Our Story

Where we’ve come from

The 1980’s was a decade of open social conflict between the white minority government and the oppressed black majority. The beleaguered apartheid state resorted increasingly to brute force and terror to maintain its hegemony.

At the same time a deeply rooted resistance – spearheaded by the angry youth in apartheid’s townships – forced it to accelerate a process of reform. Informal settlements — always a feature of apartheid’s townships — began to mushroom and by 1991 an estimated 40% of South Africa’s urban population was living in shacks or in overcrowded housing stock.

In 1991, the organisation People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter forged a relationship with a rapidly growing network of people from informal settlements across South Africa. Over time members of this network formed housing savings schemes and in 1994 these savings schemes officially launched themselves as The South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF). During this period, members of the network visited India to learn from the Indian National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) and their alliance partners (SPARC and Mahila Milan). The initial visits to and from India in 1991 and 1992 served as a kind of shock therapy for the informal settlement leaders in the People’s Dialogue network. The conditions of poverty and homelessness that greeted them on the pavements of Bombay shattered the consoling illusion that an ANC government would provide land and houses for all.

As the South African network of informal dwellers expanded over time they formed two closely affiliated organisations; the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). The Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) was constituted in 2002 to build on the work of People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter who supported the then-South African Homeless People’s Federation. These two support NGOs co-existed in parallel: People’s Dialogue was structured to be the dedicated professional support arm of the Homeless People’s Federation, while CORC was set up with the intention of consolidating a community-based, pro-poor platform in order to facilitate engagement of a network of community-based organisations on a settlement-wide basis. For the first three years, CORC facilitated learning exchanges between communities associated with the Coalition of the Urban Poor (CUP) and the Alliance of Rural Communities (ARC), forerunners to what is the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) today. People’s Dialogue has ceased to exist, while CORC continues to support community-based planning towards building pro-poor and inclusive cities. uTshani Fund acts as a formal bridging finance institution managing FEDUP’s urban poor fund.


Black text: Alliance history
Red text: South African history

“We learnt that what this country needed was not participation by the people in a government process, but government’s participation in a people’s process.”

  • Formation of the Indian National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF)
  • Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD) is born in Cape Town, South Africa
  • Resistance to apartheid intensifies
  • Father Jorge Anzorena, who documents poor people’s movements on land and shelter in Asia, visits South Africa
  • Through Father Jorge CWD sends South African community leaders and activists to participate in the Asian People’s Dialogue on land and shelter
  • CWD calls a South African People’s Dialogue on land and shelter in Broederstroom where 150 informal settlement leaders come together and agree to start a national grassroots network
  • A South African delegation visits India during a first learning exchange
  • After exposure to Asian NGOs the first South African support NGO is founded: People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter
  • South African poor communities begin organising and reach more than 50 housing savings schemes across the country
  • The savings schemes are collectively launched as the South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF)
  • Housing Minister Joe Slovo pledges R10million to the Federation process. The Federation starts uTshani Fund, a revolving fund that loans pledge money to members to build their own houses in the absence of a not yet instituted national housing subsidy program
  • First democratic elections 
  • Subsidised housing features as a key component of the national Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)
  • Through pledge and donor funding uTshani Fund begins operating
  • South African and Indian federations spearhead the launch of Shack Dwellers International (SDI), made up initially of 9 federations in Asia and Africa
  • South African constitution is formed
  • SAHPF receives the UN Habitat Scroll of Honour
  • uTshani Fund concludes a legal agreement with the National Department of Housing and pledges 5,660 upfront housing subsidies for the period 1996 – 2001
  • The Housing Act aligns the National Housing Policy with the Constitution of South Africa
  • SAHPF and uTshani Fund build house number 10,000 (in the span of just 3 years)
  • Due to slow release of housing subsidies by provinces, uTshani Fund is forced to curtail operations and suspends new developments
  • National Elections
  • The organisation now known as CORC was founded as a research and documentation arm to the Federation, coordinating thematic forums and engaging government around burning issues
  • uTshani Fund develops a new set of products based on pre-approval of housing subsidies
  • The organisation is registered as the Community Organisation Urban Resource Centre. COURC shifts organisational direction and becomes a resource for any community willing and able to help itself
  • People’s Dialogue remains primary support organisation to the SAHPF
  • The Federation enters into pilot projects with Cities Alliance (Durban, Manila, Mumbai)
  • COURC primarily supports the Coalition of the Urban Poor (CUP), the Alliance of Rural Communities (ARC) and the waste pickers network.
  • National Elections 
  • Breaking New Ground (BNG) is introduced as a new housing policy with a focus developing sustainable human settlements 
  • The Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) is introduced
  • There is a split in the South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF) and the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) is founded
  • Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu recognises the role of uTshani Fund in “Breaking New Ground” housing policy and signs a MoU binding Provincial MECs to pledge 1,000 subsidies per Province per annum to FEDUP
  • National and Provincial Joint Working Groups bring together Federation leaders and human settlement officials to facilitate more people-centred housing delivery
  • Minister Sisulu visits India and Thailand with FEDUP. She agrees to chair the Urban Poor Fund International (SDI finance facility)
  • People’s Dialogue closes down following the Federation split in 2006 and FEDUP sets up Udondolo Trust, which becomes an interim support entity
  • FEDUP signs contracts with several municipalities for housing delivery
  • COURC changes its name to Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC)
  • FEDUP and CORC reconnect, using the CUP model as a basis for forming the Informal Settlement Network (ISN)
  • The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) is supported by CORC, bringing different CBOs together (including FEDUP) to hold community dialogues and forums between communities and government representatives, discussing informal settlement upgrading
  • In the Western Cape CBOs participating in the ISN include: the Alliance of Rural Communities (ARC), Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), the Poor People’s Movement (PPM) and the waste pickers network
  • FEDUP and ISN profile and enumerate informal settlements in five cities in South Africa
  • The City of Cape Town, FEDUP and ISN sign agreement to conduct 11 in situ upgrading projects together
  • National Elections 
  • National Housing Code is revised 
  • The National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) is established
  • ISN implements first informal settlement upgrading and reblocking projects (Joe Slovo, Lwazi Park, and Sheffield Road in Cape Town; Ruimsig in Johannesburg)
  • ISN expands to informal settlements in the major cities of SA
  • ISN (Patrick Hunsley) advises National Minister of Human Settlements
  • Outcome 8 of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) sets targets for informal settlement upgrading
  • Udondolo Trust closes and CORC narrows its support, focusing on FEDUP and ISN only. The name SA SDI Alliance emerges. 
  • The SA SDI Alliance strategically shifts towards informal settlement upgrading
  • The Alliance establishes the Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF)
  • The Alliance establishes the first locally based ‘Urban Poor Fund’ as an outcome of the MoU signed with Stellenbosch Municipality
  • The National Development Plan is published with Chapter 8 setting an objective of upgrading all informal settlements on suitable well located land by 2030
  • Alliance signs MoU with City of Cape Town 
  • ISN and the City of Cape Town embark on 22 upgrading and subdivision projects across the City
  • The Poor People’s Movement (PPM) closes and PPM members join FEDUP
  • Alliance conducts marches in the City of Joburg and eThekwini Municipality in response to evictions 
  • CUFF informal settlement upgrading projects are implemented country wide
  • Mtshini Wam becomes the first informal settlement in the Alliance to be upgraded in situ through reblocking, in partnerships with a municipality 
  • Metro-level people’s led finance facility is established in Cape Town through Comic Relief funding
  • Flamingo Crescent informal settlement is reblocked 
  • Founding member of FEDUP, Patrick Magebhula Hunsley passes away 
  • Cape Town NGOs form a Community of Practice on informal settlement upgrading
  • National Elections 
  • MTEF targets for informal settlement upgrading are renewed
  • Federation Income Generation Programme is launched (FIGP) 
  • The South African Federation Funeral Scheme is launched (SAFFS) 
  • MoU with Stellenbosch Municipality expires
  • The UN General Assembly sets the Sustainble Development Goals (SDGs
  • The Alliance conducts rapid appraisal (RAP) / informal settlement profiling of 106 settlements in Western Cape Province. This data informs the provincial Informal Settlement Support Framework (ISSF) and Programme (ISSP) 
  • The Alliance enumerated approx. 18 000 households along the N2 free way in Cape Town, demonstrating the power of community data 
  • Alliance hosts Somsook Boonyabancha, Director of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) in a seminar of city-level funds for informal settlement upgrading
  • Pretoria Declaration on Informal Settlements released by UN Habitat 
  • New Urban Agenda released at Habitat III conference
  • Alliance launches the Know Your City Campaign on Community Led Data at Digital Impact Tour with 150+ attendees including the National Minister of Human Settlements 
  • Alliance engagements with Vusi Ntsuntsha housing project restart 
  • MoA with eThekwini Municipality around community led data collection in informal settlements feeding into City’s resilience strategy
  • Alliance and Cape Town based NGOs support municipalities to prepare for community led upgrading through the Informal Settlements Support Programme (ISSP)
  • FEDUP participates in Working for Water Porgram by the National Department of Environmental Affairs
  • SA SDI Alliance Youth craft a draft guiding document 
  • Alliance forum on community-led data collection for informal settlement upgrading
  • National elections