Sizwe Mxobo, a planner at the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) received the South African Planning Institute’s (SAPI) Young Planner Award in October 2014. In speaking about his work as a planner with community movements affiliated to the SA SDI Alliance, Sizwe explains,
“An important aspect for me is exploring what public participation means in planning and informal settlement upgrading” (Sizwe Mxobo, CORC Planner).
In early 2014 SAPI released a call for nominations for successful young planners and announced its bi-annual summit in Durban titled “Planning Africa” from 19 – 22 October 2014. Nominations were submitted under various categories, one of which was the Young Planner award – to be made out to a “bright young planner (under the age of 35) for his/ her exemplary achievements and promising for the future in the planning profession as well as his/her contribution to the promotion of the planning profession” (SAPI).
The SAPI Awards
The SAPI National Planning Awards were established in 2008 to recognise and create a strong awareness of the valuable contributions and extraordinary performance in all aspects of the planning profession. The awards are an opportunity to appreciate the efforts and contributions of many planners in shaping the built environment, promoting sustainable development and maintaining the integrity of good planning practice amidst competing development interests and challenging situations.
Planning in the SA SDI Alliance
Sizwe has been working with CORC since 2011, providing technical support, often in informal settlement upgrading initiatives, ranging from community mobilization, capacity building, assisting settlements with preparing development plans or engaging City officials around service delivery issues.
In 2012, Sizwe project managed the upgrading and re-blocking of Mtshini Wam informal settlement in Cape Town. The project set a precedent for informal settlement upgrading, at local and national level whereby the City of Cape Town used it as a benchmark to deliver a reblocking policy. It was also awarded an Impumelelo Gold Award in 2013. Since then Sizwe has spearheaded 3 other upgrading and re-blocking projects in the City. Sizwe’s work has also focussed on Langrug informal settlement near Franschoek in the Western Cape. Through deep engagement with the community Sizwe assisted CORC and the community in devising a pallette of informal settlement upgrading strategies. The planning of Langrug was awarded the SAPI National Award in the Community Category.
When tracing his steps as a planner, Sizwe links his interest in participatory, community based planning to his roots.
“I was born and raised in an informal settlement and still live in one. I have always wondered what it would take to transform an informal settlement. When I saw the first housing developments in Samora and Delft I asked myself why people had to move away from their current locations and amenities. Why could changes not happen where people lived?”
Sizwe’s fascination with community development – particularly how informal communities could be transformed to formal settlements – inspired him to study Town and Regional Planning. He remembers that although informality was addressed by the curriculum it largely focussed on how to move from a shack to a house.
“My biggest attraction has always been how planning principles can be used in informal settlements. When I was planning chairperson we took students to Nyanga and explored what in-situ upgrading is about. I learnt that my interest in fighting for people who are generally not considered by planning institutions – landless people in urban areas – is called advocate planning. Others did not always understand my approach to planning. Through working at CORC I found my feet and understood what planning is for me. Winning this award has been a further confirmation. We are no longer talking the language of eradication of informal settlements but of upgrading”
A different approach to Planning
“In the ever-changing role of a planner, I think a key element for planners is to ensure the relationship between people and land. Public participation should be more than drawing up plans and asking for a community’s approval. It should be about supporting people to come up with their own development plans for their communities”
As a profession planning is rapidly transforming. Most urban policies developed in South Africa focus extensively on community participation. Both the National Development Plan (NDP) and Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) talk about community participation as a central tenet for development. However, government has also identified this as a missing link and capacity both within the municipal and private sector. Most recently, the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) has floated tenders in 49 different municipalities to develop community based plans. Clearly, community participation in the planning sector is the need of the hour.