“We are those people…”: Deepening democracy in meeting sanitation challenges

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

Service delivery in the Eastern Cape faces dire challenges. While the nature of the crisis is still poorly understood, poor communities are mobilising toward preparing to implement people-driven development initiatives. From 1-5 November, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s Ministerial Sanitation Task Team visited delegations of the Eastern Cape’s informal settlements to listen to the extent of the sanitation-related challenges they face. This roadshow formed part of Madikizela-Mandela’s effort to understand the scale and nature of the problem, its geographical spread and to identify irregularities and malpractices.

Amandla! Imali no lwazi!

With these words, Mzwanele Zulu and Blessing Mancitshana, both Informal Settlement Network (ISN) activists, greeted the delegations of Port Elizabeth’s informal settlements and township residents, congregating in the George Botha Community Centre in the KwaNoxolo township. What is power? And how is power shifted to us, the poor? An old lady answered by saying that Amadla! means power, but a young man responded saying that we don’t have power so we can not participate. Still another person was calling attention to the inherent potential of all to exert power to change for the good.

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Port Elizabeth delegations musing on the meaning of Amandla!

Amandla! Imali no lwazi!

Nevertheless, with no money (imali) and knowledge/ information (lwazi), power can not translate in meeting the most pressing livelihood challenges, such as access to clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, transport and adequate housing. “We are those people who sleep among the grasses and next to pavements, but we are proud people” said Blessing. Mzwanele explained that solidarity of the urban poor in generating pro-poor and situationally responsive programmes and agendas is the key to success. In a current political dispensation where councillors ayilumi ma ihlafuna (can not bite whilst chewing;  a term to denote inaction after election), the poor should fill the void and form effective partnerships to leverage state resources. This encourages communities to mobilise around savings, enumerations and settlement profiling and mapping, which become powerful negotiation tools in the hands of the poor.

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Greeting Madikizela-Mandela with singing and dancing

On Madikizela-Mandela and her task team’s arrival, the delegation met them with singing and dancing. “We have spoken to your Council and Mayor and received a report on what they have done for you… but this time, you are the ones to tell us what you want” said Madikizela-Mandela. Of the 18 settlements represented – some affiliated to the ISN – the hard-pressed settlements of Missionvale, Seaview, Midrand, Kleinskool, and Zweledinga, to mention a few, shared stories of major negligence and abondonement, which is familiar to the geopolitical state of Eastern Cape service delivery. Backyarders, shackdwellers and tenants of overcrowded and delapidated rental housing raised concerns around: unaccountable councillors; non-participation in service delivery; lack of maintenance of sanitation blocks; and ratio of services (in the worst case, Moeggesukkel, the community reported that 417 people share one water tap). Evelyn, a Joe Slovo resident and ISN activist, facilitated some heated debates between the residents, the Ministerial Task Team and the Mayoral Committee

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Delegations from Port Elizabeth’s informal settlements live in indignified spaces due to lack of sanition-related service delivery

The need for institutional innovation in meeting housing and housing related developmental maladies is crucial, and has been recognised both nationally and internationally. The central and full participation of communities in the delivery of essential services, and the forging of effective partnerships between active citizenry and developmental government, are some of the institutional imperatives to empowered communities. Less recognised is the imaginations and innovations of the poor who cope with the livelihood challenges on a daily basis. These groups of active and informed urban poor continue to provide alternatives to state-driven service delivery.