a) update the Mayor on the South African SDI Alliance’s work, b) request that their MOA with eThekwini Municipality’s Human Settlements Department be expedited and signed before the close of the financial year, c) request that the Know Your City campaign be recognized by the city as an important strategy for collaborative informal settlement action to build resilience and guide climate-friendly investment in infrastructure and upgrading, d) introduce the city to GIB and share an update on the SDI/GIB partnership, and e) to demonstrate SDI and the SA Alliance’s intention to increase support to city efforts to become a leader in inclusive climate and resilience informal settlement action and to accelerate implementation of commitments made in the New Urban Agenda towards the SDGs.
“We don’t come to the mayor looking for handouts” says Rose. “We’re bringing ideas, partners the city needs, and we’re ready to work.”
From the City’s side, there were three strong women at the table. Mayor Zandile Gumede is among a growing cadre of female mayors leading global discussions to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable urban citizens are at the center of climate change responses. She currently serves as the Chair of C40 Africa where she advocates this approach. Globally, the number of women mayors is rising rapidly, which many believe bodes well for inclusive resilience planning and implementation. Indeed, the Resilience Strategy of eThekwini Municipality, formally adopted by the eThekwini Municipality Council in August 2017, is spearheaded by an all-female team comprising Debra Roberts (award-winning global climate change leader), Jo Douwes, and Manisha Hassan, is a product of a four-year consultative process with a broad and diverse group of Durban’s stakeholders. The SA SDI Alliance provided critical inputs to one of the two critical Resilience Building Options of the Strategy, namely: collaborative informal settlement action.
The Mayor said that it was refreshing indeed to engage with groups so clearly seeking positive change. She expressed confidence in the Human Settlements team’s ability to get the MOA signed quickly to ensure stronger communication and implementation at greater speed. She recommended that implementation of the MOA involve the convening of administrative and political officials in order to strengthen leadership capacity at all levels. She highlighted the need to work together to advance the city’s 5 year agenda and to ensure eThekwini, the SA SDI Alliance, and SDI continue to collaborate at the local and global level to showcase the power of community-government partnership for implementation of global urban and climate agendas.
Chairing the meeting was former Head of Department for Human Settlements at eThekwini Municipality, and recently appointed Deputy City Manager for Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Transport, Beryl Mphakathi. Beryl has been a tireless champion of the partnership and MOA between the SA SDI Alliance and the Human Settlements Department. At the request of the team, she committed herself to ensuring the MOA is signed before the end of the current financial year. Beryl explained that the MOA is necessary to “formalize our partnership…to pull all our efforts together and to commit our capacity and time.” Beryl invited the Acting Head of Department for Human Settlements to attend the meeting and ensure the MOA is tabled in time.
When Mama Mkhabela speaks of Beryl she says, “Truly speaking I’m so happy. We are very lucky to have a woman in that position. I can say, she respects me. I respect her. She took a while to understand the federation, but when she did she started to call me her mother. Even if I call her at night she has to respond. If she can’t answer your question right away, she will call you back. We work hand in hand.” When women can forge authentic, humble, thoughtful relationships such as these, institutional partnerships between the city and communities that are based on respect and practical action emerge. Such partnerships have the potential to mitigate the overinflated egos, political turf battles, short-sighted and self-serving approaches that have characterized male-dominated city politics in eThekwini and beyond.
While the centrality of women’s social relationships as a critical resource in community-based political mobilization has long been recognized in South Africa and abroad, city decision making remains dominated by males. If the walls of the Mayoral Boardroom could talk they would have countless tales of hustlers hustling on behalf of their own personal interests. But these women are hustlers acting in the interest of their community. Women transformers from the community, the city, and the international development sector have the opportunity to generate practical collaborations and partnerships to shift the status quo through new models of leadership and pragmatic action aimed at improving the lives of communities. Critically, women transformers from the community must not devalue the power within themselves by elevating leaders or partners – male or female – above the grassroots collectives from which they emerged.
Let’s keep an eye on eThekwini’s community, professional, and government Women Transformers and see if, indeed, they can transform city governance and the slums of their cities as the t-shirt promises.
SDI is often asked, What about the men? Of course, men are an integral part of the SDI movement and the struggle for inclusive and resilient cities. In the meeting described, there were inspiring and committed male leaders and professionals: namely, Jeff Thomas from Utshani Fund, Ndodeni Dengo from Informal Settlement Network (ISN), and Arnotte Payne from CORC (all part of the SA SDI Alliance). These men toil hand-in-hand, day-in and day-out with the women mentioned in this blog. As a leader from SNCC (Civil Rights Movement in the USA) once said of working with strong women leadership, “you come to realize that manhood isn’t the ability to knock someone down but finding your own humanity.” Jeff, Ndodeni, and Arnotte embody this viewpoint and understand that it is not heroic individuals but committed organizers that will sustain a movement and transform the status quo.
By Robert M. Buckley, Achilles Kallergis, and David Satterthwaite
Forty-two years after Habitat I—the first international commitment toward an urban agenda—urban poverty persists, the number of slum dwellers continues to increase, and hundreds of millions lack access to the basic services associated with city living: shelter, water and sanitation, and jobs. How is it possible that in 2018 a silent urban crisis continues unabated—right alongside global pronouncements and aspirations of inclusive, resilient, and “smart” cities?
✸ ✸ ✸
The idea that cities and urban policy play an extraordinarily important role in the development process is increasingly recognized, though still given low priority by most international agencies and national governments. The New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals attempt to elevate the role of cities as crucial spaces where struggles for inclusive and resilient development will be won or lost. Almost all the world’s governments endorsed the SDGs’ commitment to “leave no one behind.” How far are we from this reality, and what will it take to make sure cities become inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable?
These questions resonate strongly for the urban poor. The population of slum dwellers by absolute numbers is on the rise. In many low-income countries, the growth of slum populations has been more rapid than the average urban growth. In some regions, access to the basic improvements associated with city living—better health, stable jobs, good housing, and vital household services—have yet to materialize for the majority of urbanites. In addition, the projected demographic growth in cities of the Global South makes previous urbanization phases seem like ripples in a stream. While urban growth rates are declining, almost all of the growth in the urban population—from 4 billion in 2015 to over a projected 6 billion by 2050—is expected to take place in low- and middle-income countries. By 2050, these cities, already facing acute challenges in terms of access to land, shelter, and services, will need to absorb over 2 billion people, increasing their total urban population by 75 percent. There is a narrow window of opportunity to address the needs of current and future city dwellers, particularly the most vulnerable slum dwellers.
Do We Know Our Cities? Revisiting Assumptions About Urban Development
The inability to improve the living conditions in cities for so many urban dwellers makes it imperative for us to reexamine the basic assumptions underlying urban development policy and practice.
Flawed Assumption 1: Informal settlements are temporary way stations for the urban poor on the path to modernity and prosperity.
It is assumed that as countries urbanize, welfare gradually improves, and the corresponding increases in income help societies afford more and better housing, increased educational opportunities, improved health care, and other amenities. It is also understood that urban density lowers unit costs for most services and contributes to greater innovation and creativity. By this logic, informal settlements are temporary way stations on the path to modernity and prosperity.
However, when urbanization takes place without job opportunities and infrastructure, urban density does not contribute to innovation and growth. On the contrary, without provision of safe shelter and services, density becomes deadly and costly. The fact that most of the urban population in many low- and middle-income countries now resides in informal settlements—often for generations—implies that these locations have become poverty traps rather than stepping-stones to prosperity.
Flawed Assumption 2: Slum dwellers benefit from better overall health conditions in urban areas.
It has long been assumed that an increase in the share of the population living in cities assures significant improvements in health through what is called the “urban health premium”—that is, better health conditions are found in cities than rural areas.
However, while this “urban health premium” has played an important role in improving welfare throughout the world, it appears to be disappearing in many cities. In at least two African cities for which data is available—Nairobi and Dar es Salaam—infant and child mortality rates among urban poor groups approach and sometimes exceed rural averages. In some cases, health outcomes among low-income urban dwellers are far worse than among low-income rural dwellers.
Flawed Assumption 3: The conditions of the urban poor can be improved without their involvement in planning processes.
There is an assumption that improving the conditions of the urban poor can be done without detailed knowledge of what their living conditions are. Moreover, it is assumed planning priorities in informal settlements can be set without consulting the residents, suggesting housing, infrastructure services, and resilient communities can be built without consideration of people’s incomes, needs, and preferences.
However, while knowledge about cities overall is growing, our knowledge of urban poverty and the living conditions of slum dwellers in particular is seriously lacking. Although contemporary urban practice recognizes and underlines the need for greater participation and better data, there is no mechanism in place to systematically assess and collect information about the living conditions of the urban poor. Official reporting on housing, basic services, and health vectors relies, for the most part, on urban averages that obscure the challenges in informal settlements.
Going Forward: Inclusivity Is Not Automatic
Inclusive outcomes demand inclusive knowledge and action. The above flawed assumptions beg the question: How can we “leave no one behind” if there are hundreds of millions of urban dwellers whose needs are undocumented, whose voices are unheard, and whose capacities are ignored? We simply cannot produce nuanced definitions of “poverty” unless these are grounded in local data and knowledge.
For cities to serve as engines of inclusion, growth, and development for all inhabitants, especially those who are poor and vulnerable, policies and institutions must be constructed with the explicit intent of facilitating and safeguarding social, political, and economic inclusion for all residents.
Collaborative planning leads to collaborative action. Such action can resolve the concerns of low-income residents in practical, affordable, and scalable ways while motivating local government to realize the benefits of engaging the community in dialogue and viewing community members as valuable partners and constituents. Considerable evidence shows that including the voices and capacities of urban poor households and community organizations in planning and implementation leads to collective action that produces more inclusive and sustainable outcomes.
Complex cities require collaborative planning and insights from local knowledge and data. The capacity to act fast and effectively almost always rests on adequate knowledge. The SDGs acknowledge the need for disaggregated data, but little data exists that can be disaggregated to settlement level, and the system continues to use urban averages that perpetuate myths and flawed assumptions. Many of those left behind simply cannot be found in the data, and if you are not in the data, you (and your needs and capacities) do not count.
✸ ✸ ✸
In the chapters that follow, authors from government, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), and public-private partnerships outline proven and emergent solutions that hold greater promise for enhancing inclusiveness and resilience at scale. These solutions highlight the fundamental importance of collective action and partnership in addressing the growing challenges of the urban poor. Specifically, we will explore the Know Your City campaign and how federations have collected systematic data on conditions in their communities that matches or exceeds the credibility and reliability of much more expensive surveys and catalyzes the organization of communities and partnerships required for collective action.
The data has unmet potential to assess whether SDGs are being met in informal settlements—the very places where people are being left behind. We must acknowledge that we can and must do better. We must also recognize that new insights and partnerships with the urban poor can lead to new ways of thinking and acting that inspire and catalyze transformative change.
In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. Over the next weeks, we will post a new chapter from the book every week and related material on our social media platforms daily. Enjoy!
Download the full publication here: http://bit.ly/2seRc0x
Southern African Slum Dwellers Strategise Ahead of World Urban Forum 2018
*This article originally appeared on the SA SDI Alliance blog.*
By Kwanda Lande, on behalf of CORC
On 11 February 2018, the ninth World Urban Forum (WUF9) will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. WUF9 will have a specific thematic focus on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda(NUA). This theme of implementation is particularly important to urban poor residents and federation leaders of SDI’s Southern African countries, especially as the NUA relates to informal settlements.Twice a year, representatives of SDI‘s Southern African urban poor federations (Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Zambia) gather as a regional “hub” to strategise, report, share challenges, and plan for mutual learning. The recent Southern African SDI hub took place between 15 – 18 November 2017 in Johannesburg. Given the timing of the hub ahead of WUF9, the Federations invited Zou Kota-Fredricks, the South African Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, and Parks Tau, president of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to open the hub and engage in discussions on the implementation of the NUA.
In the lead up to Habitat III, SDI’s East and Southern African federations had a strong presence at the UN Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Informal Settlements in Pretoria in April 2016. The meeting culminated in the Pretoria Declaration on Informal Settlements. SDI federations advocated that the NUA commit to
- Supporting the self-organising processes of communities (such as data collection and learning exchanges) to partner effectively with governments and other urban actors
- Using community-collected informal settlement data as the basis of collaborative informal settlement policy making and development planning.
How Southern African slum dwellers view the NUA
The NUA provides a new framework that lays out how cities should be planned and managed to best promote sustainable urbanisation. It talks about strengthening and creating inclusive partnerships, and people centred development. It suggests that the voice of community organisations be heard. However, for urban poor residents, the challenge, is establishing and maintaining partnerships especially at the level of municipalities where most of community organising activities are taking place and where development is expected to happen. This means that urban poor residents are struggling to gain recognition from municipal systems, and that they have not found ways of institutionalising local government – community partnerships in decision making and planning processes.
In Cape Town, for example, the South African SDI Alliance had established a strong partnership with the local municipality and jointly implemented several upgrading initiatives. However, since the last upgrading project in 2014, it has taken more than three years to progress to the next one. One of the contributing factors to this delays relate to the lack of hand-over of the partnership to successive heads of departments and senior project managers. The consequences of which is the loss of institutional memory and knowledge of the working partnership in a time of high staff turn-over within the municipality.
In conversation with Parks Tau and Zou Kota-Fredericks, SDI’s Southern African federation members highlighted their priority of a NUA that is localised, meaning “that we want partnerships at a local government level”. An example is SDI’s partnership with UCLG on the Know Your City campaign, which promotes community-collected data on informal settlements as the basis for partnerships between slum dwellers and their local governments. The Southern African federations expressed:
…We want to work – together with government, UCLG, and the private sector – on collecting data and using this information to participate in decision making, implementation, and monitoring the implementation of the NUA. For example, in South Africa we want to see the Department of Human Settlements creating a forum that will meet more regularly to monitor the implementation of the NUA. This forum should be inclusive to the level that ensures that poor communities are involved.
The fact that government and civil society are working in the same space of local government with similar vision of community development demands a partnership. Both Parks Tau and Zou Kota-Fredericks, agreed for a local forum- South African forum. Parks also suggested for a Southern Africa forum that will sure case a partnership of government and civil society at that level:
At the start of 2018, before the World Urban Forum, we have to work together to convene a meeting to discuss a way forward on how we are going to work together and also to prepare a case study to present at the WUF9. The know your city campaign – data collection by communities is one tool that we are going to use to hold and strengthen our partnership. This will also be an opportunity for all partners to raise their expectations from this partnership.
The state of local government partnerships in some countries in the Southern Africa region
Southern African SDI federations spoke about the state of partnerships between themselves and their local governments as a way of offering some learning points on how to implement the NUA. Some of SDI’s federations have managed to establish well functioning partnerships: In Botswana, the partnership between the local government of Francistown and the Botswana Homeless and Poor People’s Federation involves community members and government collectively collecting community data, identifying and implementing projects. This has allowed the Botswana federation to conduct profiling and enumeration in Francsitown (Somerset West and Somerset East), identify and implement infrastructure projects together with local authorities. A major contributing factor to this work has been the presence of officials on the ground, working hand in hand with federation members around data collection.
In Namibia, slum dwellers have managed to establish local government partnerships with municipalities such as Gobabis where the Shack Dwellers federation of Namibia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the local authority for upgrading Freedom Square informal settlement. This resulted in the Ministry of Rural Development contributing N$ 8 million and Gobabis local municipality contributing technical expertise. Officials of Gobabis municipality worked with the community of Freedom Square in data collection, community planning and implementation of different upgrading phases. In this project officials made sure that they were always on the ground. As a result they were quick to respond to projects issues. They did not impose solutions or approaches to solving problems but instead provided the necessary support for slum dwellers to implement their plans.
[caption id="attachment_4972" align="alignnone" width="610"] Delegates of the Southern Africa region hub meeting representing Urban poor federations form Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.[/caption]What are the main priorities of SDI’s Southern African urban poor federations ahead of WUF9?