Ulwazi ngamandla! People’s power in the age of the informal

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

Zeziphi ezona ngxaki ninazo e Joe Slovo? Xa unofumana ithuba lokulungisa yeyiphi eyona onoqala ngayo?

On a hot Cape Town morning, across the road from where Democracy Mini Market in Joe Slovo Park is located, a group of young men talk through the problems they face in their settlements, and what they could possibly do to remedy their harsh living conditions. Where will the money come from, and who do we speak to? A lady enters the conversation and says that her main concern for Msuluzi Village in Mpumalanga is tenure security as they face regular threats of evictions.
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Between Monday and Friday, 20 to 24 February, community leaders associated with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) from across the country meet in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, Cape Town and participate in a national workshop on enumerations. The focus of the workshop is to start a conversation about finding solutions through the information communities gather through enumeration. Enumeration is a social organising tool the ISN utilises by which the community does a survey and assessment of socio-economic and demographic profile, basic services and development aspirations. Communities use this information to build local capacity and develop spatial plans for the upgrading of their settlement.

This information is very valuable. City councils allocate funds to budgets that are aligned to 5-year-development plans – also called the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). The IDP document influences the way the City council prioritises and upgrades informal settlements. City councils need information to do this type of planning, and private consultants are often employed to do surveys and research on the development needs. Yet private consultants rarely drill down into community structures to ascertain a comprehensive vision of a preferred future. Strong organised communities therefore need to build local capacity to influence and interject the imaginations of city builders. This happens when they have self-knowledge, which become power negotiation tools. In this way, communities offer an alternative to top-down development, and offer opportunities to deepen democratic engagement and create an inclusive governance culture, which are the obligations of “developmental local government”.

At the same time, enumerations in different regions in Cape Town and other South African cities have been conducted which did not necessarily lead to stronger communities and development plans. The workshop also seeks to address how enumeration should be a mobilisation tool whereby the entire community is prepared and agrees to the development vision. This requires an in-depth mobilisation of the community. Enumerators need to be able to articulate the enumeration programme, and be able to address the community at large about what this entails and why this is important. This underscores the importance of knowing your neighbor. The congregation agreed that we are not in the business of building individuals, but communities.

The full participation of communities is the only way to have a successful enumeration. We have seen enumerations that were led by a few individuals in the communities and nothing happened there. Therefore, by sensitising the community to the process and the outcomes, you create a focus on projects that builds on community solidarity. It is the leadership committee’s responsibility to involve wide participation in the enumeration process; from the way that questions are framed, to the way data is captured and presented to the community.  A number of stories were also heard.

Siyahliwe, Johannesburg: At first, ISN members visited the councillor and the municipality and the organised structures in the community. They went back to their community, and called a general meeting, which was attended by all these parties. They introduced the enumeration programme, and identified the problems in their settlement. Once the community, councilor and municipality were on board, the leaders drew up a map of the settlement, designated blocks, and the enumeration was started.
Mshini Wam, Cape Town: Started in 2010 at the time when they started engaging the regional ISN leaders. For a long time, they were depending on water and services from the formal RDP houses in the settlement. Therefore, they should be seen as backyarders and not an informal settlement per se. They were paying up to R50 per month for water. At the regional ISN forums, they learned a lot from other settlements in their region. The City of Cape Town said they could not install services because of the density and no access roads. After a long engagement, they ensured taps were installed. The idea of enumeration was seen as a way to open space and understand the demographics and spatial relationships of the settlement. They identified the open spaces in their settlement, and have completed the initial plan for the first cluster. In this way they are opening space to construct
Manenberg, Cape Town: We approached the local housing office and asked them how many people do they estimate live in backyarder shacks in Manenberg. The office estimated about 420 people. The enumeration showed the true number to be more than 4,000 people. This revelation had major impact in the way the city saw the Manenberg backyarders; a community that was uncovered through the enumeration process.

The workshop culminates on Thursday with a visit from the Deputy Minister of Human Settlements Ms Zoe Kota-Fredericks where the community of Mshini Wam will demonstrate their validated enumeration results and draft spatial plans, and the community of Siyahlala where Ms. Kota-Fredericks will launch the enumeration at a mass meeting.