Community leaders agree on their Right to The City

Cape Town is a divided city, community leaders suggested at the first Isandla dialogue which took place on March 17 at the Langa Christian Church. Representatives from communities all over town had gathered to discuss their Right to The City – a political process which aims at empowering urban poor in cities around the world.  It encompasses the right to housing, to clean water and sanitation but also the right to work and public transport which is not yet part of the South African Constitution.

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ISN leader Mzwanele Zulu addresses the Isandla dialogue participants in Langa

But in our divided city the West has it all, and the East has nothing, the participants argued: where we live, there exists no safety, no tenure, no services. The government irrespective of its political organization does nothing for us, and the policies in place are the same as during apartheid. “That’s exactly why we need to influence those politics,” ISN leader Mzwanele Zulu responded. “We are fighting with government because they are not including us. Let us learn the system and use it to our own advantage. We can only achieve our goals when we work together and are not divided ourselves.”

Last week’s event was the first of six forums organized by the Cape Town based NGO Isandla Institute, aiming at formulating a joint memorandum between communities, the State and NGOs to be presented to the media at the end of the year. “Where the government spends money in the city affects the poor,” said Isandla project manager Tristan Goergens. “You should have a voice in that and make democracy real.” Going forward the dialogues will look at precedents of successful people-driven engagements, leading to inclusive cities with mutual responsibilities amongst all stakeholders.

A drama act, presented by eight members of the women’s savings organization FEDUP, introduced the audience to the informal settlement of Sheffield Road. There the community has recently united and in partnership with the city reblocked and rebuilt a few clusters of shacks. The result is a safer, more spacious home for 20 families – an inspiring example for surrounding communities  who are currently collecting the necessary savings contributions to be the next in line for upgrading.  “People must be educated so they have the capacity to drive the process themselves,” said Zulu. “I am appealing to the present leaders to mobilize those that are not here today.”

Due to a taxi strike, many community representatives struggled to find transport to Langa. 30 leaders from the ISN, Mandela Park Backyarders, Metro Health Club, the Youth Network Sizakuyenza, Philippi People’s Forum and FEDUP were present nevertheless. The event was supported by CORC and DAG who have recently agreed to cooperate more closely in various areas including the mobilization of urban poor communities.

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FEDUP savings members entertain the audience with a play about the upgrading at Sheffield Road

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FEDUP mamas collect savings which are the necessary prerequisite for informal settlement upgrading finance