By Thandeka Tshabalala (on behalf of CORC)
In the past there has been an ongoing notion that poor people are helpless and are generally considered to be passive recipients of services and development. In many ways poverty-reduction and housing delivery has created unsustainable solutions that have discouraged an active involvement of the poor people in the improvement of their living conditions. These plans are drafted and carried out by contractors, appointed on behalf of the municipality, who are sometimes out of touch with what the people want. A need exists to incorporate the needs and aspirations of poor people into the planning process.
But if we consider the situations of landlessness, poor housing and inaccessibility to basic services which define the reality for so many South Africans living in informal settlements, helplessness is the last word you would use to describe the innovative ways that informal settlers have used to house, feed and access services without the help from almost anyone. In reality poor people are the creators and implementers of most comprehensive and far reaching systems for solving problems of poverty, housing and basic services. Poor people build cities from the bottom up, and informal settlements are cheap and accessible to gain access to social and economic opportunities – because their system covers more ground and benefits more lives than any other institutionalised development program.
An example of community- based initiatives can be found in a community called ‘Midrand’ located on the North Western periphery of Port Elizabeth. The informal settlement of Midrand consists of 47 enumerated households with a total population of 191. The settlement is located on municipal land and as yet the settlement has not been included on the metro’s Integrated Development Plan or informal settlement data base as receiving services in the near future. In the absence of municipal priorities, the communities of Port Elizabeth have started to build capacity at the grassroots level.
It is not included in the municipal systems map of the Nelson Mandela municipality – Through an exchange program, a technical team from Moeggusukkel informal settlement assisted in the mapping out process this included the measuring out of each shack dimensions. Shack measurement data allows the community design team to plan the layout of the settlement more accurately. The CORC technical staff supported the community to consider other type of services and the community prioritized on access to clean water and clearly marked roads within the settlement.
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The community then started saving towards the installation of temporally taps to access clean water, they then asked the councilor and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM) to connect to the municipal water pipes. The NMBM installed Two temporally taps in the settlement.