After six months of thorough field research, 20 students of the UCT Planning Department presented development models for the Barcelona informal settlement, which is situated on a former landfill alongside the N2 freeway in Cape Town. Representatives of the ISN (Informal Settlement Network), the City of Cape Town, CORC and iKhayalami afterwards discussed the way forward. “We as the ISN encourage partnerships where communities are part of the process,” says ISN leader Vuyani Mnyango. “The Barcelona residents and the students worked closely together on the ground, gathering this information, so it can be used for future development.”
The matter is of urgency, as the settlement which comprises a total of almost 10,000 people including neighbouring Europe, is sitting on toxic waste. Dangerous amounts of methane and carbon dioxide are seeping into the ground water. Due to Barcelona’s position on top of the Cape Flats Aquifer, this could have disastrous consequences for Cape Town’s water supply. The Cape Flats Aquifer is the third largest water resource after the Newlands and Atlantis aquifers to secure the City’s already stretched needs for drinking water. But between 1956 and 1987, the Municipality dumped an estimated 3.5 million cubic metres of rubbish on the site. Uncompounded and uncapped, the dwellers today live on six metres of unidentified waste. “The old landfill could be polluting this important resource of water for the City of Cape Town”, explains Tanja Winkler, UCT lecturer and project manager.
However, rehabilitation of the land will be expensive. Estimates range from R100 million to up to R500 million. The costs should be picked up by national government, but the question is whether this will not pave the way for a developer to snap up the valuable piece of land. The area stretches over 35 hectares – the close proximity to the airport could make it an interesting investment opportunity. The residents are therefore opting for a development plan which proposes incremental rehabilitation and does not call for relocation of the settlement. With the assistance of CUFF, the new Community Finance Facility, they are busy addressing the most immediate need which is proper drainage. Especially in winter, the residents suffer from floods, caused by the overflowing, nearby Lotus river and the high water table.
But the technical work is tricky: The “spongy” land does not support structures like pipes or sewers. In the meantime, the polluted water causes skin irritation, allergies and poisoning, if mixed with drinking water. The residents complain about dampness in their dwellings. Influenza, colds, pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis are common amongst the people in the densely populated area. Tests have shown that the high amounts of methane gas in the underground rubble make explosions probable.
“We are very impressed with the detailed information we have received about Barcelona,” says Natasha Murray, Head of Planning for Informal Settlements at the City of Cape Town. “To get to this level of understanding, it can take us years of working through expensive consultants. In this case, we are ready to ask province for the support we now need.”