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
‘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.
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.
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.
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”.