community voice Archives - SASDI Alliance

Community Voices – “Welcome to Santini informal settlement”

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By Santini Community Members (on behalf of ISN)

This blog was written by Santini's community documenters depicted in this picture: Veronica Lebakeng, Nwabisa Ndzendze, Bathandwa Yengeni, Loniswa Dumbela. Grace Lebakeng, Thobela Nqophiso, Thulie Lebakeng, Thanduxolo Bayibile, Melikhaya Nqopiso, Likuwe Bayibile

This blog was written by Santini’s community documenters depicted in this picture: Veronica Lebakeng, Nwabisa Ndzendze, Bathandwa Yengeni, Loniswa Dumbela. Grace Lebakeng, Thobela Nqophiso, Thulie Lebakeng, Thanduxolo Bayibile, Melikhaya Nqopiso, Likuwe Bayibile

For the SA SDI Alliance community-generated documentation is an integral aspect of community-driven process. This means that communities are not only best positioned to take a central role in driving their own development interests but also to speak about and document their experiences in community organisation processes such as informal settlement upgrading . For communities it is evident that

“No one can tell our story better than we can”

In Mfuleni, Cape Town, community leaders in Santini informal settlement have been involved in pioneering a community-centred documentation approach in the Alliance. Through a series of workshops they have used ‘story-telling and writing’ to record and document their story. This includes Santini’s experience of community mobilisation and preparation for upgrading as well as personal accounts of realities, challenges and desired alternatives.By documenting their own experiences, community members are building a voice of the urban poor from the bottom up.

This is the first in a series of blogs entitled “Community Voices”, written by community residents, who introduce their settlement and share their story.



History of Santini

Santini is called Santini because it was once an open space with a lot of sand [in isiXhosa “isanti” means “sand”]. We started living in Santini in 2004 with most people coming from the Eastern Cape. We were living as backyarders in the surrounding formal houses before they [plot owners] got RDP houses.

There came a time when the plot owners [formal homeowners] had to move to an open space (which was already called Santini) because their RDP houses were going to be built. The backyarders moved to Santini as well. We [backyarders] weren’t allowed back into their plots when the houses were done, some claimed that they didn’t have space anymore.

In 2004 there were 8 shacks in Santini, but today there are 43 shacks including the ones brought in by the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO). We don’t feel safe because people in [the formal houses] claim the land [Santini] belongs to their children and not to us [as former backyarders].  Apparently their children are in need of a place to reside, so the people in the formal houses approached SANCO to resolve the matter. It was agreed via SANCO that the residents’ children can reside in Santini too.

Thanduxolo, Santini community leaders with steering committee members record their memory of Santini's history

Thanduxolo, Santini community leaders with steering committee members record their memory of Santini’s history

Our Reality Now

These are the things we need:


We don’t have proper electricity. We rely on connections from the formal houses, and we pay R150 monthly. If the electricity ends before the month ends, we are required to pay more. If we do not pay more money, our tap will be unplugged. The connections are dangerous. When a big truck passes by the wires break, and they can shock the children when they are playing.


In Santini we have only one tap and there are many people living here so we hold a long queue when we need water. We cannot get water at night because of safety.


We have a total of 7 toilets, but only 4 are working and are far from us. We fear to use the toilets at night. We fear to be mugged because of the darkness.


We don’t have proper roads, so emergency services are unable to assist the community in times of need like when someone is sick or there is a fire.


Proper Houses

We don’t have proper housing, and the structures that we are living in is old. We can’t even extend because we have no land of our own. Some people have extended families, and it’s hard to live in a one-room house with everyone.


Since we have no street lights we fear going outside during the night because it’s dark. It’s risky to go because we fear being mugged.

Dust Bins

Our place is filthy because we don’t have a place or dust bins to drop unwanted materials.


We don’t have drains so people use toilets as an alternative and that results in the blockage of the toilets.


We need electricity, water, toilets, and proper houses. The ideal solution is to get more toilets or each household to get their own toilet to avoid waiting for people when one wants to use the toilet.


Tracking and documenting Santini’s solutions thus far

We, as a community of Santini, decided to seek help from the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). We told them about our living conditions and challenges as a community.Nkokheli Ncambele [Western Cape coordinator of ISN] is the one who introduced us to ISN. After the introduction to the [SA SDI] Alliance, we attended their meetings [and understood the processes] . [After some negotiation] toilets were installed by the municipality. We then began [Alliance] processes like enumerating our settlements. ISN also introduced us to the tools of profiling, community designing and learning exchanges. During profiling, we measured the existing structures. We used the enumeration to record the number of people living in Santini and their activities. A group of us went on a visit to see Flamingo Crescent and to be educated about the re-blocking of Flamingo Crescent.

Tracing Migration Histories in Tambo Square, Cape Town

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By Sarah Cooper-Tognoli

This piece traces the individual migration stories of four informal settlement dwellers in Tambo Square, a settlement affiliated to the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). It is a product of creative initiative taken by an intern of  Shack/ Slum Dwellers International (SDI) who worked with the South African SDI Alliance. Drawing on the difference between the Xhosa terms for ‘where are you staying/living now’ (Uhlala phi?) and  ‘where are you from’ (Uvela phi?), the migration map sheds light on personal experiences of  migration and documents the broader history and challenges that affect the residents of a particular informal settlement.

Bangiso, Patricia, Nomaphelo, Tebogo

Bangiso, Patricia, Nomaphelo, Tebogo

My map describes information gleaned from key informant interviews conducted in July 2015.  The interviews revealed the movement histories of Norma, Nkosikhona, Tebaho, and Patricia (Phumela) — four residents aged 27-30 living in Tambo Square, an informal settlement in the township of Mfuleni, Cape Town.  The interviews were conducted as part of my work researching migration for Shack Dwellers International (SDI).  The interviewees were identified in the process of conducting a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) with the Tambo Square community.  I chose Norma, Nkosikhona, Tebaho, and Patricia (Phumela) not only because their stories were incredibly moving, but they showed me such warmth, openness, and kindness that I felt compelled to understand more and document their stories in a map.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 9.42.55 PM

As the title of my map suggests, “Uhlala phi (Where are you staying/living now)? Uvela phi (Where are you from)?” my work explores the movement histories of informal settlement residents and centers upon understanding where they were born, where they have lived, and where they are living now.  Critically, it also delves into the underlying reasons for their movement, lived experiences throughout, challenges faced, what they define as their needs, as well as a timeline in years to ground this information.

During the FGD, produced and conducted in conjunction with representatives of the SA SDI Alliance, I gave Norma, Nkosikhona, Tebaho, and Patricia (Phumela) a map of South Africa and asked each of them to mark their birthplace/year and their movement history ending in Cape Town.  The sheer act of sitting side by side and drawing on a map and the interaction this allowed created a rapport, or rather a connection that transcended the activity — I say this in truth at that cost of sounding cliche.  In general, the map exercise and the follow-up questions involved were guided by both my conversation with Dr. Owen Crankshaw (Sociology Department, UCT) and Dr. Borel-Saladin (post-doctoral fellow at the African Centre for Cities, UCT) at the University of Cape Town, as well as Dr. Owen Crankshaw’s ”A Simple Questionnaire Survey Method for Studying Migration and Residential Displacement in Informal Settlements in South Africa” (SA Sociological Review, 1993).  This research revealed gaps in the information produced by migration surveys of informal settlements, which my work attempts to bridge.

Migration Workshop and Focus Group Discussion with Tambo Square residents, Sarah Cooper-Tognoli and CORC support staff


Nomaphelo, Bangiso, Tebgo and Patricia collect ideas and associations related to the idea of “movement” (migration)


According to Dr. Crankshaw and Dr. Borel-Saladin there is a paucity of data when it comes to where people originated (their ‘home home,’ — a term I have encountered in South Africa) and that residents of informal settlements often live in a nearby informal settlements before settling in their current place of residence.  Thus, asking these residents where they lived before their current residence does not provide accurate information as to their origin (‘from from’).  Therefore, one aspect of my focus was on birthplace (and year), movements from birthplace to current residence, and a timeline of these movements in years in order to chronologically contextualize them.

The movement histories of Norma, Nkosikhona, Tebaho, and Patricia corroborate this movement pattern with each having lived in another informal settlement in Mfuleni before moving to Tambo Square. My interviews with all four residents reveal that three out of four originate from the Eastern Cape.  This trend in internal migration (by far the dominant form of migration in South Africa) from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape was also supported by my interview with Nkokheli Ncambele — the Informal Settlement Network* (ISN) Coordinator for the Western Cape.  As both a resident of Mfuleni, and whose job entails constant interaction with communities in Mfuleni, he holds considerable authority on the topic of urban migration histories.  “The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) is a bottom-up agglomeration of settlement-level organisations of the poor at the city-wide scale in six South African municipalities, including Cape Town. ISN mobilises communities to engage government around security of tenure and better service delivery” (“Building Inclusive Cities” 2013/2014 Annual Report, 2014).

Tracing Tebogo's movement history on a map of South Africa

Tracing Tebogo’s movement history on a map of South Africa


Overall, my map outlines the spatial, temporal and experiential trajectories of Norma, Nkosikhona, Tebaho and Patricia (Phumela).  The map is displayed in the form of a layered circle broken into quadrants; at the center lies Tambo Square — each person’s current place of residence, and the current year.  Corresponding colored lines represent each resident’s movement trajectory.  For instance, if one follows Tebaho’s movement history, one starts at Tambo Square, and moves along the blue line encountering four dots (with a corresponding blue box informing the location, year, and reasons for his movement), and lastly arrives at Tebaho’s birthplace, and year.  Thus, my interview questions (referred to above) — Where were you born?  What year were you born?  What year did you leave your birthplace?  How old were you when you left?  Why did you leave?  Why did you come to Cape Town? — are answered.  Nestled amongst this information (within Tebaho’s quadrant) is text that provides answers to further questions: Was your first urban residence in Cape Town?  If not, where?  Do you have a job?  How do you feel about where you are living? Who do you live with/are you living with family? Do you have links to family in Cape Town, or larger South Africa? If so, do you visit, and how often? What are the needs you need met in terms of infrastructure and livelihood?  Thus, one is able to read graphically the movement history of Tebaho, and the other three informal residents of Tambo Square.  In general, as a timeline, the information closer to the circle center represents its relevance to the current year.

It should be noted that much of the information from Patricia (Phumela) is missing.  Her interview was translated from Xhosa (unlike the others) and her information was less detailed.  Regrettably, she was not available for a follow-up interview when I returned to Tambo Square.  Nevertheless, I thought it was important to include Patricia (Phumela) for two reasons: firstly, the lack of information is both representative of the nature and time constraints of short-term field work — one does not always get the full story; secondly, many movement histories, and thus, stories of informal settlers, remain unknown, and Patricia is emblematic of that.  In reality, Patricia’s movement history is surely as rich as Tebaho, and yet, it is unknown in this context.

Patricia and Andiswa

Patricia and Andiswa

In addition, I would have liked to have further explored the concept of ‘home’ in a more metaphorical sense by probing the issue of whether Tambo Square “feels like home.”  In a follow-up interview with Tebaho his answer spoke volumes: ‘Do not think this is my home; think of this as a hiding so long as looking for economic sources.  Hiding; not a home.’  As a colleague at CORC, a South African and native Xhosa speaker, points out “home” in Xhosa is where you were originally born; if you were born in the Eastern Cape and if your parents are from the Eastern Cape, that is your home.  The implications for this sense of “home” for South Africa’s cities is both upsetting and intriguing.

In conclusion, my intention for this map is to display data in a way that does not detach it from the people it seeks to portray, but brings to light Norma, Nkosikhona, Tebaho, and Patricia’s journeys, (and more precisely, a bit of their lives) as well as the rich influences of migration on residents of informal settlements.  I hope that the way I have portrayed their stories conveys the great respect I have for their courage amidst immense struggle and their willingness to share their stories with me.

Sarah Cooper-Tognoli is an MA candidate for International Affairs at The New School, New York. 


Nomaphelo traces her migration history