By Andiswa Meke (on behalf of CORC)
Recently, the Zimbabwe SDI Alliance spent four days on a learning exchange to the South African SDI Alliance in Cape Town (14-17 September). In the SDI network, Cape Town is one of four global learning centres for urban poor communities due to the capacity of FEDUP and ISN to operate at city scale and demonstrate productive partnerships with government. The team from Bulawayo included community, city and university representatives (from the National University of Science & Technology (NUST)) who are exploring the possibility of building a partnership between the Zimbabwean urban poor Federation and the City of Bulawayo. The Alliance introduced the group to a variety of its activities, foregrounding the value and approach of partnerships that place poor people at the centre of their own development.
Introduction to policy Questions
After a warm welcoming of the group by FEDUP members on the first day, the first presentation started by the Informal settlement Network (ISN) with the context of the SA SDI alliance and the work of Informal Settlement Network (ISN) from 2009 until 2015. The presentation showed delegates the work of ISN in In-situ upgrading, water and sanitation, area-wide upgrading, multipurpose centres and other activities that they have done so far. After the presentation the delegates from Zimbabwe were given an opportunity to ask questions:
“At what stage does the city get involved in re-blocking? What is the planning process and who does it? What is the participation between communities and the city?”
(George Masimbanyana, support NGO to Zimbabwe Federation of the Homeless and Poor)
After clarification by members of ISN and support NGO, Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) the Zimbabweans had an understanding of the particulars of re-blocking (including its adoption as policy by the City of Cape Town in 2012) and indicated they would consider adopting it as a process that they can also try. The Bulawayo group then gave a presentation about the work they have done to date. The presentation gave an insight into the Zimbabwean Federation’s total savings, income and expenditures, total number of houses they have built and what their projects look like. The Zimbabwean Federation has also signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with the City of Bulawayo. The group expressed the challenge of a lack of implementation and practical partnership, despite the presence of a formal agreement. The next days allowed the visitors to explore this topic further. They experienced how FEDUP and ISN formed practical partnerships and implemented projects with two municipalities.
Partnership around Upgrading: Stellenbosch Municipality
On day two, the group travelled to Langrug informal settlement near Franschoek to meet with the local Municipality of Stellenbosch. Langrug community leader and regional ISN coordinator, Trevor Masiy shared the successes and challenges the community faced with regards to being recognized as an informal settlement in that area. Lester van Schalkwyk, a municipality official, spoke of the difficulty the Municipality experienced in engaging with informal settlement communities. This is when officials realized the value of social and technical intermediaries like ISN & CORC to support and speed-up implementation of community – government partnerships. In Langrug this partnership translated into the first ever MoU between a local government and community, which enabled direct access to municipal funds for upgrading and implementation of re-blocking, drainage and a water & sanitation facility.
Partnerships around Upgrading: City of Cape Town
The third day was an upgrading site visit to Flamingo Heights in Lansdowne, Cape Town, a settlement that was recently re-blocked through a partnership between the community, SA SDI Alliance, City of Cape Town, and other actors such as the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Maria Matthews, community leader in Flamingo welcomed the guests and gave a brief history about the settlement and how they partnered with the city of Cape Town and the Alliance. She also gave insight about the challenges that they faced before upgrading where she noted that the community faced a high rate of crime because of the densification of their structures before re-blocking. She also cited that through the project the community managed to minimise the crime and now are safe. During an opportunity to ask questions, a Bulawayo official asked who owned the land that is now Flamingo Heights. ISN facilitator, Melanie Manuel, explained that the land belonged to an industrial company whom the City of Cape Town bought the land from. Maria Matthews, concluded,
“[Community] savings [contributions] are the core reason why we are here [in an upgraded settlement] today. We took the little we had and placed towards better living conditions.”
Community Savings as Negotiation Tool
The group then commenced to the FEDUP linked income generation group in Samora Machel. The visitors were welcomed with great hospitality and were given an overview of FEDUP`s income generation program. The visit highlighted the connection between regular saving and the ability to repay loans. This in turn enables access to further loan installments to expand a small business. In this sense, the power of individual and community saving became evident. In response to a question by the NUST representative on failed loan repayments, the loan facilitator explained:
“Saving group members are not given money that they don’t have in their savings balance, so if they fail to pay back the loan the money it is then subtracted from their saving balance.”
Area-Wide Upgrading as a result of negotiation
At UT Gardens settlement in Khayelitsha, the community came all out to support their leadership committee to welcome the visitors from Bulawayo. The Alliance shared the challenges and breakthroughs around upgrading the nearby wetland as a communal space. After giving a project overview, ISN & CORC members explained how they convinced the City to give them approval to use the land. A community leader, Thamara Hela, gave an overview of the recreational activities they envision for the upgraded wetland-park: a football ground, a gym facility and a park for the children to play where they could be safe. Read more here.
Meeting the Partners: City of Cape Town & Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Having visited a number of upgrading projects in Cape Town, the visitors met with the City of Cape Town to gain more insight into the process of partnership formation from a City perspective. The city explained how their department fits in the broader Human Settlements Sector, shared an overview of their partnership with the SA SDI Alliance, their role as service provider for ground works, engineering, topographical surveys and the Alliance’s role as technical and social support facilitator. The City shared the importance of an inter-departmental approach, which increases effective communication between various actors involved in ISU: the departments of solid waste, human settlements, water & sanitation. There was also an opportunity to observe direct engagement between communities and officials. Masilunge informal settlement leader, Lindiwe Ralarala presented the current ISU project process in her settlement, in particular the challenges of flooding, water & sanitation that the community would like to see the City address.
During lunch time the exchange moved to the architecture building at CPUT, where the group was briefed about the partnership the Alliance has with the university. It enables students to engage with the reality of planning with ‘informality’, and results in alternative practice and conceptual approaches in town planning and architecture. The lecturers explained how they want to see town-planning link with urbanization:
“Urbanization is not about building houses, it’s about human beings. We want our students to understand that they are not just planning houses but planning better living condition for the people who they work with.”
Through project modules or internships with the SA SDI Alliance students support the alliance with their technical skills in town planning or architecture. The meeting showed the visitors that strong partnerships with multiple actors can achieve more. Read more about academic partnerships here.
Ideas for Partnership Formation in Bulawayo
The exchange concluded on a high note. The support between community members from Bulawayo and Cape Town was clearly evident in their common desire to see a practical and community centered-partnership emerge in Bulawayo. As the details need to be fleshed out and implemented in Bulawayo, the South African and Zimbabwe SDI Alliance leaders will keep supporting and holding each other accountable on the path of establishing inclusive partnerships that are key to community-centered solutions. We conclude by sharing reflection points of exchange participants:
- There is great value of strategic community organisation: “We need partnerships to really engage & resolve community problems in a manner that satisfies the community adequately. “ (Bulawayo City Official)
- Value of Reblocking & Forward Planning: “the way to tackle the problem of regrouping people is beautiful: the communities are involved and they have a say in the way forward” (Bulawayo City Official)
Zimbabwe Federation Responses
- Community Data Collection: “I realise we need to review our settlement profiles & use our data in a useful [strategic] way.”
- Implement MoUs: “This exchange provided us with a way to figure out how to operationalize the MoU’s”
- Joint funding for ISU: “We need to sit with the City and establish how we can use reblocking to deal with the issues in our country. Joint funding for ISU provides huge opportunities for countries like ours which are economically challenged”
- Accountability: “ Let’s keep each other accountable on our progress with reports, and share our knowledge and skills”
SA SDI Alliance Responses:
- Learning Centre: We find that as a learning centre we end up learning from you too”
- Exchanges as Mobilisation: Exchanges are a mobilizing tool: wherever we take visitors, we gain trust from the communities. While the visitors learn, our communities learn as well.”