PROJECT REPORT: Sheffield Road, Cape Town

LAUNCH DATE:  ISN made initial links with Sheffield Road community in October 2009, at which time the prospect for the project arose.  The project was initiated in November 2010.

LOCATION:   Sheffield Road is an informal settlement in Philippi, Cape Town. Situated on a road reserve near the N2 freeway, 167 households (507 residents) have been living on an overcrowded piece of City-owned land with severe winter floods for the past two decades.

PROJECT IN BRIEF: The re-blocking of Sheffield Road created a platform to deliver better quality and well located water and sanitation services by creating safer and more dignified public spaces which is owned and maintained by neighbours.

IMPLEMENTING ORGANIZATIONS:  ISN and FEDUP played a crucial role in building capacity and helped to establish local project steering structures to coordinate community savings, enumerations and mapping, conflict resolution processes and project implementation. CORC and iKhayalami worked closely with these new community structures when providing technical and design support for the project implementation. iKhayalami’s building team doubled up as project managers. Linking with the City of Cape Town’s Informal Settlements Unit oversaw the provision of more water and sanitation

BASIC FUNDING DETAILS: iKhayalami raised funds for the total project budget of R676,000 which was funded by Selavip and the Percy Fox Foundation. However, at implementation, seeing that this was the first pilot project, iKhayalami overspent by more than R69,000, bringing the total budget to R745,000. As discussed below, community contributions did not pick up traction, and currently stands at R22,120, 3% of the project budget (Note: the overspent was not included in the original agreement with the community).


Lisa Ngadlela (community leader) +27 79 1688146

Andrea Bolnick (Ikhayalami), +27 82 8097818

Residents and Cape Town ISN spearhead the process.

CONTEXT:   After a number of regional dialogues the ISN initiated in 2009/2010, the Sheffield Road community was interested to experiment with the reconfiguration of shacks in order to demonstrate an alternative solution to sanitation provision. The community-initiated enumeration created a socio-economic and demographic profile of the 167 families. Coupled to the enumeration was a mapping exercise in which the community mapped the seven functional toilets, and also distinguished other problems such as flooding, overcrowding, and the lack of space. In response to these results, the City’s Informal Settlement Unit coordinated the installation of more services, and in the first phase included 19 toilets in five ablution blocks, which includes taps and drains. The community of Sheffield Road produced a map of their settlement, and the most needy areas for sanitation upgrading were established. The map also spoke to the establishment of clusters, on which the technical drawings were based.


The demonstration of in situ reconfiguration of space within a settlement of 167 households can make a large contribution to the building of social bonds and life within a settlement, as well create a safer environment from both crime and natural calamities. Further, the relationship of the city-wide ISN and the leadership of the Sheffield Road community helped build a bridge to municipal officials. This resulted in the provision of new toilets located as part of a spatial layout plan developed by the community. Though leadership structures have been challenged throughout this process, the existence of strong leaders able to mobilize residents through the process of tearing down shacks and rebuilding, has been a powerful impetus for the success of the project.

As mentioned before, Sheffield Road is located on a road reserve which according to land use management/zoning rights afforded government to freedom to evict families at short notice when road works were to be commissioned. Through the re-blocking and the commitment from the City to provide services, the Provincial government has made an in-principle commitment not to commence road works for the foreseeable future. The incremental process of upgrading has therefore impacted on the perceived tenure rights of the community.

Blocking out is also understood as a way to increase tenure security. It demonstrates community capacity with regard to planning, and makes way for installation of services, which can provide a greater level of security to residents.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:  After a fire destroyed 512 shacks and left 1,500 homeless at Joe Slovo township in Cape Town, the community and Ikhayalami planned, rebuilt and improved the settlement through re-blocking 125 shelters. A precedent for a successful in situ upgrading at only ten percent of the cost of more formal housing developments had been set. City officials came to visit and subsequently expressed interest to engage in joint pilot projects. The South African SDI alliance, FEDUP and ISN met with the City of Cape Town to form a partnership for the upgrading of informal settlements. The city first did not want to include the improvement of shelter but preferred to focus on the provision of basic services. Sheffield Road was chosen as the first pilot project from a list of eleven potential sites – identified and presented by ISN.

The community performed an enumeration which showed that 167 families had access to only seven functional toilets, meaning 72 people were sharing a single toilet. Other problems were flooding, overcrowding, and the lack of space.  As a result of this community-driven household survey, the City’s Informal Settlement Department  made  funding  available for taps, drains and a total of 19 toilets.  The community of Sheffield Road produced a map of their settlement as a base for their discussions where to place the new toilets. The most needy areas for sanitation upgrading were pointed out. At the same time the province announced that there would be no road work nearby for the next five years. Sheffield Road was no longer under the immanent threat of eviction.

In March 2010, ISN and NGO professionals met with the community and introduced the concept of blocking out. The initial feedback from the residents was positive, and the planning of the first cluster began. However, when the community learned about  the one size fits all approach – all twelve houses were mapped out at 15 m2 – the process slowed down. The NGOs responded with more flexible planning and offered 20 m2 houses as a second option with a slightly higher contribution.

The City finally agreed to support blocking out and shelter improvement. After a year of negotiations, this was a significant achievement for the partnership. In the community, ISN meanwhile rebuilt the momentum and stressed the importance of savings. Every family had to contribute a minimum of R300 for a new house, worth at least R3000. The SDI alliance bridged the funding gap to create a precedent for a people-driven housing process which could be taken to scale by the City.

In September 2010 blocking out in the settlement finally began. Shacks were demolished and rebuilt in different positions. Initially Ikhayalami professionals handled the manual labour, but soon the community took over. The first cluster of twelve new houses was finished two months later. Brick thresholds now protect the structures from flooding. The community embraced the safe, spacious courtyard, where kids can play and women wash laundry.

Work on the next clusters started at the beginning of 2011. ISN and women’s savers cooperate now increasingly better. Areas across the settlement mobilize to be next in line for blocking out and new toilets. Numerous learning exchanges with other communities, academic partners and city officials have established “best practices”.

Before there was no space to walk. You could not see your enemy, even if he was right in front of you.

Concerned Sheffield Road resident, “The Upgrading of Sheffield Road” publication

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OBJECTIVES:   As a pilot project aimed at demonstrating the effectiveness of the re-blocking process, which builds on a community design framework, the re-blocking of Sheffield Road intended to open up court yards and offer solutions for poorly located services. Previously, subcontractors used to place toilets on the periphery of the settlement, where it was easy to service and maintain the units. Toilets were often vandalised due to its peripheral location. Now, with the spaces created, the community has greater ownership of the toilets and save towards the maintenance and upkeep thereof.

A rebuilt shack in Sheffield Road reserve.

A rebuilt shack in Sheffield Road reserve.


The successful upgrading of Sheffield Road has paved the way for a series of new engagements with the City of Cape Town. Sheffield Road has the potential to draw national interest and serve as a case study for re-thinking policies on incremental and interim solution to in-situ upgrading.

It was so dense before and we could not even get through. At the time we had to install the toilet we tried to open up the space. We decided that we wanted to be involved in the design with the ISN. At first we did not trust them because they said that first we had to save and contribute money to the account but we have never seen this. That was another issue. So we just saved and tried to trust them, but now we work closely with them.

Nosango Makadambi, Sheffield Road resident

CONSTRAINTS: Mobilizing the community to organize in saving schemes did not sit well with the community. They were suspicious of the external FEDUP and ISN coordinators. Since there was no real example of re-blocking—apart from the re-building of Joe Slovo settlement, Langa after a raging fire in 2009—the community did not know what to expect. Before the initiation of cluster one, multiple general meetings were held, and slow progress was made.

Moreover, the project was initially largely NGO-driven, because of the above-mentioned constraints. A dependency on technical support from the NGO emerged. Moreover, insufficient contributions from savings, difficulties with uninterested or unaccountable leadership structures, and a general lack of “sensitization” of the community also hindered the progress of the project. This triggered a renewed community mobilization as the key to the sustainability of this upgrading project.

One of the key lessons learnt was that as long as the NGO drives the process, the project fosters a growing sense of entitlement in the community and prevents residents from taking ownership.

The transformation from an initially NGO-driven process to a community-owned development took nine months. In the absence of a strong women’s savings mechanism, ISN and professionals had initially tried to fill in. But only when the women and men of Sheffield Road took charge, problems disappeared, contributions started to flow, and volunteers offered support.

The Upgrading of Sheffield Road, 2011 CORC publication