Launch of Upgrading at Flamingo Crescent with Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille

By CORC, FEDUP, iKhayalami, ISN, Press No Comments

Authored by CORC

“People said Flamingo Crescent [Upgrading] will never happen. But today is here and this is the proof that it has happened – one cannot do it alone we need to work as a collective!”

Melanie Manuel, Informal Settlement Network (ISN) Co-ordinator

Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, with Flamingo Crescent Community Members, SA SDI Alliance, PFO's and City Officials

Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, with Flamingo Crescent Community Members, SA SDI Alliance, PFO’s and City Officials

Last week’s upgrading launch at Flamingo Crescent informal settlement celebrated the completion of re-blocking, installation of water, sanitation and electricity services for each of Flamingo’s 104 households, the unveiling of Flamingo’s first formal street names and opening of the settlement’s own crèche, Little Paradise. Moreover it marked a milestone in an ongoing upgrading process, showcasing what is possible when communities, intermediaries, governments and stakeholders form partnerships.

Delegates from community organisations and networks, the Mayor of the City of Cape Town, delegates from various government departments, ward and sub-council politicians, NGOs and support organisations gathered in the Lansdowne Civic Centre from 11:00 on Monday 10 February.

The re-blocking project is lauded as a successful demonstration of community-led, participatory planning, collaborative implementation and improvement of informal settlements. The uniqueness of the project was that despite the settlement’s density no one was displaced and grossly inconvenienced during the implementation of upgrading 104 structures.

ISN & FEDUP welcome the Mayor to the launch at Lansdowne Civic Centre

ISN & FEDUP welcome the Mayor to the launch at Lansdowne Civic Centre

First engagements around Flamingo Crescent 

First engagements began in 2012 after the City of Cape Town signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the SA SDI Alliance around joint community-led upgrading of 22 informal settlements, of which Flamingo Crescent is the third, having built on the experiences of Mtshini Wam and Kuku Town. It differs from the previous two in the severity of its socio-economic challenges – high levels of crime, unemployment, violence and poverty. Given these circumstances the Alliance’s Informal Settlement Network (ISN) facilitated implementation and engagement between the City and the community.

Melanie Manuel (Flamingo Crescent ISN facilitator) shared,

“When we started the partnership with the City of Cape Town in 2011 in Vygieskraal it was a day of celebration and no one knew the hardships that would lie ahead. As time went on we realised we fundamentally believe in community participation, a bottom up approach because we know communities understand their settlements best.”

Read more background here.

Flamingo Before Upgrading

Flamingo Before Upgrading

The Launch: Messages on Upgrading and Inclusion in Services

At the launch, the first speaker, Councillor Anthea Green shared,

“Since 2012 I have said that we need to upgrade Flamingo Crescent, despite resistance from the rate payers and residents’ groups. We were committed to work with the community, and now this is a transformed settlement”.

Informal settlements not only face substandard basic services like water, sanitation and electricity but are also cut off from functions of city administration such as receiving a residential address. The re-blocking project allowed the City and the Post Office to give Flamingo Crescent street names and addresses, after the community made this requirement upfront in their development plan.

Gerald Blankenberg, regional director of the Post Office, said that the Post Office Act and other regulations require the post office to expand addresses to underserviced communities.

“Informal communities are often times socially and economically disconnected from basic administrative functions, and therefore a residential address will give the Post Office an opportunity to serve the community with dignity”, he said.

In the keynote address, Mayor Patricia de Lille emphasised the significant role of Flamingo community’s steering committee, the Alliance’s ISN and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) in the success of the project. She, however, expressed concern about the slow pace of project implementation, emphasizing the need to boost municipal and community capacity to ensure the roll out of more projects in the City’s 200 informal settlements.

“The aim of re-blocking is the improvement of informal settlements while people wait for a housing opportunity”, she observed.

In closing of the ceremony, the Mayor handed over certificates of tenure to community members, ensuring formal recognition of residence and tenure security.

Mayor, Patricia de Lille with Flamingo Community Leader, Maria Matthews

Mayor, Patricia de Lille with Flamingo Community Leader, Maria Matthews

The Impact of Upgrading : Before and After

Before re-blocking, the community of 405 residents had access to only 14 chemical toilets (of which 7 were serviced) and 2 water taps. There was no electricity so that contained fires in tin drums dotted the settlement’s dusty pathways. The community was especially concerned about the safety of its children playing in the busy street.

Re-blocking restructured space in the settlement, opening courtyard areas and clearly designated access roads, enabling the City of Cape Town to install individual water, sanitation and electricity services per household. What sets Flamingo apart from previous projects are its paved pathways, with official road names as well as the construction of a crèche.

The community contributed 20% to the cost of its structures through community-based daily savings. During the implementation phase, 20 jobs were created through the Expanded Public Works Programme.

Before upgrading

Before upgrading

After upgrading

After upgrading

Into the Future: Community voices on Partnership and City Fund

“Since 2010 we have been thinking about improvements in our settlement. This is when we got in touch with ISN, who introduced us to CORC, and we then made a partnership with the City [of Cape Town] We explained what we wanted from the city – our own taps, toilets and electricity. But we needed to come together and draft our own plans”.

(Maria Matthews, Flamingo Community Leader)

Through the SA SDI Alliance the community additionally partnered with several organisations. iKhayalami supported the community, ISN/FEDUP and CORC around training community members and top structure construction. The community established the re-blocked layout and community-based maps in partnership with students from Cape Peninsula University of Technology and support staff from CORC. With the support of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI, USA) the community drew up plans for the crèche. Habitat for Humanity South Africa contributed to construction by supplying the roof sheets and windows. The Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD) donated funds to build the crèche. CECD will also support around the training and registration of the crèche.

From Melanie’s speech it was clear,

“This project is successful because of the methodologies we use. We allow communities to do their own designs. The community also made a [financial] contribution [in a settlement] where 95% of community members were unemployed. How do we change the mind-sets of people who are still waiting for adequate housing? Let’s change the way we are living now while we are waiting for housing to come.”

(Melanie Manuel, ISN Facilitator)

Melanie Manuel, ISN Co-ordinator in Flamingo

Melanie Manuel, ISN Co-ordinator in Flamingo

As important as settlement improvement is in itself, the methodology is just as significant. Moreover, Flamingo Crescent serves as a precedent for informal settlement upgrading on a larger scale. The day ended with the community leading the Mayor through their settlement, unveiling Flamingo’s new street names and officially opening the Little Paradise crèche together. It is Melanie Manuel’s closing words that speak of the future:

 “We need to look at a holistic plan for the metro. Let’s look at how we can reach basic services much quicker and how we can scale up. The Alliance projects do not only focus on reblocking but on basic services in every form. The Alliance has designed a City Fund with which communities can directly access money for upgrading in Cape Town. In Flamingo the Aliance’s Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF) helped us match the 20% that each community member contributed to their structure. This kind of facility on a city-level will go a long way – we challenge the City to continue partnering with us and match our contributions in the City Fund!”



Durban and Port Elizabeth Leaders on Sanitation Exchange

By CORC, iKhayalami, ISN, SDI No Comments

By Stefanie Holzwarth and Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

Over the past years, the communities of Midrand in Port Elizabeth and Havelock in Durban have been upgrading their settlements, step by step. Last week’s exchange (8-11 July 2014) – in which community leaders visited Cape Town settlements – formed the next step in activating solutions to their specific needs for water and sanitation upgrading.

Site visit in Kuku Town

Site visit in Kuku Town


Midrand and Havelock

Midrand is located on municipal land but is not yet listed on the municipality’s database and therefore experiences great difficulty in accessing services. The community consistently experiences severe flooding. Havelock, on the other hand, is built on privately owned land and has been earmarked for “interim services” by eThekwini Municipality, indicating a willingness to deliver basic services in the short term and habitation in the long term. It is built against a hill with high shack densities that have led to shack fires, flooding and torrents of water flushes in the rainy seasons. Read more background on Havelock and Midrand.

The exchange

During the four-day exchange about ten community leaders visited five settlements in and around Cape Town. The exchange was linked to the SHARE Program (Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity) linked to Shack Dwellers International (SDI). Read more about SHARE here. It was facilitated by the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and iKhayalami. It centrally focussed on how communities can use sanitation as a tool for upgrading and mobilisation, particularly in response to ever present and severe flooding.

Midrand community leaders, for example, spent time investigating the most suitable and relevant options for sanitation upgrading in their settlement:

  • Communal toilets and wash facility at the edge of the settlement (ablution blocks) without re-blocking
  • Sanitation and wash facility in the centre of the settlement with partial re-blocking
  • Individual sanitation facilities in courtyard (one-on-one sanitation) with settlement wide re-blocking

These would all require engagement with local government institutions.

Havelock’s central challenge is drainage. The settlement has already engaged with local government about constructing a sanitation unit as well as providing more sanitation units in the centre of the settlement. This would coincide with the communities’ already existing plans to re-block its settlement. Midrand and Havelock’s leaders therefore visited upgrading sites that provided an example of different options available to them.


Example of sanitation in a community-run Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) facility

One-on-One Sanitation in Kuku Town

The visitors spent the first day in Kuku Town where the community recently completed re-blocking with individual sanitation per upgraded structure. They were particularly interested in how Kuku Town managed to re-block without having to relocate people to other areas. Other questions focused on why the community chose individual toilets. Kuku Town’s leaders explained that

“single toilets are manageable because the owner is responsible for their own toilet and because there are no conflicts within the community with regards to hygiene.”

The leaders also reflected on Kuku Town’s successes and challenges throughout planning and implementation. The visitors learned how Kuku Town approached the municipality for support in terms of infrastructure services. Both Midrand and Havelock were impressed by the Council´s successful involvement in providing water and sanitation.

6. After reblocking 3

Sanitation and water services per upgraded structure in Kuku Town

Sanitation facility in Langrug, Stellenbosch & BM Section, Khayelitsha

In Langrug, Franschoek. the visitors saw an example of upgrading that included relocating 16 families, the construction of a second access road and grey-water and drainage channels, and a community designed, multi-purpose Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Facility. The visit offered insight into the WaSH facility, the drainage project and the local playground. The subsequent discussion facilitated an exciting learning environment with questions about the maintenance of the WaSH facility and funding. They also discovered the opportunity of hot water provision via solar heating systems in summer. The afternoon centred on projects in BM section, Khayelitsha. Its similarity (due to an uneven slope) to Havelock made it an ideal site for the exchange and delivered an essential input for its visitors.


Interior view of Langrug’s WaSH facility



Courtyard in BM section

Shared Sanitation in Mtshini Wam & ongoing re-blocking in Flamingo

The visit to Mshini Wam provided valuable lessons for the visitors – particularly in the field of funding and engaging the local authority. The visitors took special interest in understanding how Mtshini Wam managed to convince some residents to share toilets on a cluster basis while others had single toilets. The challenges relating to communal toilets were thoroughly discussed.

“The main idea was to have single toilets but due to the number of shacks and the limited space, the plan was diverted in order to accommodate communal toilets. The maintenance and cleaning of the toilets depends on the cluster groups.”

The visitors concluded their site visits in Flamingo Crescent, an ongoing re-blocking project. During a walkabout the visitors observed how shacks were broken down, how ground works were installed and how the new structures were erected.

Site visit in Flamingo during re-blocking

Site visit in Flamingo during re-blocking

Midrand community discusses the way forward

On the last day, Midrand leaders and iKhayalami discussed the sanitation options available to the community and the future steps each would imply. Community leaders agreed that re-blocking with one-on-one services would be the most realistic and feasible option.

“The ablution block won´t work for us because there is lots of friction. No one wants to wait for a long time when using the facility. Community blocks won´t work because some of the people are not responsible. They leave it without taking care.” (Community Leader, Midrand)

Midrand’s leaders agreed to start saving to upgrade their structures instead of solely blocking out. They hoped to convince the municipality to come on board. Re-blocking would be conducted in phases – identifying clusters for incremental re-blocking.

One major challenge in Midrand is the lack of space. Part of the settlement land is still in private hands – which causes major tenure insecurity. Together with iKhayalami the leaders discussed various solutions. While the community leaders resolved their questions, the next step is to share these with the rest of their communities when they return.

The exchange not only offered a learning space but also enabled leaders to grow their ability in community-driven upgrading,

“I have learned a lot by being a community leader and by being part of this exchange. It has built up my confidence and my professional experience. I was a very shy person before – now I can stand up and work for our development goals.” (Midrand community leader)

Midrand Consultation

Andy Bolnick (iKhayalami) discusses sanitation options with Midrand community leaders

National Community Exchange – Durban to Cape Town (Part 2)

By CORC, iKhayalami, ISN No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

A four-day community exchange was underway from 29 April to 2 May 2014, during which community leaders from Durban visited informal settlements in and around Cape Town.  This blog continues to trace the experiences and reflections collected on the exchange, the first two days of which have been recorded here.

Day 3 in Langrug informal settlement – Sanitation, Drainage and ‘Greening’

View of Langrug informal settlement, Franschoek

View of Langrug informal settlement, Franschoek

Located in the affluent wine-farming area of Franschoek, Langrug informal settlement, home to about 4500 people, is characterised by extreme poverty, poor housing and sanitation. In the face of these challenges the community signed a precedent-setting Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the locally presiding Stellenbosch Municipality that channelled government funds to community-based upgrading initiatives. This translated into relocating 16 families, the construction of a second access road, the construction of grey-water and drainage channels and a community designed, multi-purpose Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Facility. The facility includes a communal homework area for children, a hair salon, benches and laundry basins. Click here for a comprehensive profile of Langrug. Currently, Langrug is involved in the second phase of upgrading: ‘greening’ the existing WaSH facility with vertical vegetable gardens and developing a dry sanitation facility in Zwelitsha, an ‘informal’ section of Langrug without taps and toilets.

Existing WaSH Facility after 'greening'

Existing WaSH Facility after ‘greening’

KZN visitors taste Langrug's spinach

KZN visitors taste Langrug’s spinach

The exchange visitors were introduced to all these aspects on a detailed walk-about. Langrug community member, Alfred Ratana, indicated the differences in depth and purpose of the drainage and grey water channels and explained the processes accompanying relocation. He emphasised the uniqueness of Langrug in that it was a municipality-driven project which was not community financed.

“Langrug shows that municipalities can have a different approach to communities. Our experience shows that municipalities can include us in their plans and construct with us – not for us”

(Alfred Ratana, Langrug community member)

Langrug community member, Alfred Ratana, speaks about Langrug's grey water drainage

Langrug community member, Alfred Ratana, speaks about Langrug’s grey water drainage


Viewing a community-constructed drainage channel

Langrug community members also explained the breakthrough presented by Zwelitsha’s dry sanitation facility: due to its location on a steep mountain slope it has been impossible to provide water and sanitation services to around 600 families. The dry sanitation facility, however, is a step towards changing this. The vertical vegetable gardens in Langrug’s existing WaSH facility (developed in partnership with Touching the Earth Lightly) showed the visitors how the community secures food and generates income. By selling the spinach it grows, the community intends to generate income to sustain daily running costs of the facility.

The visitors were also impressed by a crèche facility that had been established between external partners and mothers in Langrug who wanted to provide an alternative, more affordable option for their children. The teachers of the crèche explained that,

“getting something started is not about presenting an idea to social services. You just need to start. Once the idea is happening, you can take the outcome to social services and get it registered”.

Once back at the WaSH facility Langrug’s steering committee shared details around the developments in their settlement. The group was also joined by Diana Mitlin and visiting colleagues from Manchester University. Read about their impressions here.

Sharing impressions after the walkabout

Sharing impressions after the walkabout

Langrug's steering committee explains the steps it took in the upgrading process

Langrug’s steering committee explains the steps it took in the upgrading process


Day 4 in Mtshini Wam – Reflections on how to continue

The final visit to Mtshini Wam showed the visitors what a large-scale re-blocking project could look like. During upgrading, the settlement also received one on one services, some in-structure toilets and public water points. More details on Mtshini Wam’s re-blocking are documented here.

Over four days the group had seen much, listened intently, exchanged questions and pondered how to take these impressions back home. Some key points:

  • Visiting Langrug presented a highlight for the visitors from Durban as the topography and accompanying challenges (steep inclines, drainage and flooding) are similar to the conditions in their own settlements.
  • Langrug’s drainage and sanitation facilities therefore presented relevant options for the Durban visitors
  • The visitors were inspired by the initiative and commitment they encountered in their fellow community leaders, something they wanted to take back in responding to circumstances in their own settlements
  • The exchange highlighted the importance of partnerships and the ever-present opportunity to form partnerships as a foundation for wielding large scale change
A street view of Mtshini Wam after re-blocking

A street view of Mtshini Wam after re-blocking

KZN leaders in conversation about securing service provision

KZN leaders in conversation about securing service provision

Durban’s Kenville and Foreman Road settlements will share their experiences of the exchange in mass meetings with their communities this weekend (16-18 May). Their next steps are to enumerate their settlements and establish a relationship with their councillors.

As the visitors embarked on the journey home, ISN community leader, Nkokheli Ncambele, reminded them that

“it is important not to impose everything you have seen on this exchange on your communities at home. Rather take what you have learnt and present it to the community as a suggestion. Then you can decide together what you want and how to make it work in your own settlement”

Exchanges certainly are the most important learning vehicle in the South African Alliance. They facilitate the direct exchange of information, experience and skills, thereby building a horizontal platform for learning between urban poor communities. Through sharing successes and failures in projects, giving and receiving advice on engaging government, sharing in work and life experiences and exchanging tactics and plans communities become central actors.

National Community Exchange – Durban to Cape Town (Part 1)

By CORC, iKhayalami, ISN No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

Informal settlement leaders from Kenville and Foreman Road in Durban are mobilising their communities to upgrade their settlements with better services and improved spatial layouts. Last week’s exchange to Cape Town (29 April – 2 May 2014) therefore presented a first-hand opportunity for them to draw insights from fellow community leaders.


Group picture in Kuku Town: Durban and Cape Town communities on exchange

Over the week the Durban visitors were hosted by Kuku Town, Flamingo Crescent, Langrug & Mtshini Wam communities in and around Cape Town. Each day was dedicated to an in-depth visit of each settlement. This included a detailed site visit, discussions on  collecting savings, enumerating and profiling settlements and contributing to planning and mapping. Besides bringing leaders together on a national level, the exchange also connected communities locally: for leaders from Kuku Town, Flamingo and Langrug the exchange comprised a first time visit to the other settlements. Exchanges are thus the most important learning vehicle in the South African Alliance, facilitating the direct exchange of information, experience and skills between urban poor communities.


Introductions and briefing on the week ahead at CORC office in Mowbray

Day one in Kuku Town: Upgrading & Savings 

Community leaders met in Kuku Town, a small settlement that recently completed re-blocking and in the process secured one-on-one water and sanitation services from the City of Cape Town. Read more about Kuku Town and re-blocking here. In the discussion community leaders took the visitors through a step-by-step picture of Kuku Town’s experiences. ISN representative, Melanie Manuel, explained that

“What we do in ISN is not only to beautify our settlements but to actually change the way we live. Savings and partnerships – like we had with Habitat for Humanity and the municipality – are an important part of this.”


Community leaders share their experiences around organising and upgrading in Kuku Town community hall

Yet, before partnerships can be formed, a community needs to know its settlement in terms of the number of (un)emloyed people, the number of structures and families and details on service provision (electricity, sanitation and water). This information is collected in enumerations. Kuku Town community used its enumeration data to plan its re-blocked layout and to negotiate the provision of one-on-one services and short-term employment opportunities through the City’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).  Community leaders explained that they organised themselves in clusters to be able to navigate the logistics around communication and construction during re-blocking.

Among a variety of questions, the visitors took special interest in understanding the connection between savings and upgrading, especially the role of community contributions. Melanie explained that

“Savings contributions enable us as communities to take ownership and responsibility of the changes and upgrading in our settlements. We want to move away from a ‘free for all mindset’ and restore dignity and pride to our communities”

Melanie Manuel, ISN representative

Melanie Manuel, ISN representative

But collecting savings poses a continuous challenge. How to go about motivating communities and responding to accusations? Flamingo Crescent’s community leader, Auntie Marie, shared her experience:

“Getting the community’s commitment for daily savings is difficult. People only want to act when they see that things are happening. You’ve got to be tough. If you’re not tough you won’t get anything right”

For Kuku Town community leader, Verona Joseph, the partnership with the City and its support in this regard, was crucial.  This became evident at Kuku Town’s official handover that afternoon which was attended by the ward councillor and City officials.  The handover and a site visit completed the first day of the exchange, demonstrating what a tangible community-government partnership can look like.


Exchange communities join Kuku Town handover ceremony

Inspecting the water and sanitation services provided by the City

Kuku Town site visit: inspecting water and sanitation services provided by the City

Day two in Flamingo Crescent: Re-blocking and Partnerships

Flamingo Crescent is about to begin re-blocking and – in partnership with the City of Cape Town – is set to receive one-on-one services. On a walkabout through the smoke and dust-filled pathways community leaders received a thorough impression of the settlement’s layout. Most structures – consisting of old cardboard, zinc, timber and plastic pieces – are situated around a broad, u-shaped pathway that is intersected by smaller, narrow footpaths. Flamingo’s population of about 450 people resides in 104 structures. The entire settlement makes use of only 2 taps and 14 chemical toilets that are emptied three times a week. The absence of electricity means that fire is used as a central source for cooking and warmth.

1. Overview 2

Flamingo – view from above

Site visit in Flamingo

Site visit in Flamingo

In a nearby community hall, Flamingo’s steering committee explained its relationship with ISN and the challenge of collecting savings contributions due to its high unemployment rate (50%). Flamingo’s enumeration acted as a powerful entry point to negotiating an improved layout and service provision with the City of Cape Town. Together with students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (USA) the community designed the re-blocked layout and conceptualised plans for a crèche and a play park.  Later, the visitors joined the steering committee’s meeting with a Cape Town City official who provided an update on the City’s contribution to upgrading.  For the visitors this was of particular value as it emphasised the crucial role of partnerships and the number of actors involved in a given project. The question at the forefront of many minds was: how can we do this in our communities at home?

For Auntie Marie, Flamingo community leader, it is evident that

“If it wasn’t for ISN, I don’t know where we would be. Through ISN we were introduced to the City and we got a partnership. We started thinking, ‘Now something is going to happen’. Flamingo is going to be re-blocked!”

Continue reading Part 2 of the exchange here.

(Flamingo steering committee presents its partnerships

Flamingo steering committee presents its partnerships

Auntie Marie, Leader of Flamingo Community and Steering Committee

Auntie Marie, Leader of Flamingo Community and Steering Committee

Report back to Flamingo Community

Report back to Flamingo Community


Re-blocking Kuku Town Informal Settlement

By CORC, FEDUP, iKhayalami, ISN, uTshani Fund No Comments

View of Kuku Town in the process of re-blocking

Kuku Town informal settlement is located on a little triangle of open land opposite the railway line in Kensington, Cape Town. It is also home to about 50 people that make up 20 households.  The past week has been an eventful one as community members have seen the physical layout of their settlement transform day by day. They have taken down their old homes, structures made largely from pieces of old wood, plastic, cardboard and aluminium that were a safety risk, especially during fires.  Together with iKhayalami, an Alliance partner and support NGO the community cleared and levelled the ground as the more fire-resistant structures were erected.

3 years of preparation

Over the last three years Kuku Town prepared for upgrading by building up a relationship with the City of Cape Town, the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC). During this time the Alliance also established a partnership with Habitat for Humanity South Africa (HFHSA). In establishing its interaction with the City, the community partnered with the alliance to organise and mobilise itself. Community members were actively involved in modeling, planning and mapping the re-blocked layout as well as collecting savings to contribute to the re-blocked structures. They gathered knowledge and experience about upgrading in community exchanges and collected information about Kuku Town in community-run profile and enumeration surveys.

Re-blocking: an Alliance approach and a City policy


Community-drafted plan of Kuku Town before re-blocking

‘Re-blocking’ is a term used by the South African SDI Alliance to refer to the reconfiguration and repositioning of shacks in very dense informal settlements in accordance with a community-drafted spatial framework. Generally, re-blocking occurs in “clusters” identified by the community, which result in “courtyards”, ensure a safer environment and generally provide space for local government to install better services.

As Kuku Town is a small and dense settlement the re-blocked layout had to consider creative options. Together with CORCs technical team community designers erected the new structures along the sides of the neighbouring walls with a few re-blocked structures in the centre, opening up an L-shaped pathway throughout the settlement that enables public space and easy vehicle access in emergency situations. HFHSA stepped in at a crucial time to support the re-blocking process by sourcing G5 fill material to raise the new structures and mitigate potential flooding. As part of the community’s re-blocking proposal, the City agreed to install one-on-one water and sanitation services for every structure. This made a big difference to the 50 families who previously had to share 2 taps and 4 toilets.

The re-blocking of Kuku Town is also part of three pilot projects the City of Cape Town sought to support in the coming financial year after it adopted re-blocking as an official policy on 5 November 2013. The City thus indicated a long-term commitment of resources to re-blocking projects, to departmental alignment and to meaningful interventions in informal settlements.


Community designed re-blocking plan for Kuku Town









Mobilising the community, engaging the City

In 2006 Kuku Town first appeared on the City’s informal settlement database, after a community leader engaged local councilors around poor service delivery. Later, in mid-2011 after the City and ISN / CORC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the community joined the ISN network and clarified a way forward for collaborative partnership with the City.

ISN community leader, Nkokheli Ncambele explains that the interaction between ISN and Kuku Town began when the PFO (Principal Field Officer) of the City’s Informal Settlement Management Department introduced Kuku Town community leaders to other upgrading processes in the informal settlements of Burundi and Sheffield Road. These exchanges provided an opportunity to learn, ask questions and share experiences about informal settlement upgrading. Once community leaders had met with the city and ISN a big meeting took place in Kuku Town to explain upgrading to the community.


Mzwanele Zulu (ISN), City officials, Verona Joseph (Community leader)










After some initial resistance the community decided to opt for re-blocking. This meant that they needed to start saving toward contributing to their own structures.Verona Joseph, Kuku Town community leader, explains that

“over 3 years we managed to save R 15 000. Most people in our community are above 50 years. Only 3 are employed and 5 get a pension. But even the old people managed to save money”

64-year old Auntie Hana Olyn and her husband Piet Jordaan, remember how

“when we collected two bottles we would save the deposit from one bottle. We also collected tins, did the gardening or ironed people’s clothes. This is how we managed to save quickly. Most people could earn R 100 a day. Some of this they used for savings.”

Most community members chose 12m2 and 20m2 structures for which they respectively needed to save R740 and R1000.  The remaining cost of the structure was covered by the Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF). Savings are recorded in personal savings books and are deposited in a community savings account. Regular bank reconciliations are communicated to the group.



Verona and Auntie Hana Olyn in her new home









Community savings records









In April 2012 community members also led an enumeration in Kuku Town through which they gathered relevant, verifiable, and specific data that was used to build models and draft the re-blocking plans. For Verona, the enumeration brought about another success:

“Before the enumeration we had people from different families staying in one structure. Only some of them were registered with the council. I wanted to push for every family to get their own structure. The problem was that some people did not qualify because they were not registered with the council. But with the enumeration we re-counted everyone and got them re-registered.  This was the most important thing! The council then agreed that every family could have its own structure.”

 “As a community we are more comfortable now”

Lydia and Verona, both on the leadership committee, agree that this is one of the biggest changes.

 “We don’t have rats any more and when it rains we won’t lose our clothes. But people’s way of life is also changing. It was a struggle to convince them, but now they have other things to focus on – they are fixing things in their homes. With the new structures everyone’s lives will pick up because this is a very upgraded informal settlement now”.








Rethinking ‘successful’ cities – SA SDI Alliance wins runner-up at Ingenuity Awards 2013

By CORC, iKhayalami, ISN No Comments

Re-blocking as an innovative approach to urban informal settlements.

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

If “the most successful cities will be those that embrace ground-breaking solutions to meet the changing needs of their citizens” (Ingenuity Awards)

the question really is: What constitutes a  ‘successful’ city – and ‘ground-breaking’ solutions?

In a time of mass urbanisation these questions caught the attention of the Financial Times (FT) who in 2012 decided to publish a series of three magazines along with a global awards scheme, the FT / Citi Ingenuity Awards: Urban Ideas in Action programme. The awards aimed to recognise and honour “ingenious individuals or organisations that have developed solutions to urban challenges” (FT publication, July 2012, p.3). The South African Shack Dwellers Alliance participated in both award rounds (2012 – 2013) and won runner-up for the regional Africa submissions in 2013. The FT and Citi – financial service giants in global business news and banking – ran the awards together with Insead, a leading global business school who joined as a research partner.

2012 Awards

In 2012 the award entries were grouped in the categories of energy, education, health and infrastructure. Together, these were seen as providing a good overview of contemporary urban innovation. iKhayalami – an NGO part of the South African Shack Dwellers Alliance – used this platform to share its work around the community-driven, re-blocking process in Sheffield Road informal settlement in Cape Town. The community’s ideas were at the centre of the re-blocking process which addressed pertinent issues of decent sanitation and water, thereby uniting the community and restoring a sense of dignity. In short, every level of the project dealt with design, capacity building, engaging the state, policy-making and replicability. Nairobi’s Community Cooker Foundation won the 2012 awards while Sheffield Road reached the final round in its category. As the impact of re-blocking became more significant through its replication and growing support base, a new submission was entered under the banner of the South African Shack Dwellers Alliance which is affiliated to Shack Dwellers International (SDI).

SR 2

A courtyard in Sheffield Road informal settlement after re-blocking.

2013 Awards

In the meantime the 2013 award categories had changed to regional areas (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, North and South America) to allow for a broader scope of applicants. A panel of judges (that included architects, city planners, academics and public policy specialists) would judge regional submissions based on the criteria of originality, impact (how much of a difference the project made), sustainability and project transferability to other cities.

By this time, the increased scope of re-blocking in South Africa was evident: it had expanded from iKhayalami to the South African Shack Dwellers alliance and its associated communities. One of the alliance’s social movements – the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) – was at the forefront of the blocking-out agenda as its reach and relationship extended to numerous informal settlement communities throughout South Africa. The re-blocking approach also expanded to policy level whereby it was being drafted as a policy document for implementation in the City of Cape Town. This was done in consultation with the alliance partners.

The idea of re-blocking

As in 2012, the idea of re-blocking was again at the centre of the alliance’s submission in 2013. This innovative and community-centred approach responds to the haphazard spatial layout of many informal settlements that makes it difficult for social or emergency services to gain access to settlements, particularly when there is a fire.

Re-blocking is a social, community-driven process.

On the one hand the re-blocking process is technical. It encompasses a spatial reorganisation of shacks that opens up courtyards and creates clear pathways in a settlement. This gives officials an opportunity to provide improved services as well as making the settlement more safe and secure. Re-blocked shacks are built using Zinc aluminum, which is more fire resistant than conventional materials.

On the other hand, re-blocking is deeply social. Throughout the re-blocking process, the community’s ideas and impetus are key. Re-blocking is led by community designers together with technical assistance from alliance development practitioners in iKhayalami and the Community Organisation Resource Centre (Corc). Community Designers are community members whose design skills are grounded in past project experience.  Andy Bolnick, director of iKhayalami explains,

“Reblocking is about poor communities coming together, redesigning their spatial layout and upgrading their communities in partnership with the state which leads to more equitable and inclusive cities” (Andy Bolnick, Director of iKhayalami)

For Cape Town municipality, its “work with the alliance has provided a solution to the enormous housing backlog [it] is dealing with” (Seth Maqetuka, Executive Driector for Human Settlements in the City of Cape Town).

2013 Runner’s Up: SA SDI Alliance

Nkokheli Ncambele (ISN community leader) and Andy Bolnick (director of iKhayalami) at Ingenuity Awards Ceremony in New York.

Nkokheli Ncambele (ISN community leader) and Andy Bolnick (director of iKhayalami) at Ingenuity Awards ceremony in New York.

After FT journalists visited the alliance in 2013, a panel discussion of the African finalists was held in London in September 2013. The award winners were announced in December 2013 in New York. Both Andy Bolnick and ISN community leader Nkokheli Ncambele attended the award ceremony. The alliance’s submission won runner-up in the Africa region, following Nairobi-based Sanergy, a network of low-cost franchised toilets which also won the overall award for 2013. Social entrepreneur and Sanergy co-founder, David Auerbach explains that Sanergy’s approach is a market-based one which follows the idea of creating something that can scale up (FT publication, July 2013, p. 13). In addressing the persisting problem of human waste Sanergy creates “a network of low-cost franchised toilets which are operated by resident micro-entrepreneurs on a pay-per-use basis” from where waste is collected, organically fertilised and sold to farmers for profit (Ibid).

Rethinking ‘success’

The Ingenuity Awards certainly saw a fascinating variety of innovative projects, of which the African submissions addressed some of the most pressing challenges faced by people living on the informal, social and economic margins of cities.

In addressing the question of a ‘successful’ city, the FTs suggested that

“…the success of a city should be measured not in terms of economic transactions per square metre over a given period of time but in terms of social transactions” (Architect Teddy Cruz,  in FT publication July 2012, p.3)

For FT architecture and design critic, Edwin Heathcote  this view “would dramatically redefine our notions of what a successful city looks like – drawing it in terms of population rather than its turnover … It turns on its head our idea of economic success in terms of personal space and residential footprint… In a stroke, [it] democratises our view of the city [whereby] innovations propose solutions for the informal as well as the developed city” (FT publication, July 2012, p.7).

Yet, from the past two winners it seems apparent that the FT and Citi view business and market-based solutions as answers to addressing the pressing challenges of urbanisation. Should ‘successful’ cities and ‘ground-breaking’ solutions not also expand on market based approaches to challenge the political status quo and existing power relations between the formal and informal sectors? The social processes of community mobilisation are just as significant as the ‘technical’ outcome of re-blocked shacks or a micro-entrepreneurial approach to waste disposal. ISN community leader, Nkokheli Ncambele reflects on the social processes of re-blocking,

 “Blocking-out focuses on so many aspects not only just sanitation but on all aspects of people’s lives. I was surprised that the alliance did not win the award but it is good that we were recognised for what we are doing”

(Nkokheli Ncambele, ISN community leader)

The question of a ‘successful’ city then reaches beyond mere ‘technical’ engagements to how these engagements happen. It is a question that asks, how can urban poor communities engage with the state and other actors in a way in which they are more equal and not more powerless?