Joe Slovo is an informal settlement located less than 8 kilometres from the centre of the city of Cape Town, South Africa. It is situated along the N2 national freeway that links Cape Town to the International airport and to the rest of the country. In September 2004, the National Department of Housing (renamed the Department of Human Settlements in 2009) launched a major development project called the ‘N2 Gateway’. The upgrading of the Joe Slovo informal settlement was one the first projects identified as part of the N2 Gateway development. In preparation for development, significant numbers of families ended up being relocated to transit camps and dormitory neighbourhoods about 20km away. In response to these relocations, community leaders, who had developed relationships with the SA SDI Alliance, decided that they needed to enumerate themselves. In 2009, following the third in a series of fires, the community engaged iKhayalami to being re-blocking their settlement. iKhayalami provided blocking and construction materials and the community worked together to guard the clear space until a new spatial arrangement for the houses could be determined and laid out. By the end of March, 120 new shelters had been built, in new re-blocked arrangements. The fire also gave an immediate context and impetus for the enumeration, which the community wanted to conduct to help with their case against the N2 Gateway development. The enumeration was conducted in conjunction with the blocking project.
The first residents of Joe Slovo had moved there in the 1990’s. They were mainly the families of men who had formerly been migrant labourers in the city and had been housed in state and private hostels in the immediate vicinity of the open land that served as a buffer zone along the national highway. The collapse of apartheid resulted in a rapid acceleration of this urban in-migration and the number of shacks in Joe Slovo grew rapidly. (Enumerations Final Report). In the beginning In January 2005 a major fire broke out, claiming 3,000 shelters and leaving 12,000 people homeless. As a result of this fire, the first contact was made between the community and iKhaylami, a community-based organization working on incremental housing that would later play a role in the enumeration. In October 2007, the first savings groups were started, linked to CORC and the Federation of the Urban Poor in South Africa (FEDUP) “However, due to general lack of understanding around FEDUPs operations, coupled with suspicions by leadership, opposition blocked FEDUPs activities by discouraging membership and meetings within the community.” (Joe Slovo Blocking Project) Federation savings schemes continued in a limited capacity until February 2008, when a second, smaller fire occurred, claiming 150 shelters. The second fire acted as a catalyst for the growth of the federation in Joe Slovo, hammering out some of the previous misunderstandings and crystalizing the rationale behind daily savings for community members. By 2009, the community in Joe Slovo was strong and organized enough to resist determined efforts to be removed and relocated on the periphery of the city.