Sharing Knowledge from the Bottom-Up: SDI visits Cape Town Learning Center

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

Horizontal learning exchanges form a significant pillar of bottom-up knowledge sharing and a mobilisation tool used by informal settlement dwellers across the Shack/ Slum Dwellers International network. Exchanges are a development tool, which

“help people deal with the root issues of poverty and homelessness and work out their own means to participate in decision-making which affects their lives, locally, nationally & globally. In exchange people are not being trained to do things. They decide themselves what to pick up and what to discard, by visiting others in the same boat. It’s learning without an agenda…on-site, direct from the source, unfiltered”

(Tom Kerr, SDI Secretariat)

In recent years the SDI network has streamlined learning and experience sharing from open ended exchange interaction to a city-level focus in which learning, capacity-building and monitoring is concentrated on four city-level centers of learning. These (Cape Town and Kampala, Mumbai and Accra) were identified due to their capacity to operate at the city scale and demonstrate productive partnerships with government. This blog focuses on a recent visit by the SDI management committee to the Cape Town learning centre, and engages with questions raised by community members around the nature of learning and knowledge sharing in the SDI network.

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Joseph Muturi, from the Kenyan SDI Alliance poses a question to FEDUP / ISN leadership.

The first morning saw national community leaders from the SDI Alliances of Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe join the South African Alliance , SDI President, Jockin Arputham, and deputy president, Rose Molokoane, in exploring the approach of community-driven process in South Africa. The South African community movements, FEDUP and ISN, spoke about their involvements in respective community projects relating to land access and negotiation, People’s Housing Process (PHP), security of tenure, ensuring access to basic services, informal settlement upgrading, and income generation projects.

When asked what FEDUP and ISN see as particular achievements, FEDUP’s regional leader in the Western Cape Province, Thozama Nomnga, spoke of the Federation’s Income Generation Program (FIGP), which is funded through a revolving loan fund established through FEDUP’s national savings. As much as the FIGP funds are drawn from savings, the program also grows FEDUP’s membership and strengthens savings practice as personal savings are a prerequisite to accessing a loan.

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Visiting a savings group and learning about FIGP in Samora Machel.

During the morning, the group visited a savings scheme in Samora Machel township in Cape Town as well as FEDUP’s Vusi Ntsuntsha group. After a warm welcome at Samora Machel, the savings group facilitator, treasurers and collectors spoke about the FIGP, how loan groups are formed, how loans are allocated and the respective finances are calculated. Savings group members showcased their small businesses – ranging from tailored shwe-shwe Dresses, to tuck-shop goods, beaded jewellery and crafts, fat-cakes and chicken. From Samora Machel the visitors travelled to Vusi Ntsuntsha group, hearing about the group’s successful negotiation for land, and the challenges ahead in terms of securing tenure and housing sites. Hassan Kiberu, from the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) motivated the group to keep unity and hope:

“By unity we win. When you give up you won’t win. We joined the Federation in Uganda because we have so many problems. Like you, there are many that we haven’t tackled yet. It is important that you are firm, don’t lose hope and keep on saving.”

Income Generation businesses by the Samora Macheal savings scheme

FIGP businesses in Samora Macheal.

The remainder of the day was spent in a packed community structure in Khayelitsha where representatives from more than 5 communities had gathered to share their experiences in informal settlement upgrading, community generated data collection, design, mapping, planning and negotiation with local government. The visitors were introduced to an area-wide upgrading approach around a wetland and the accompanying lengthy negotiations with local government. They also heard about a completed reblocking upgrade in Flamingo Crescent informal settlement and the process of planning for reblocking in three additional settlements.

In conversations and questions posed throughout the day – a recurring interest occurred among community participants concerning the nature of ‘learning’, the necessity for transparent sharing during  community exchanges and what it means to be an “SDI learning centre”. Joseph Muturi from the Kenyan Alliance’s Federation, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, raised the value of sharing challenges as freely and as frequently as successes.

“How can we learn from each other if we don’t share our challenges? We know that we can learn from every SDI country. In learning centres there is something specific we can learn. But we don’t expect them to be perfect –there will always be challenges, and we need to learn from them.”

Community gathering in Khayelitsha on informal settlement upgrading.

Community gathering in Khayelitsha on informal settlement upgrading.

On this note, ISN shared the difficulties of navigating tensions between steering committees and communities, the rivalry between different civic organisations, varying levels of co-operation from Councillors and long delays by city councils that cause disillusionment in communities. Kenyan representatives spoke about their ability to secure tenure for 10 000 informal settlement dwellers through bio-metric data collection, using mobile phones – learnt from the interaction between Ugandan Federation members and their City officials. In reflecting on the exchange, Nkokheli Ncambele, provincial ISN coordinator, echoes the value of bottom-up knowledge generation in exchanges:

“It was very beneficial to be exposed to savings and the FIGP businesses – we managed to send a successful message to community leaders in Khayelitsha about upgrading and savings. We learnt how other countries use their profiling data to engage with the City. We need to do the same”.

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