In Uganda, Partnerships for Upgrading Make Change on the Ground

Arua Municipality TSUPU

by Hellen Nyamweru, ACTogether Uganda 

The partnership between the Federation and local government in Arua municipality has emerged exemplary in the first phase of TSUPU. This is thanks largely to community engagements and actually standing for what the program is based on. TSUPU, meaning Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda, has served its purpose to a great extent in Arua Municipality. 

Arua municipality, located approximately 480 kilometers northwest of Kampala, and the largest city in the district, has demonstrated an impressive understanding as far as TSUPU is concerned. When you find communities informed of all the development programs under TSUPU and having participated in the actual implementation of the same, then you know there has been positive impact on local governance in Arua. For communities to be in possession of all the community upgrading fund projects’ documents for all the transactions involved means there has truly been a transformation and empowerment of settlements of the urban poor. You can actually touch it! And it is exciting to witness this happening. 

In a recent monitoring exercise, communities in Arua and the municipality technocrats clearly showed how meaningful collaborative working relationships can be developed and sustained for the development of Arua. The manner in which issues have taken course in Arua leaves one full of admiration and awe and calling for such powerful collective effort to be replicated elsewhere in the country. Arua municipality and the community have managed to form a web of interconnected efforts that support one another. 

Arua federation is now an active change agent in the municipality, having been awarded monies to take on different projects in the municipality after a successful proposal competition. Through this undertaking the communities have felt valued by the municipality; they are thriving and want to go the extra miles to make their municipality a city. It is now clear that collaboration of different efforts is a sine qua non to development; it cannot be achieved in isolation. 

Generally, the TSUPU project in Arua has contributed greatly to bringing the municipal officials and the communities closer. In the past, communities felt left out in many of the development ventures in Arua, but from a couple of interviews with the different communities and municipal technocrats who gave their account of the TSUPU projects, this initiative has been one of a kind. 

When the community upgrading funds were received in Arua municipality, the news was publicized to raise citizens’ awareness and participation in the utilization and accountability of the fund. Communities started coming up with different projects to undertake and forwarded them to the municipality for approval. The communities in Arua were truly recognized as partners in development and were involved in the selection and planning of the projects. They also participated actively in project implementation, monitoring and evaluation. 

The Community Development Officer Mr.Geoffrey Edema, who was working closely with the secretary to the Municipal Development Forum, Mr. Martin Andama, together subjected the communities’ proposals to technical appraisal so as to clarify any issues, and later invited the same communities to go through the pros and cons of different proposals. After deciding which projects to implement communities received communication from the municipality in writing as to whether their projects’ had gone through the selection phase successfully or otherwise. Those projects whose proposals were successful then received funds for the project in their various accounts. 

The different groups then sourced for contractors to carry out the different projects (with guidance from the municipality) so as to make the whole process as transparent as possible. Several contractors were considered, depending on prior experience and to ensure nobody takes advantage of unsuspecting communities. 

After agreeing on the contractors to carry out the work, communities – with guidance from the municipality – took charge of the process of approving project commencement. A contractor would write directly to a community with a copy to the municipality requesting a particular sum of money to carry out specific tasks, but would not get the funds without inspection of the work already on the ground by the community in charge of the project with the municipal engineer and other technocrats. In this way, the contractor was kept in check and he could not afford to do sub-standard work. 

In case of delays where the contractor felt he was falling behind schedule, he would write to the community with a copy to Arua municipality requesting for an extension of the time given. There was no time for verbal apologies or broken promises as has been common in the past; the process was strict and very transparent. 

In the words of one Abbas Matata, a slum dweller in Arua and a leader in the federation in charge of negotiations and partnership, the TSUPU projects in the first phase gave communities the sense of being part and parcel of their own development. ‘When you hear us roaring, don’t just wonder, now you know, we felt so much in charge of these projects. we were like people working in those offices we once feared before and just putting down our signatures to approve the millions of funds in our accounts for the projects felt so good, we felt empowered’’ . 

Of the six projects implemented in Arua under TSUPU, five are complete and are already serving the communities in the municipality. They have registered positive impacts and they have become the talk of the municipality. What is left is to have a Memorandum of Understanding put in place between the municipality and the communities, especially those that are directly linked to a community (such as the water projects) to ensure the projects are kept in the hands of communities for sustainability and replication of the same in other needy areas. By ‘sustainability’ the federation means to ensure that the project is maintained in good condition: for example that the water bills are paid in time to avoid disconnection and the collection area kept clean to ensure water is clean at all times. His Worship, the Mayor of Arua, Charles Asiki and the Deputy Mayor Kalsum Abdu have assured the federation of their support in this regard, as well as in other upcoming activities for the development of Arua city. 

Below are the projects in detail: 

 Arua Municipality TSUPU




The project involved the fencing of a public primary school, Bibia Primary School, which serves as an educational facility for the children of Pangisha ward and the neighbouring parish Mvara. Before the fencing, the school was in such a state that every person would trespass onto the school premises and the children would not concentrate because of this kind of interruption. The school property was also vandalized; for instance, school doors and windows would go missing from time to time. The school sanitation facilities were always in a mess because they were used by the general public. The school land would get encroached from time to time and there were disputes over this. The school’s performance was low and absenteeism was high because children could come and go as they pleased. Parents and guardians could not monitor them and some would join dangerous groups due to peer pressure in the pretext of attending school. 

Alioderuku Mixed savings group, a group in Oluod cell made up of 30 members (22 women and 8 men) wrote the proposal to have the school fenced because of the aforementioned issues. Most of the members in this group are widows and have children and grandchildren in the school and they wanted to correct the state of affairs. 

Since the fencing of the school, many positive impacts have been registered: children are now kept in school and they can be monitored by their parents and teachers. The school’s performance has also gone up and it is now taking in more pupils than before. The school’s property is now protected and there are no more disputes over the school’s land. What exists now in the area is peace and a good learning environment to study so as to make responsible persons of Uganda’s future leaders. The project shows that the federation recognizes education as a key element to development. The project has meant greater exposure for federation practices in Arua and people are very aware of the works of the federation, with many having joined after seeing such tangible evidence coming right into their community. They have been introduced to the federation rituals of saving and are doing just that to ensure they are change agents in Arua municipality. 

The group continues to save and have a total of UGX 3,500,000 in daily savings and have loaned UGX 3,000,000. They have an excellent loaning system with a strict loan officer – an elderly lady called Alupo, also nicknamed ‘catechist ‘because of her strict nature and emphasis on adherence of loan repayment. Their urban poor basket has UGX 355,000. They have several projects such as poultry farming, confectionery, and tailoring and they are also traders of honey from the Congo-Uganda and Sudan-Uganda border. According to the chairperson of the group, Chandiru Esther, the members are thinking of writing a skills development proposal to try and see if they could benefit from the 2nd phase of TSUPU by getting some funds to assist in skill development so as to continue uplifting themselves. 




This project involved the construction of a foot bridge connecting several areas in the municipality; Pajulu-Prison, Adiko cells and Bazaar and Mutu cells. The project came in place due to bad experiences the community had as a result of flooding. Arua generally has hot and dry climate but it has some rainy seasons when the region experiences heavy rains that sometimes cause floods and affect many households. The culvert bridge was constructed to guard against such an occurrence because it will divert the water to appropriate channels. In the past, such floods would mean no business between the neighbouring counties during the rains, it would also cause death of young children and animals who would be carried away by the waters of Afra. The bridge therefore would serve as a remedy for this. 

The bridge is now in place and has addressed these needs. The residents are no longer afraid of the wet rainy season; they know things will be different this time around. It has also reduced the distance between the neighbouring cells. Nowadays, residents do not have to trek long distances or go through another cell to access the neighbouring one. It is now simple. School children are also enjoying the facility; in the past they would cover long distances to and from school, leaving little time to study. Business is now booming, keeping in mind that Arua people are very enterprising and hardworking with a big number of immigrants from Congo and Sudan. It is clear that this town is growing at a very fast pace. 

Afra B savings group, the group responsible for bringing the project into the locality, have all the documents concerning the project and actively participated in its implementation. At one time there was a delay in completing as the project specified and the contractor had to formally write to the group requesting a grace period. This shows the strictness observed in this project and the communities now feel very valued in the whole process. Mzee Khamisi Marjan had this to say, ‘I could not believe the contractor writing to us apologizing for not completing in time but committing himself to finishing over a specified period, this was unheard of, we have never heard of this! we felt respected for that,. I am an old man and I tell you I have witnessed it projects left incomplete by contractors who knew nobody would do anything to them. But in our case, it was different, we knew we mattered’

Arua Municipality TSUPU




This project involved the provision of water in the locality of Nsambia in order to ease access to this precious commodity for the many households in this area. Before the project establishment, the community would crowd around the only available water point or consume water from unknown sources after purchasing it from people who circulate water on bicycles, which in many cases would lead to diseases. 

Arua Municipality TSUPU

According to the households interviewed, this project has saved them from paying exploitative costs for water charged during the dry season. In the past they would pay UGX 700 per jerry can; but now they only pay UGX 100 for the water. It has also reduced congestion and quarrels at water points. These are now issues of the past, and people are very organized now. From various views of many men in the area, the project has had an impact right at the family level; misunderstandings between husbands and wives over suspicion of unfaithfulness when the women are out fetching water for long hours are no longer there. Some women also reported that cases of rape and harassment have gone down because they do not walk in the dark anymore. In the past such misfortunes were common, though they would go unreported because women feared reporting to the police due to reprisals. Women are now more productive, having more time to utilize for other activities, rather than spending much of it seeking water. Many of the community members interviewed also shared that the water point has greatly contributed to reduced cases of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. The epidemics are a thing of the past in Arua municipality. To the federation at large ,the project has been able to mobilize many into the federation and they have joined saving groups. 




Arua Municipality TSUPU

This project was awarded to a group in Zambia cell made up of women, most of who are wives to teachers in Mvara senior secondary school. They implemented the project in conjunction with Arua municipality and they possess all the necessary documents for the project. The project was to serve several zones in Mvara which lack water. According to residents, they have suffered from the lack of water for as long as they can remember. Since completion of the project, the borehole is now operational and is serving more than 250 households in Mvara. Its management is organized in such way that each zone is represented in deciding matters concerning the borehole, including the charge per month, the collection, and security and maintenance of the borehole. 

There are five zones in the area i.e. Coast zone, Ndrifa zone, Orube zone, Anyafio West and Anyafio East zones. Each zone has two representatives on the borehole management committee. The representatives meet regularly to discuss matters pertaining to the borehole & water delivery and propose suggestions for the monthly charge to be paid by consumers. This creates a unified meeting after mobilizing residents of the various zones they represent and then the proposed charges are discussed to arrive at a consensus. Other matters of security and fencing of the borehole also take the same course. The federation is well represented in the committees and is doing a good job of mobilizing other members into the federation and into the culture of saving. 



GROUP AWARDED: ARICEN WOMEN A1, A2, B1, B2, C1C2, D1 savings group 


This project is soon coming to completion and all operations are moving well to ensure that it is finished within the period of grace granted. It suffered several setbacks from the weather conditions to community dynamics and land disputes but all has been resolved to ensure that the community gets the long-awaited foot bridge to connect Oli A and Oli B to Dadama County. Through consultative meetings between the municipality and the communities, many matters were resolved with a few communities compensated over land. The bridge is set to complete in the month of March and is very welcome in the area. It will shorten the distance covered to access different cells, widen the economic window and diversify economic activities in the area, ultimately putting a stop to the problems caused by floods in the area during the rainy season. 

The Aricen women savings group is made of many women, with a few men having joined the group after seeing the successes it was registering. The group has all the documents pertaining to the project and has been very instrumental in resolving disputes around the project, some emanating from the very contentious item – land. They also helped iron out the expectations and misconceptions of TSUPU as a project in the area. 

Aricen is a powerful, large federation group (as the name suggests) from A to D covering various cells in Oli. They have a very good loaning system and have been able to undertake several livelihood projects such as goat rearing, basket making, mat weaving, tailoring and bead works, which generate some good income for them. The ability to partner with the municipality on this project has been a very big achievement to them.



This project was implemented by communities, most of them local council leaders in Arua, but not specifically members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda. The implementers have however employed many slum dwellers who collect the refuse in the various localities of Arua town to keep the town clean. They have also provided garbage skips in different locations of the town to act as collection points. The project is doing well and although there is a need to scale up to keep Arua clean, the project has been able to contribute positively to the reduction of refuse around the central business district. There are already scenic benefits and the air is not heavy or filthy anymore. With time, and probably with the guidance of the municipality, the group will find ways of scaling up. Solid waste management is proving to be a vibrant area to invest in; it could bring back so much and provide employment to many people if well organized. 

Looking at how the first phase of TSUPU has taken course in Arua, one is left admiring the collaboration between the municipality and the federation and hoping that things will continue getting better and better as we get into the second phase. Community capacity has been built, their negotiations, management and procurement skills sharpened; they have been empowered and are change agents in the municipality. TSUPU has received a lot of credit among the Arua residents as a program that promotes good, governance and management, for the prudent utilization of the funds to benefit the Ugandan citizenry, especially the poor and marginalized, as well as foster equitable national development.

Taking Water & Sanitation to the Citywide Scale

Kisenyi, Kampala

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

Developmental agendas on the global stage generally involve a reliance on statistics. The millennium development goals (MDG’s) provide quantifiable targets for countries to work towards. For example Goal 7, Target 7C aims to halve the global population without access to sustainable drinking water and sanitation.  The official website for the recent Rio+20 conference on sustainable development proudly boasts of USD $513 billion mobilized in commitments focused on transport, green economy, disaster reduction, desertification, water, forests and agriculture.

 Statistics are interesting since they can capture a vastly complex and multi-faceted problem and reduce it into quantifiable terms. This makes sense when speaking to a global audience on a global stage. Results, progress and challenges can be “packaged” into numbers that can be increased or reduced through interventions. The seemingly obvious point worth stressing is that global statistics and the march towards them imply sustainable solutions that can go to citywide scale. Solutions thus need social, political and practical traction to tackle the structural conditions that produce endemic urban poverty. Critically they also need to cater for the poorest of the poor.

While global platforms focus on making sweeping changes and commitments one wonders how deeply below the surface they scratch? Do they begin to unravel the complex relationships between competing politics, history, planning, design, spatial exclusion, policy and practice that are interwoven in defining how cities are and have been shaped? Structural conditions of spatial exclusion are built into the urban fabric and cemented through multiple interwoven processes defining the forms of cities-largely excluding the poor from services and benefits. Proposed solutions on the global stage tend to disaggregate this interconnectivity into different “silos” to be treated as separate difficulties through separate interventions. Furthermore there is a an assumption that solutions, focused on their specific “silos” can be produced by top down interventions at large scales; through adjustments to existing systems of governance and development, through the re-imagination of capital and the introduction of new technologies.  What is missing is recognition of the value of community experience that can engage with decisions as they play out on the ground-a far cry from the podiums of international events

Zim - Dvarisekwa - Skyloo Construction

Constructing an Ecosan sanitation unit in Zimbabwe

The Malawian, Tanzanian, Zimbabwean and Zambian SDI federations are grappling with taking water and sanitation solutions to citywide scale from the bottom up. At a recent meeting hosted by the Malawian team some of the key points raised affirm the complexity of taking sanitation to citywide scale. Examples from the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Pakistan illustrate the potential for communities to take sanitation solutions to scale.

Different technological sanitation options were raised during the meeting in. Communities frame sanitation technology in social, political and financial terms. No “wonder toilet technology,” no matter how touted it is on the international stage can have impact unless it makes sense within the local context.  What becomes clear is that it is not the technology that strictly matters but the processes that exist around it; does it make sense socially, financially and locally?

Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Pakistan is an example of sanitation technology that “fits” into daily life-it makes social as well as technical sense. The system has encouraged informal communities (Katchi Abadis) in Karachi to develop internal sewerage systems (latrines, sanitary lanes and collection sewers) that follow the natural drainage channels of the settlement (nalas). Organised communities finance, manage and build sanitation solutions that they now have ownership of, and a vested interest in maintaining. Sewerage lanes feed into trunk sewers provided by the state-a political partnership is forged.

Holistic approaches that have the buy-in of communities can mobilize political action and momentum. Influencing written policy is not enough. Government needs to be drawn into collaborative partnerships that show how community engagement can enhance and benefit service delivery. For example authorities in Blantyre can assist in linking informal settlements to trunk sewer and water systems. 

In Pakistan the OPP created the political momentum and practical evidence to meaningfully engage the state around an area in which they had previously had little impact. The OPP also showed an alternative solution rather than merely making a call for limited state resources. It made sense for both the poor and the state to invest, at scale, in this model.

In terms of the scale of investments, in Karachi’s katchi abadis, people have invested Rs 180 million (US$ 3 million) and government has invested Rs 531 million (US$ 8.85 million) in sewerage through ad hoc projects.  Similarly, people have invested Rs 154.5 million (US$ 2.58 million) in water lines and government has invested Rs 195.7 million (US$ 3.26 million).  These households have built their neighborhood sanitation systems, and their total investment is around one-sixth of what it would have cost if local government had undertaken the same work. Outside of Orangi, the work has expanded to 419 settlements in Karachi and 23 cities/ towns also in 85 villages (spread over the Sindh and Punjab Provinces) covering a population of more than 2 million”

Eco-San Toilets Malawi

Ecosan toilets in Malawi

If sanitation provision is to go citywide communities are all too aware that a variety of deeply contextualized options must be available in the same city and even the same settlement. Discussions in Malawi emphasized the need for a variety of options and systems that are affordable for the poorest of the poor. Communal financing and management of public toilets, the rehabilitation and revitalization of government toilets, eco-sanitation models and localized communal septic tanks that do not have to be linked to the main sewer system were all discussed. 

Citywide water and sanitation finance models that provide small loans to slum dwellers are already in place in many SDI affiliates (e.g. India and Uganda) and and could provide the financial backing to take such an approach to scale.  To reach a citywide scale financial options for sanitation must cater to the poorest of the poor within a settlement and it is here that the SDI federations have a vital role to play. A citywide model is a model that works because the urban poor wish to invest their finances and can access a service that works for them through this investment. The scale of investment in OPP shows the impact that is possible when sanitation is affordable to all and makes sense locally.

By March 2010, 112,562 households had provided themselves with sanitation through 7,893 collective initiatives organised in lanes, representing 90 per cent of the entire settlement of Orangi. Collectively, communities invested P Rps. 115 million of their own money in their sewerage system, with the government investment being P Rps. 745 million. From 1997, OPP-RTI started to work outside of Orangi by documenting and mapping settlements and infrastructures and drainage system across Karachi; and increasing level of engagement with concerned government departments and agencies such as the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority, as well as Karachi community-based organisations.

Sanitation and water provision are not a distinct “silo” but are part of developing strategies for informal settlement upgrading across the city. Recognition of the multiple factors that affect sanitation were expressed by the federations throughout the meeting. Discussions covered planning standards and regulations being outdated and ill suited to informal settlements, the physical geography of settlements and how this affects sanitation options, the challenges of accessing local funds from government, the fluctuating costs of building materials and what materials are acceptable amidst many other problems. It is clear that all these issues are deeply intertwined but often “housed” in different areas of the state, market and city.

Injections of capital and global political commitments are only as good as their ability to understand and engage with the complexity that is on the ground. At a large scale, on an international podium these grounded details appear far and removed, something that enough money and political maneuvering can sort out “over there”.  However as these ideas and actions move from the international stage they are invariably translated and altered only once again to be re-constituted as coherent and rational at the next meeting. Perhaps it is time for the flow of information to move the other way round? To embrace the complexities, contradictions and details that the Malawians, Tanzanians, Zimbabweans and Zambians are working with, to realize that solutions need to cater to the poorest of the poor, that there is no single technological “silver bullet ” for urban poverty and better understand the ingrained systematic links that perpetuate exclusionary urban forms. OPP shows that grounded community models do work at scale and need to be afforded serious consideration and investment.

In South Africa, Ms. Mandela Learns from the Community at Sheffield Road

Winnie Mandela visits Sheffield Road, Cape Town

**Cross-posted from the CORC Blog**

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

In July 2011, a national leader of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), Patrick Magebhula Hunsley, was appointed to serve on the Ministerial Task Team on Water and Sanitation headed by Ms. Winnie Madikizela Mandela. The Team came into being in response to the Makhaza toilet scandal earlier this year, and was tasked with addressing the issue of open-air, incomplete and dilapidated toilets in poor communities across South Africa. 

By early 2012, the team is meant to report back to Minister Sexwale of the Department of Human Settlements with recommendations based on their findings on the scale and geographic spread of the problem, as well as any “irregularities or malpractices,” of which quite a few have already been unearthed.

In early December, Ms. Mandela was in Cape Town for a National Task Team forum, where community leaders, task teams and members of social movements such as the Informal Settlement Network, one of the members of the South African SDI alliance, presented reports on the state of sanitation in their communities. Following these reports, the SA SDI Alliance made recommendations on upgrading of urban informal settlements based on their experiences of re-blocking at Sheffield Road.

They shared how this process has led to many positive outcomes, including the incorporation of sanitation within the re-blocked clusters, rather than on the periphery of the settlement as is usually the case. Where toilets have been incorporated into clusters, community members reported a marked difference in levels of vandalism and blockages, both of which are problems that can cause the State huge costs in informal settlements.

Upon hearing about Sheffield Rd., Ms. Mandela was eager to visit the community. She spent time meeting with women who have mobilized to turn what was not long ago a maze of dark alleyways with few safe or functioning toilets nearby into a vibrant community working together to bring about permanent change.

Winnie Mandela visits Sheffield Road, Cape Town        Winnie Mandela visits Sheffield Road, Cape Town





Manenberg Backyarders: Doing What We Can, with What We Have, Where We Are


By Charlton Ziervogel, CORC/SDI Secretariat 

These are the words that epitomize the approach the Western Cape Backyarders Network (WCBN) has towards solving the problems that exist within backyarder communities in Cape Town. But how do you build momentum in a community that has had a history of fragmented approaches to solving its numerous problems?  The answer for Manenberg has been both simple in its execution and complex in the processes followed to get to where it is today.  Various community organisations at work in Manenberg met recently at the People’s Centre at a gathering organized by the WCBN in conjunction with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) to review the work being done to improve the lives of backyarders in the area.

Organizing the Community

Patsy Daniels, chairperson of the Manenberg Development Coordinating Structure (MDCS) explained the history of community organization within Manenberg.  She described how organisations within Manenberg have been competing for funds, resources and exposure, which has seen a very disjointed approach to solving the area’s problems. The role of the MDCS was to provide a coordinated structure for organisations to work together and has provided the platform for the WCBN to start making a real impact on the lives of the backyard dwellers of Manenberg.

Melanie Manuel of the WCBN highlighted the plight of people living in backyard shacks across Cape Town and brought into sharp contrast the unique set of problems faced by slum dwellers who are effectively hidden from the public eye. She explained that with the help of the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and its links to Slum Dwellers International (SDI), the rituals of enumeration and savings were being utilized to begin an upgrading initiative with Manenberg backyarders as well as some of the most overcrowded rental stock houses in the area.  The plan of action did not end here, however, and the approach being followed by the organisations tasked with looking after the housing sector in Manenberg included a multi-facetted method, which would seek to draw in various other sections of the community.

Yulene Waldeck, a member of the WCBN and Manenberg Community Management Services (COMS), then took the gathering through the proposals for a multi-purpose centre, which would be located on a vacant piece of land.  The centre would provide accommodation for the elderly, drug abuse counseling facilities as well as skills training and support to young mothers who often lived in overcrowded conditions and had no place to go when facing the pressures of motherhood.  In addition, the centre would serve as offices for the organisations working with backyard dwellers and give the community a first port of call in addressing the complex issues around backyard living and informality.

Savings and Enumerations

Savings served as the entry point for the work of the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) in Manenberg.  Naeema Swartz of the Manenberg Slum Dwellers explained that even in a community like Manenberg where people are very poor, the need to save is very important.  She emphasized that the discipline of savings was key to help many backyard dwellers in the area upgrade and improve their current living conditions.  The principle here was to develop the ethos of self-reliance in addressing the concerns of their own community.  Gail Julius of the WCBN took the opportunity to highlight another of SDI’s key rituals, that being enumerations and explained how this tool served as an excellent mobilizing and learning tool for the community of Manenberg.  The enumeration helped the various role-players understand that overcrowding was one of the biggest concerns facing residents.  In one instance the enumeration team had encountered a home where 22 people were sharing a one-bedroom house.  The enumerations highlighted the difficulty backyarders had with regards to accessing basic services like sanitation, electricity and water.  They would often have to pay for access to these services from the tenants of the rental housing stock. This meant that if there were issues with the tenants the backyarders had no grounds for legal recourse as the City had agreements with the tenants and not with the backyarders, effectively leaving them in limbo.

Henrietta and Lezhaun, members of a family of ten living in an overcrowded one-bedroom house in Manenberg, explained that they have been on the waiting list since 1987.  Compounding their overcrowded circumstances was the additional fact that they are both blind.  This family in particular raised awareness around the plight of many families where 2nd to 3rd generation members, having no place to move to, simply stayed in overcrowded conditions.  In many cases, situations like these have led to the establishment of backyard accommodation which has been the only viable option for people who did not want to move out of Manenberg or lose the social security net that familial networks in the area provided.

Washiela Baker of the Caring Organization, who has been active in community work in Manenberg for over 25 years, stated that she was shocked at the findings of the enumeration.  Being able to go into the backyards and witness for herself the conditions people were living under galvanized her to focus more effort towards these people who were hidden from the public gaze.

Providing realistic solutions

The enumeration thus guided the community organisations in the housing sector of the MDCS towards an approach that would seek to upgrade the living conditions of backyard dwellers by improving the dilapidated make shift structures, which thousands of residents in Manenberg find themselves living in today.  A secondary proposal looked at the opportunities that existed in demolishing old rental stock houses and building structures that used the space more efficiently to house more people.  Melanie Manual explained how the space currently occupied by a five-unit structure could be utilized to build units for eight families and include a courtyard space for children to play in safety.


Unveiling the Upgraded Shack

The main thrust of the gathering was to draw people’s attention to the dire conditions the backyarders found themselves in but at the same time highlight solutions which the community themselves could be involved in.  The gathering was invited to take a walk to the site of an upgraded shack in the Manenberg area.  Melanie explained that an agreement had been reached with the local government to allow for the upgrading of current structures as long as correct procedures were followed. Backyard shacks housing family of the tenants of council houses could be upgraded provided the tenants were in agreement.  This simple step towards an upgrading agenda will mean that thousands of backyarders in Manenberg will finally have the opportunity to live in structures that provide shelter from the harsh Cape Town elements.  The upgraded shack was built by an NGO called iKhayalami who specialize in affordable homes and alternative technologies for the urban poor.  As people gathered round the new structure a discernable buzz could be felt sweeping through the crowd.  Shouts of encouragement and praise rang out as Ms. Sandra Joubert was presented with the key to her new home.  To outsiders it would not seem like much, but for this resident of Manenberg who had spent many a winter battling flooding, a leaking roof and the bitter cold, it meant a home that gave her not only shelter but dignity.  As the guests who had been invited to view the shack dispersed, a crowd of local residents remained.  Their interest had been sparked and inquiries were being made as to how they could access this new kind of shack.

Since the unveiling, Ms. Joubert has had numerous visitors to her upgraded shack all wanting to know how they could get their own shacks upgraded.  The WCBN with the help of CORC, FEDUP, ISN and Ikhayalami had clearly struck a chord with the community and upgrading appears to be the more realistic and viable alternative to the never ending waiting list which seemed to offer no hope for the backyarders.