INITIATION DATE: The Marlboro community first made contact with ISN in October 2011, at which time an enumeration was completed and projects were specified. The design studio occurred between July and August 2012.

LOCATION:  Marlboro South is a community of nearly 5 thousand residents occupying 53 abandoned warehouses and open parcels of land that stretch across 28 square blocks of largely industrially zoned land. The community is located west of Alexandria Township, City of Johannesburg, and approximately 5 kilometres east of Sandton City.

PROJECT IN BRIEF: The project was initially framed around a comprehensive development strategy for Marlboro, and CUFF funding was required for sanitation upgrading and new typologies in re-blocking and in-situ upgrading which would fit into a spatial development framework drafted by the Informal Studio: Marlboro South. However, this forward momentum was dismantled when the City of Joburg launched a new wave of evictions in August 2012. The implementation of the Constitutional Court ruling in favour of the community will become the scope of work for the medium term.


The primary community structure, the Marlboro Warehouse Crisis Committee (MWCC), made first contact with the ISN and FEDUP, who supported in matters of savings, enumerations, project planning, partnership meetings and internal governance matters. CORC helped to facilitate the enumeration and also provided technical support to initiate projects. At this time, a design studio in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Design and Architecture and 26’10 South Architects was initiated with funding from the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg. After the evictions, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) took the responsibility of following through on the community’s request from litigation against the City of Joburg.

BASIC FUNDING DETAILS: The MWCC has begun saving with FEDUP as early as November 2011. Since the unravelling of events did not allow for project implementation, CUFF budgets were redirected at emergency relief. Four large canvas tents were purchased at the total price of R141,707 to accommodate the evicted families. Legal costs for an immediate moratorium on the evictions were R30,000.

The community has currently saved more than R11,400, but this is still in their communal bank account. No contributions were required for the emergency relief works.


Context: In 2003, the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) obtained an eviction notice and court order for 16 buildings illegally occupied by residents in Marlboro South. Two years later, in 2005, the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) began acting on the eviction orders by demolishing households in several of the buildings, leaving affected residents homeless and without access to alternative accommodation. In the aftermath of evictions, the community gathered for a mass demonstration to protest the displacements. The demonstration was instrumental in the issuing of a public response by the CoJ who signed a moratorium on any further evictions by the JMPD until emergency shelter could be provided to affected residents. Prompted by the devastation caused by the 2005 evictions, the community began to organize a leadership committee, which was tasked with the responsibility of engaging with local ward councillors and Johannesburg Region E Housing officials around finding workable solutions to the housing crisis in their community. In 2007, the Marlboro Warehouse Crisis Committee (MWCC), as the leadership committee came to be known, partnered with an informal settlement in neighbouring Wynberg to bring a court case against the JMPD for evictions carried out in both communities at the time—evictions that followed the same patterns by the JMPD as those that took place in the 2005. The result of that case was a Gauteng High Court ruling against the City of Johannesburg in the form of an interdict preventing any further eviction in either community without first acting on the City’s constitutional obligation to provide of at least minimum shelter to households with no access to alternative accommodation.

Prior to the Informal Studio: Marlboro South (outlined below), the ISN capacitated and facilitated the MWCC to conduct area-wide enumerations, as well as in supporting the setting up of technical task teams made up of community leaders and residents to drive the studio project. Working off the positive action incited by the studio project, FEDUP has also been actively supporting the MWCC savings team to draw in more members to their more than 200 household strong community savings scheme.

At the same time, CORC has been facilitating the working relationship between the MWCC and UJ, providing input around project objectives and helping coordinate the logistics of equitable and meaningful participation for all stakeholders involved. CORC staff and ISN leaders have also been working to draw in CoJ Housing Officials into the design process in order to start a direct dialogue with between the community and Johannesburg Metro around housing solutions and tenure security.

PROJECT IMPACT: In August 2012, when the JMPD launched a new wave of evictions, the ISN responded by rallying thousands of shack dwellers from Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni (the mining belt), Tswane (Pretoria) and smaller towns and cities such as Mogale City, Midvaal, and Sedibeng who gathered on Mary Fitzgerald square in Newtown, Johannesburg. This Asihambi (meaning, “we will not be moved”) solidarity march took place in September 2012, and the agenda was a simple but powerful one: mobilising those affected by poor service delivery, insecure tenure, and evictions. The Asihambi solidarity march brought together civic structures from all major cities and municipalities.

A positive outcome from the legal battle with the CoJ was the favourable ruling from the Constitutional Court in which the CoJ was forced to the following deliverables:

  1. Provide the 141 families with sites in Marlboro.
  2. Provide material for the construction of temporary shelters.
  3. In 4 months more land needs to be acquired if needed to accommodate the 141 families.
  4. Start a meaningful engagement regarding the balance of families evicted later during the month of August.
  5. Pay all legal costs.

The Informal Studio: Marlboro South was successfully hosted in July and August 2012. The design products emerging from the studio has been received with great enthusiasm by the community, students, and other stakeholders visiting the exhibition at the Goethe Institute. The studio will travel to four African cities in 2013/14.

Project Description: In the five years that followed the first wave of evictions in 2007, there has been relative stability in Marlboro South with no forced evictions taking place, but also no solutions being offered by government. Some residents have lived in this area for more than 25 years.

In the absence of direction from the CoJ’s development plans, the community of Marlboro South and its MWCC began reaching out to forge a closer relationship with the Gauteng Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP). The broad aim of this developing partnership is to work interdependently in the struggle towards tenure security in Marlboro South. The MWCC, via ISN and CORC, has also partnered with the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Design and Architecture (FADA) and 26’10 South Architects to conduct a community architecture studio in Marlboro South. The studio course, titled Housing and the Informal City, paired 50 under- and post-graduate architecture students with 30 volunteer residents to map the physical environment and social fabric of Marlboro South, as well as to workshop short-term upgrading and long-term housing design ideas into implementable housing solutions for this community. Participatory research, mapping and theoretical design possibilities were utilised by students and staff members from the University of Johannesburg, the MWCC leadership, and community members between July 16th and August 31st 2012.  The work of the Informal Studio: Marlboro South has been exhibited by the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg, and a road show of four African cities is planned for 2013/14.

The community prepared funding proposals to CUFF to implement small projects such as sanitation upgrading, drainage, and new typologies in re-blocking. This would have interacted synergistically with the proposals emerging from the Informal Studio. The proposals were at their initial stages. However, all this positive momentum was brought to a halt when the JMPD launched a new wave of evictions in the area. A legal battle with the CoJ was escalated to the Gauteng High Court, and after the affected communities received an unfavourable hearing, the case was escalated to the Constitutional Court, who ruled in favour of the dispossessed community. The implementation of the Constitutional Court case ruling in favour of the dispossessed community will become the scope of work for the medium term.

Read more about the Marlboro eviction in CORC’s research report titled Structural Violence and the Housing Crisis In South Africa: A Report on Informal Settlement Evictions in Marlboro South, Johannesburg available online.

OBJECTIVES: Primarily, this project aimed to support the Informal Studio in their process of developing an integrated and holistic vision that encompasses possible urban development solutions that fit within an implementable framework. The brief was to develop a framework addressing solutions on a site specific scale outlining possible structural and spatial interventions. Concurrently, the brief was aimed at a distinct and complex residential point-of-view with respect to the design, function, and affordability of housing solutions for Marlboro South.

Long-term, however, the central strategy emerging from the partnership between the MWCC and the SA SDI Alliance is focused on influencing the incremental upgrading of the area resulting in possible housing consolidation via the People’s Housing Process. Building on and broadening key dialogues between community residents, government officials, and architectural professionals to include open, participatory engagement around long-term housing delivery plans, which speak directly to the needs of the poor, is absolutely critical to achieving social justice in this community.

CONSTRAINTS: The contradiction of urban development is stark in a situation like Marlboro. While government seeks to find inclusive and integrated measures to recast visions of housing delivery and spatial reconstruction, the factors that militate against such ideals are also to be found in the way the state craftily misrepresents the agencies, agendas and networks of the poor. In this case, the implementation of vague by-laws was proffered as being a justification for the evictions.