By Barbara Torresi, CORC
Whilst Stellenbosch is home to some of the nation’s wealthiest families, hidden amongst its lush vineyards and posh farmsteads lies a smattering of derelict settlements where life is harsh and survival a daily struggle. Improving the conditions of its most disadvantaged citizens has long been on the municipality’s agenda, but it is only recently – thanks to an innovative partnership between local government, Slum Dwellers International, the Western Cape Backyarders, and The Informal Settlement Network – that concerted efforts to upgrade the area’s most degraded shanty towns have started in earnest.
The enterprise gathered momentum after a court order in November 2010 mandated the re-laying of the sewage lines in Langrug, a large informal settlement located 3km north-west of the centre of Franschhoek. The upgrading of its drainage system, which required the relocation of 16 shacks to make room for new pipes and waste disposal sinks, provided an opportunity to improve the settlement’s conditions at large. To this end, in February 2011 SDI and its partners mobilised the community to number and measure its own shacks, while a relocation committee was formed to assist in the procurement and design of a new cluster of homes at the foothills of the settlement. Meanwhile, the local leadership recruited 31 volunteers to enumerate Langrug’s inhabitants and map both the settlement’s physical infrastructure and its socio-economic profile.
Generally speaking the aim of these efforts is twofold: on one hand they generate knowledge for local authorities, which thus acquire spatial and factual information that is crucial to improving service provision; on the other hand, participatory processes tend to increase cohesion and cooperation within communities by uniting their members in the pursuit of a common goal. But perhaps more importantly, they capacitate marginalised people by providing them with the necessary negotiation skills to engage in a mutually productive dialogue with external stakeholders. So far, Langrug’s leadership has demonstrated a high degree of organisational talent and the confidence that it has gained by having its efforts recognised will no doubt play an important role in the community’s ongoing empowerment.
But if one of the largest and most densely populated, Langrug is just one of the myriad of shanty towns in the Stellenbosch municipality and not necessarily the one most in need. Hence, in March 2011 two small clusters of shacks in Klapmuts called Mandela City and La Rochelle were singled out for immediate enumeration and profiling, while the partnership embarked on a ‘tour’ of the region’s informal settlements to assess needs and determine priorities. The visit uncovered the existence of huge disparities amongst squatter camps irrespective of size and location. Thus, on one end of the continuum lies Upper Graveyard B, a hilltop gathering of 19 wendy-houses that the community has beautified with plants and flowers. In spite of having no connection to the electricity grid and only 4 toilets, with its tidy walkways, lush lawns, and perfectly tended front yards the settlement looks almost idyllic.
On the other end of the spectrum there are Slabtown and Slabtown Under the Bridge; the first one is a fly-infested and underserviced clustering of approximately 30 derelict shacks next to a Devon Valley sewage plant, the second a crime-ridden corner of metropolitan blight near Kayamandi. Both these squatter camps, along with many other, require the municipality’s immediate attention, and it is hoped that through the newly founded alliance between governmental, non-governmental, and grass-root organisations led by SDI, action will be soon taken to improve living conditions in these communities and enable their members to become partners in their own uplift.