No more white elephants: Mshini Wam community architects assisted by University of Botswana planning students

By Walter Fieuw, CORC
Mshini Wam Google Earth snapshot

The formal and the informal co-exist in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, Cape Town. Joe Slovo Park is a formal township established in the 1990s when City planners sought to eradicate informality, especially that of Marcomi Beam, and establish a low-income neighborhood. Those who were not catered for in the formal houses invaded open spaces in the newly laid-out township. This “re-informalisation” resulted in a juxtaposition of formal houses and informal backyarder shacks. In Mshini Wam, one such neighborhood of backyarder shacks located in-between the boundaries of formal RDP houses, the shacks are densely arranged and struggle to gain access to basic services. Backyarders had to pay up to R50 a week for water they fetched from the formal houses before the City installed a few taps. From this snapshot of Google Earth, the densely arranged shacks in-between formally allocated plots with RDP houses are clearly visible (Mshini Wam is located in the block between Democracy Drive, Hlosi Drive and Ingwe Drive in the greater Joe Slovo Park)

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A photo of the blueprint (dated 2006) where Mshini Wam is now located.

Joe Slovo Park as a whole has been characterised by big and small fires – such as the October 2006 fire that destroyed 42 shacks leaving 70 residents homeless – and violence. Mshini Wam has also endured such fires and approached the City of Cape Town for emergency relief services. It was at this stage that the City introduced the community to Informal Settlement Network (ISN). After the community completed the enumeration, they moved on to measure the shacks and prepare spatial plans for the blocking out of their settlement. This week (27 February to 2 March), 13 students from the University of Botswana’s Architecture and Planning school joined Mshini Wam “community architects” to finalise spatial plans for clusters. The idea is to move shacks in the path of an U-shaped road that will become the circle road connecting Democracy Drive and Hlosi Drive. This will ensure a critical pathway for emergency services.

 

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Thabo, one of the community architects, notes that the settlement has strong solidarity and a sense of community. In their settlement constitution, no one is allowed to waste unnecessary water at the public taps area by for instance, washing their hands with no bucket. This is done to ensure that minimal stagnant water builds up where children will contact water-born diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever. Any one that does not agree with this arrangement will be fined with a R100 penalty or asked to leave the settlement. They have also used their collective savings to upgrade the public taps area by building a concrete base.

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“In projects like these, the community does its own planning” said Mr. Tema, lecturer of the University of Botswana. “The City can then partner and collaborate with the community and deliver services in the newly created open spaces. This opens possibilities to improve living conditions in-situ”. A group of students working on the mapping of the cluster close to the Hlosi Drive exit-road mentioned that working with a community that has taken the initiative shifted their ideas of collaboration. “In such an approach there are no white elephants because they are the ones making these plans. They own the process and there are no wasted resources.”

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