By Nkokheli Ncambele (on behalf of ISN)*
Nkokheli Ncambele is the regional co-ordinator of the Alliance’s Informal Settlement Network (ISN) in the Western Cape.
In Mfuleni, informal settlements have been without basic services for five years. People had to buy water from surrounding formal houses; at night it was difficult for them to get to a toilet. Last year, ISN started creating a partnership with the City of Cape Town’s Water & Sanitation Department. We kept reporting these problems to the City until we saw that there was a light: the Department came to us saying, “Yes we are going to do something in those communities”.
The City is very important as a partner because when they come on board we see results: in March 2015 they installed a total of 15 standpipes for taps and 57 flush toilets in five settlements (Tambo Square, California, Constantia, Strong Yard and Emseleni) in Mfuleni region which is one of four ISN sub-regions in Cape Town. Every settlement’s leadership sends two or more members to our weekly sub-regional meetings to discuss issues. After we collect all issues we decide where to start. This is how we chose these five settlements for Water & Sanitation installation.
From backyards to informal settlements
You will find that most settlements like Tambo Square, California, Constantia, Strong Yard and Emseleni were established when formal housing was introduced. When there is a big housing improvement project there are always people who move in as backyard dwellers. Why are there so many new settlements like these? Because backyarders are tired of paying rent and being mistreated by homeowners who cut off services without notice. That’s why backyarders move into nearby open spaces.
The beginnings of ISN in Mfuleni
Before ISN, we as community leaders used to have a joint leaders forum in Mfuleni. When we heard about ISN, we decided to join because the movement was talking about what we were already doing for a long time.
“We realised that actually we are ISN – anyone who is staying in an informal settlement is ISN. Let’s take this forward”.
New sub regional leaders asked us to explain the ISN process to them. Other community movements, development forums and Councillors also know about us. I can say that 99% of informal settlements in Mfuleni have gone on exchanges to see what other ISN communities are doing. That’s why they want to be part of ISN and why Mfuleni is becoming an ISN base. Look at the people of Tambo Square – they want to be involved in their own project. When the ISN coordinators go to Emseleni, people just come out to greet us. We see that people are hungry to solve their problems.
“Tambo Square started in 2007 when backyarders moved here. We had no toilets or taps and used to get water from the formal houses. We took our problems to ISN who helped us go to the municipality. These changes came to us with ISN – they play a big role for us”.
(Nkosikhona Bangiso, Tambo Square Steering Committee Leader)
Building our partnership with the City
As ISN, we know that the Department of Water & Sanitation has an interest to deliver basic services to communities. The difficulty is that many settlements have little open space for services to be installed. When ISN started mobilising communities and speaking about the value of basic services, community members began thinking about how to create more space in their settlement. In Tambo Square, for example, it looked like there was no space. We suggested that the community remove a large container that stood at the entrance of the settlement. Now there are ten toilets in that space. In this way it was easy to convince Water & Sanitation to partner with us. I think I can say that they see us (ISN) as a solution. We told them,
“We’ve got the space, now you can come and install the toilets. Don’t say there is no space in our community”.
The role of ISN & CORC in partnership building
What is unique about our Alliance is that CORC created a space between ISN and the City. In 2009 there was opposition between communities and the City. Because of that CORC was there to neutralise the relationship. I can say that CORC was a bridge that connected us to the City. The City used to say, “We don’t want to go to meetings with the communities because they will swear at us and toyi-toyi (protest) and do all these things.” But CORC has a belief that communities won’t do that. Through the engagement with CORC we (ISN) understood that we need to go to the table, and not to the street. Then at the end of 2009, the City started saying, “This thing is working”. I think that is why they are happy to work with us.
The bigger picture: taps, toilets & beyond
We recently met with an Mfuleni councillor and asked what he thought about Mfuleni as a whole. He said he has a bigger picture – that in the next 20 years he doesn’t want to see informal settlements. For that to be possible I see that he needs a movement like ISN that will make sure that his vision is pushed. What is our vision? That all settlements have basic services and that all people who are living in informal settlements have houses. Our vision and his vision are on the same page.
* Compiled by Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)