by Kwanda Lande and Mariel Zimmermann (on behalf of CORC)
We decided to do re-blocking because we were living in a very congested settlement, we wanted our settlement to be rearranged, we wanted services – we wanted to have roads, toilets, electricity and water. We also wanted this project because it is going to mitigate fire in the settlement, and we have been careful with the building material we have used to build our structures. (Lindiwe Noqholota, community member and member of the project steering committee)
In the upgrading of California there is an advocacy purpose, resources were used for the community to demonstrate good practice around upgrading of informal settlements. The project was done so that the community can build itself as a community that is able to come together around issues because re-blocking is just the start, it’s not the end, it’s the starting point to say what’s next? (Oscar Sam, ISN Mfuleni subregional coordinator)
The story of California informal settlement in Mfuleni, Cape Town is a story of many challenges, but also of many victories and hope. It is through this story where we begin to grasp nuances and multi-layers that capture the impact of re-blocking to the community.This story is told by community members, who have been engaged in a struggle for basic services, land and and housing since 2008.
California is an informal settlement located in the midst of formal houses in the Township of Mfuleni, Cape Town. The settlement occupies a space of 2,239 m2 between the streets of Umzumbe on the North, Mgwanda on the West, Dutywa on the South, and M Baba on the East. The community of California has been subjected to some threats since 2008, when the settlement started. This includes the fact that the community existed until 2012 without any services. It became worse in 2012 when there was fire that destroyed almost all their houses threatening their existence.
I remember in 2012 after almost all our shacks were burned down we had to build our shacks again because we had nowhere to go. People from this church in our area did not want us to build our shacks in this area again. After the municipality had intervene the church then told us that each household should at least pay R50. But we refused because the municipality had told us that the church does not have rights to do this. This is how we fought to stay in this settlement, after which everything became easy and we were also given house/shack numbers. (Nokuthula Mazomba, community member and member of the project steering committee)
Some of the first signs of collective action and self-reliance
Since 2008 the community of California did not have any legal water source and toilets, people were forced to use water taps provided to people in formal houses. This lack of water and sanitation services led to anxiety and the feeling of insecurity, when using the ‘toilet’ at night. Consequently, there was an attitude that led to restricting access to water from people living in formal houses. The community had to do something as a result they decided to make contributions of R10 each household and installed one water tap for the whole community.
The installation of water tap is one of the first signs of collective action and self-reliance by the community. After which the community organised itself and went to the ward councillor demanding further access to water, in which they were successful. However, the settlement was still lacking services such as toilets and electricity, and the community needed a partner to intensify their struggle to access better services and improve their lives. Against this backdrop, the community of California meet with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) in 2015 to enforce their voices.
Community using Data Collection and Community Exchanges
The Informal Settlement Network, partner in the SA SDI Alliance, brought a number of tools to assists the community in their struggles. This includes the data collection tool, which helped the community to engage municipality with facts and community-determined priorities. As a result, seven toilets were installed for the community, through the assistance of ISN, which helped to do data collection that helped the community to negotiate and to demand all these services.
Based on the data collected (profiling and enumeration) in 2015, the population of California is made of 47 households with 108 residents. Furthermore, this profiling and enumeration exercise done by the residents of California assessed community prioritise, which include electricity, water and sanitation. As a result, the community also went to the City of Cape Town to request electricity. Their first request was, however, met with disappointment. The municipality explained that it could not install electricity because of congestion and limited space for installing electricity.
Through ISN, in 2016 we went on an exchange to another settlement that was re-blocked by the SA SDI Alliance called Flamingo Crescent. We went to that settlement and saw how that settlement was built and how the settlement was redesigned and reconfigured to create space that would ensure the provision of services. After a year without interacting with ISN we also learnt that the City of Cape Town had made some budget for re-blocking in California and this was through the work of ISN that negotiated for budget to be made available for upgrading California. (Lindiwe Noqholota, community member and member of the project steering committee)
However, when the community leaders who visited Flamingo Crescent were reporting to the community some members were not convinced about this project and rejected it as they felt that they were not sufficiently informed. After several meetings and explanations of how the project will look like and what the benefits for the residents will be, the community voted for the implementation. The community also knew that if they will not make use of the budget from the city, these resources would be taken elsewhere.
How has the project impact the Settlement?
The implementation of re-blocking in California begun in May 2017 and 47 structures were upgraded and specific building material that reduces the risks of fire was used. Paved access roads were implemented throughout the settlement. Furthermore, a stormwater drainage system has been implemented and electricity is in the process of being implemented. In the case of funding for the project, there was an agreement with the municipality that they will provide services, including water, electricity, and toilets.
The community contributed 20%, and supported by Community Organisation and Resource Centre (CORC) with 80% towards building their structures. Yet, the community is still waiting for the implementation of toilets and water taps per household from the municipality. The community also managed to negotiate for extra piece of land. This municipal land is located adjacent to the settlement but the community was not allowed to use it before. This extra piece of land has helped the community to have more space for access walkways and space for people to dry their clothes after washing them.
The re-blocking project of California allowed people in the community to ‘break walls’, and start learning and talking to one another. It allowed people to take ownership of the process and start personalising their environment where they have change their community and houses to suit their personal taste. Through this re-blocking process, it became evident that compromises are at the centre of re-blocking, and although some might not like an idea and approach, it is important that people compromise on their differences for the sake of development.
I learned that as residents of California, we do not really know each other, as I though before this project. This project has created a chance for us to learn about each other and to tolerate one another because we differ in a lot of things. As a result, it is helpful that we have community leaders that can speak for everyone and that people can raise their issues through and not to one another or direct to government one by one.(Buhle Mthimkhulu, community member and member of the project steering committee)
What can the future for the community look like?
In regard to the future of the community, the kind of experience that the community has went through is essential because re-blocking is not the end but a starting point. It is a start for individuals to recognise themselves as part of a community. It is a start for the community to establish itself as part of a broader network of informal settlements. The project presents an opportunity for the community to start a saving scheme that will build social capital of the community and allow community members to support each other not only financial but also socially. This project is a start for the community to investigate and make sure that community prioritise are part of government budgets and use that to hold them accountable.