incremental upgrading Archives - SASDI Alliance

Dream Deferred? Broken trust and the upgrading of Langrug informal settlement

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By Kwanda Lande (on behalf of CORC)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the White Paper on Local Government. The theme of SoLG 2018, the state of local government – dream deferred?, highlights this critical juncture in the local governance arena. It foregrounds the fact that although achievements have been made in terms of local government service delivery and governance, significant work is still required to ensure that the constitutional objectives of local government are fully attained. As a member of the Good Governance Learning Network (GGLN), we have joined fellow civil society organisations in reflecting on the work that has been done to date. 

CORC’s contribution (on behalf of the SA Alliance) investigates dynamics that have contributed to the destruction and disruption of WaSH facilities in Langrug informal settlement. While our contribution recognises the inherent presence of conflict and contestation in collaborative upgrading processes, it also seeks to uncover ‘the generative potential of contestation’ through which new options and alternatives can arise. In this sense, this contribution is a case specific retrospective that may also have relevance for relationship building between informal settlement communities, local governments and support organisations elsewhere.

The GGLN is an initiative that brings together civil society organisations working in the field of local governance. Once a year the network produces the The State of Local Governance Publication which presents a civil society based assessment of the key challenges, debates and areas of progress with regard to governance and development at the local level in South Africa.


Building an organised community through the Shamrock wash trough project in KZN

By Archive, FEDUP, ISN, News, Publications No Comments

Kwanda Lande (on behalf of CORC)

Shamrock informal settlement at a Glance

Shamrock informal settlement is located along a portion of Amrisar Road and Gladiola Road in Belfort Estate suburb, northeast of Pietermaritzburg in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This informal settlement is located on municipal owned land and it contains single storey, stand-alone mud and timber shacks. The area is located along the flood line as a result this makes the settlement prone to flooding. The slope analysis for the settlement shows that the settlement is predominantly characterised by moderate to very steep slopes.

Shamrock informal settlement residents have lived in this settlement for more than 20 years without any adequate basic services. The community of 140 people was using one water tap and the nearby river as sources of water. The settlement location on steep slopes makes it difficult for residents to collect water. The settlement also lacks basic services like paved roads and walkways, which makes it even more difficult to collect water because roads that become muddy especially when it is raining. The distance to collect water that residents are expected to travel is also too long and difficult for old people.

Differrent methods that were used before the wash trough, to wash clothes and collecting water.

Different methods that were used before the wash trough, for wash clothes and collecting water.

The area’s close proximity to various primary and secondary schools and a college is one of the reasons people were attracted to Shamrock. In addition, a special needs school is located within a 30 minute walking radius. The residents of Shamrock were also attracted to the area because of job opportunities. This community is made of 52 structures, and a population of 140 people that migrated from rural areas of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The Shamrock wash trough Project

In 2013, FEDUP and ISN went to Shamrock and mobilised the community through starting a saving scheme. Prior the implementation of the Shamrock wash trough project in 2016, the community was mobilised through profiling and enumeration. This exercise was important, amongst other things to mobilise community member that were not part of the local saving scheme, and for the community to collective identify issues and solutions. The community identified an ablution and drainage system as one of their priorities and made a decision that they want a wash trough facility after some assistance from CORC technical team on different options to address their priorities and challenges.

The project implementation process of the wash trough commenced in 2016, and the project was completed in January 2018. However, the actual implementation of the wash trough took four days to be completed, in a period of two weekends (13-14 and 20-21 January 2018). One of the challenges that were experienced include that some community members did not participate in the implementation of the project. The reason is that these people felt that the project was only for people who are part of the local saving scheme. The community also had to change initial location of the wash trough, which was at the centre of the settlement. It was changed so that an elderly woman in a wheel chair would be able to access it too. The project was then moved closer to her shack, which is approximately 50m from the initial point.

The total cost of the project was R6426.00. The community contributed 20% to the overall cost of this project from their savings scheme. As a result, not all the community members contributed to the project because not all members of the community were involved in savings. Msunduzi Local Municipality’s water and sanitation, and area based management departments contributed with the additional 80% of the overall cost and with some technical expertise, this include environmental studies.

The wash trough is helping the community, it is now very easy for people to wash their clothes. The community has six water taps in the wash trough, which they can use. People are now interested in the project, even those who did not indicate any interest when we started this project. Everyone is now using the facility and people are demonstrating some excitement now that they do not have to wait long lines or go to the river for water. Those who were rejecting the project, now that they see the benefits that it has brought, they are apologising, they are promising to be part of future projects and they also want to be part of the local saving scheme. Ndodeni Dengo (ISN regional coordinator)

The success of mobilising the community of Shamrock informal settlement through the wash trough project also extends to neighbouring informal settlements. As part of the project, the community members and leaders from neighbouring informal settlements such as Crest place and Mayfair sent two community members to assist and observe. As a result, Crest Place has requested a similar project for their settlement. This community has also started contributing towards their project, which is planned to start soon.

Different construction phases of the Shamrock wash trough

Different construction phases of the Shamrock wash trough. 

Going forward

The SA SDI Alliance has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Msunduzi Local Municipality. However, there are challenges in terms of making this MoU work for both parties involved. As a result, FEDUP and ISN, want to use this project to showcase the ability of organised communities to the Municipality and other informal settlements.

The community of Shamrock has made their desire to improve this project known. They want to use the MoU signed with Msunduzi Local Municipality to add shelter, refuse removal, a table for children and other services. This will allow the community to use the wash trough facility even when it is raining, and that they could have a place for their children to do their schoolwork while their mothers are using the wash trough. The community also wish to do community gardening and install a grey water collection facility. Currently the municipality is being engaged by the community to request electricity.

Through this informal settlement-upgrading project, therefore, residents sharpened their ability to organise (through daily savings). This in turn contributed to building the community’s ability to engage other actors to continue incrementally upgrading their settlement. In this way poor communities want to demonstrate that they can use their projects to shift government policies and practices to the benefit of their communities.

TB community hall – A foundation for community organising

By Archive, CORC, FEDUP, ISN, News, Resources No Comments

By Kwanda Lande (on behalf of CORC)

We would like a type of a hall that can accommodate a lot of activities, like church services, cultural activities and office space for the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). It will be a shared space with other communities, but this will depend on the kind of activities they plan to do. We want to encourage activities that are about community development, and activities that would impact people’s lives in a positive way.

Through these words, one community leader of TB Section in Khayelitsha’s Site B explains how the priority of the community was having a shared space for four different communities located in the area (TT, UT Litha park, UT and TB section). The community of TB section have, for some time relied on a community hall that was in a very bad condition, a community hall that was not able to take care of the many of the activities and needs of the community.

The building of a hall for us was very important because the one that we used to have, was in a very poor condition. It was difficult to have meetings when it is raining because of a hall that was leaking, and this prevented us from discussing community issues. We also have our youth that want to do a lot of things but they could not because we did not have a place for them to meet. We also wanted to use this hall as a place that people can be relocated to when it is raining – as a temporary shelter.


Community members, ISN leadership and contractor for the TB community hall

On 24th of June 2017 the community of TB section had an inauguration event to launch the new structure, however the idea around this hall started in 2015 and the actual construction begun in February 2017. Between 2015 and 2017 the community of TB section spent time on mobilising other residents through saving and data collection, and engaging with the City of Cape Town. Thus, after community profiling and enumeration, TB residents used their data to identify that they want a public space that contributes to their activities and, as a consequence, to community building and strengthening.

We wanted to build the TB hall in 2015, but we had to explain to the community how the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) and ISN work, for example, we had to explain to people that they support communities that are prepared and committed to organising and building themselves through saving and contributing to their development. This was necessary since people in this community did not know much about ISN and FEDUP.   

We also had to engage with the City of Cape Town about building a partnership – not only for this project, but for long term planning and development of the community of TB section. This include engagements that we had with the city’s officials – about asking for permission to build the hall, installing electricity and other services. We also had engagements with our ward councillor who endorsed the building of this structure. 

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Community members with FEDUP and ISN leaders during inauguration event to launch the new structure

ISN has been working with the community of TB section since at least 2011, and the building of the hall came out of the process of mobilising through the tools of saving, collecting data, and partnership. The utmost achievement of this work by both ISN and FEDUP is that the community has begin to organise itself, identify priorities and established some sense of self-reliance. These are aspects which the community can hold onto and use long after the construction of the hall is complete.

The existence of this hall in an informal settlement like this also makes it easy for us to challenge the municipality and tell them that if we can do something like this with FEDUP and ISN what is stopping you from doing something of the same level like building houses for us?

People on the ground are really motivated and they now understand that you do not have to wait for government for your things to happen. We are now aware that community development only happen for people that work for themselves, if you are sitting at home you do not go out and demand things very limited chances that you will get those things.

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Community members working together with contractor to build their own hall.

This community hall represents a building block for the ‘formalisation’ of the whole sub-region over time. It is a space for this community and surrounding communities to start building themselves as organised communities and start discussing the next step for their community. The community is in a better position, it has developed confidence to confront public issues that have direct and indirect impact on their lives.

The community of TB section, in the process of building the hall – has also demonstrated that it has capacity to collectively confront obstacles and can with time be in a position to do things for themselves with no external assistance. The community was able – during the implementation phase – to manage community dynamic on their own and there was almost no need for external intervention. The community was also able to collectively convince the ward councillor to support the project. As a result through this project a foundation for community organising has been formed and the community is build on it. 

When you get a front door, remember to leave it open

By FEDUP, ISN, News, SDI No Comments

This blog  was first published by openDemocracy, on the 26 September 2017. 


A Manchester-South Africa exchange reveals striking similarities in the dynamics of urban inequality.

Members of Mums Mart, Lower Broughton Life and the South African Alliance in South Africa, July 2017. Copyright: Sophie King. All rights reserved

“It’s all about trust” said Marie Hampshire, two days into a week-long community exchange with members of the South African Alliance in July 2017, a grassroots movement of women-led savings schemes affiliated to Slum/Shack Dwellers International or SDI. Marie is a member of Mums Mart, a women’s group from Benchill in the British city of Manchester that brings low-income families together around food, monthly markets and, most recently, a new kind of savings scheme.

Each member saves small amounts with the support of their local group, and in the process of coming together the group learns about their needs and challenges and tries to respond collectively. Mums Mart was introduced to savings-based organising after meeting members of the Alliance in Manchester a year earlier. Now, other groups in the city are starting to explore how women’s savings federations could rebuild trust and solidarity in their neighbourhoods.

Joanne Inglis is the Chair of a new association called Lower Broughton Life, one of these groups that is based in another part of Greater Manchester called Salford. After accompanying members of the South African Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) on door-to-door visits and listening to plans for a new housing development in Cape Town by the Informal Settlement Network(another partner in the Alliance), she urged her hosts: “when you get a front door remember to leave it open.”

Joanne was reflecting on how segregated life has become on estates like hers, where people look after their own affairs and many of the old spaces for communal life have closed down. She was struck that—while the signs of poverty and inequality in South Africa are only too visible in the townships and settlements she visited—poverty in the UK is often hidden from view: “our houses can look the same on the outside,” she said, “but it’s what’s on the inside that’s different.”

However, in other ways there are striking similarities between the dynamics of inequality and deprivation in both countries’ cities.  All are dealing with sharply rising property prices which push those on lower incomes further away from the city centre, and the concentration of deprivation in particular neighbourhoods which can manifest in gang-related crime and the absence of opportunities for young people. Unequal access to decisions on how public services are delivered perpetuates the disadvantages that low-income people have to deal with on a day to day basis.


Just as importantly, the different groups were also bound together by their experiences of strength and struggle as women and mothers regardless of where they live. During their visit to the UK, the South Africans were shocked to discover homeless people living in tents in the centre of one of the richest cities in the world, which gave rise to questions about the wisdom of looking to the global North for pathways to collective well-being.

For their part, members of Mums Mart and Lower Broughton Life reflected repeatedly on people’s pride and self-organisation despite living in highly challenging circumstances in South Africa. Both gained a fresh perspective on the possibilities of organising collectively in response to poverty.

As a member of FEDUP attested (echoing Marie), “the only thing that makes a person active is when you have trust and belief.” The members of the groups also gained confidence in one another as joint travellers on a journey of discovery—watching each other learn, adapt and embrace the experience (including some fantastic ululations!). People saw that some of the South African ideas might just work in Greater Manchester, and that they might be the ones to make this happen.

The trust they gained in South Africa by staying in people’s homes, accompanying them in their work and being part of their lives (even for a short time) meant that they were comfortable enough to share their doubts and fears—and to be open to the doubts and fears of their hosts in return. As Rose Molokoane from SDI shared:

“We are still doubting ourselves saying how can we keep driving this forward…it’s too big for us…especially because we are informal but the outside world wants to see us being formal. Most of our members are not educated; you have to create enough time and enough space to educate people about what you are.”

Rose also explained the significance for the older black South African activists of sharing their homes and their organising tools with white British women after living through apartheid, and as women continuing to struggle for justice in a highly segregated society.

The exchanges seem to have come at a critical time for the British participants. Combined with rising living costs, public service cuts and welfare sanctions, low-paid work, under-employment and unemployment are fostering severe precarity in post-industrial inner-city neighbourhoods. Thirty per cent of British children (and one quarter of children in Salford) are now classified as living below the poverty line, with two thirds living in families with working parents.

Manchester looks set to become the next beacon of social cleansing after London, with luxury high rise flats and the privatisation of the city centre making it increasingly difficult for individuals and families on low-incomes to find affordable accommodation. People in low-income areas around the edges of the central business district live in constant fear of relocation as they watch rents skyrocket in the plush developments that now surround their estates.

In many of the city’s low-income neighbourhoods, social and economic changes and cuts in public sector funding mean that people don’t come together in the ways they used to through faith-, place- or work-based forms of voluntary association. Libraries, pubs and community centres have closed down, making it almost impossible in some areas for groups to find somewhere to congregate together regularly. Rising living costs and cuts in benefits are pushing people towards pay-day loans and credit-based living, leaving them drowning under the burden of debts they struggle to repay.

The surge in support for the British Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (which is particularly visible in urban centres) suggests that increasing numbers of city-dwellers believe it is indeed, ‘time for a change.’ But how will low-income communities organize themselves and enter into movements ‘for the many and not the few’ in the years to come? That’s where networks like SDI can play an important role by inspiring new forms of mobilisation, and by linking local action into international networks for learning, advocacy and mutual support.

The savings groups they nurture are encouraged to federate, enabling them to have more influence over city and national governments in ways that are grounded in real experience. Members survey, map and profile their neighbourhoods, turning invisible challenges into concrete evidence and locally-proposed solutions. The South African Alliance, for example, has successfully advocated for a more progressive housing policy that has led to over 15,000 permanent new, affordable homes being constructed.

The SDI network used to have members in 37 countries. Thanks to a group of mums from Manchester, it may soon be 38.

From Re-blocking to Housing: Lwazi Park – CPUT Studio 2015

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By Yolande Hendler & Andiswa Meke (on behalf of CORC)

In April 2015, the community of Lwazi Park embarked on a four-week design studio that investigated affordable solutions for incrementally improving dwelling structures in the settlement. Through its affiliation to the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), the community partnered with fourth year students of Architectural Technology from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) as well as a visiting group of students from the Reunion Island arm of the Ecolé National Superier d’Architecture Montpellier (ENSAM).

CPUT & Reunion Students visit Lwazi Park.

CPUT & Reunion Students visit Lwazi Park.

Lwazi Park Informal Settlement

Lwazi Park is situated in Gugulethu, near the N2 freeway in Cape Town. The settlement is now home to thirty-eight households and a primary school adjacent to the area. Its first inhabitants are alleged to have occupied the space in the mid- 1990s, when they built informal dwellings near the Lotus River. In 2001 the informal settlement stretched from Klipfontein Road up to the Eastern edge of Gugulethu. Lwazi Park is characterized by canals that were built fifty years ago, with the purpose of draining the flood plains for communities who were forcibly removed from the city centre during the apartheid era. Today, these canals are polluted and flood every rainy season.

View of Lwazi Park canal

View of Lwazi Park canal

Past Studios Paving the Way for Lwazi Park

The relationship between Lwazi Park community and the SA SDI Alliance dates to 2011, when the community, Alliance and City of Cape Town began to address a pending relocation of the informal settlement. Click here for more background. CPUT’s architectural technology students first participated in joint design studios with ISN & CORC in 2011 working on subsequent collaborative design in Vygieskraal and Manenberg.

The 2015 Lwazi Park studio was convened as a response to the community’s desire to explore options for further in situ upgrading after re-blocking in 2011. This is one of the first Alliance studios focused on incremental housing typologies for a settlement that has already undergone re-blocking. The studio thus reflects the incremental and cumulative nature of informal settlement upgrading. Perhaps even more significantly it speaks to a context-specific and community-centred approach.

Lwazi Park after reblocking in 2011

Lwazi Park after reblocking in 2011

Within the Alliance, studios play a significant role. On the one hand they support community negotiations with local authorities: through a collaborative approach studios bring about community-informed design typologies. On the other, they challenge and extend existing disciplinary norms in architectural thought and practice. CPUT Lecturer, Rudolf Perold, explains that such approaches are anomalies in

“the field of architecture, which often does not make provision for design in informal areas let alone consider the community’s lived context as informing appropriate and relevant design solutions*.”

In this sense collaborative design studios generate ideas and debate on alternative housing design and delivery options that address residential environments within existing and challenging urban conditions.

Lwazi Park Studio Content: incremental housing typologies

In practice, the studio comprised a site visit to Lwazi Park and two collaborative design instances between community representatives, students and Alliance representatives (ISN & CORC) who provided social support and facilitation. The students were tasked to develop a spatial development/master plan for the settlement’s in-situ upgrading to two to three story residential buildings as well as housing typologies that would respond to the social needs and spatial context of Lwazi Park community.

Lwazi Park community leader engages students around their questions.

Lwazi Park community leader engages students around their questions.

During the site visit community members introduced students to the physical layout and context of their settlement, lived realities, daily challenges and needs. These include the lack of a multipurpose / community hall or a nearby school. A central concern was the lack of funding provided by the city to help improve the standard of living. The community also expressed a desire for a safe place for their children to play in. A further concern related to drug abuse by the youth and the unsettling rate of crime.

Once the site visit had been completed and some preliminary insight gathered from community members, the design process began. CPUT lecturer Rudolf Perold explains,

“Their [the students’] point of departure was the community representatives’ assertion that they were set on obtaining tenure security and upgrading their settlement. Having had to adjust their approach based on the input received (albeit not representative of the entire community’s wishes) the complexity of balancing the community’s needs with your own design intent became clear”.

Challenges and Learning Points

In reflecting on the studio, CPUT lecturer Rudolf Perold highlights learning points for the students

  • The relationship between designer and occupant was crucial to the design process and triggered an empathy which contributed to the success of the design outcomes
  • The situated knowledge of community representatives and the Alliance proved integral to the development of the site layout and housing typologies
  • Students were sensitized to lived realities in informal settlements
  • “These experiences show that designers require a broadened skill set if they are to prove themselves useful in a context of mediation between poor urban communities and local government…- acting, as Stephen Lamb of Design-Change says, as interpreter of community needs rather than the holder of professional knowledge”
  • CPUT-based studio with input by community representatives, ISN & CORC.

CPUT-based studio with input by community representatives, ISN & CORC.

In addition a CPUT student added,

“Realising how people adapted to their living conditions in Lwazi Park and how these conditions push people to learn to survive, was a learning curve for me.”

For both the students and the Alliance a core challenge was experienced by the lacking attendance of enough community representatives in campus-based contact sessions. The students gained some community input during the site visit, which helped to contextualize and ground their work. The lack of community representation, however, speaks to a need for more social facilitation between the different actors involved so that the jointly designed plans can indeed be presented to the municipality.

  • CPUT quotations taken from “Perold.R., Devish, O., Verbeeck, G. 2015. Informal Capacities: Broadening Design Practice to Support Community –Driven Transitions to Sustainable Urbanism. Working Paper.
Presentations of master plans and housing typologies

Presentations of master plans and housing typologies

Final Student Presentations

Final Student Presentations

CORC planner honoured with SAPI Young Planner Award

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On site in Flamingo Crescent Informal Settlement

On site in Flamingo Crescent Informal Settlement

Sizwe Mxobo, a planner at the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) received  the South African Planning Institute’s (SAPI) Young Planner Award in October 2014. In speaking about his work as a planner with community movements affiliated to the SA SDI Alliance, Sizwe explains,

“An important aspect for me is exploring what public participation means in planning and informal settlement upgrading” (Sizwe Mxobo, CORC Planner).

In early 2014 SAPI released a call for nominations for successful young planners and announced its bi-annual summit in Durban titled “Planning Africa” from 19 – 22 October 2014. Nominations were submitted under various categories, one of which was the Young Planner award – to be made out to a “bright young planner (under the age of 35) for his/ her exemplary achievements and promising for the future in the planning profession as well as his/her contribution to the promotion of the planning profession” (SAPI).

The SAPI Awards

The SAPI National Planning Awards were established in 2008 to recognise and create a strong awareness of the valuable contributions and extraordinary performance in all aspects of the planning profession. The awards are an opportunity to appreciate the efforts and contributions of many planners in shaping the built environment, promoting sustainable development and maintaining the integrity of good planning practice amidst competing development interests and challenging situations.

Sizwe with Langrug commnuity leaders Trevor Masiy and Alfred Ratana

Sizwe with Langrug commnuity leaders Trevor Masiy and Alfred Ratana

Planning in the SA SDI Alliance

Sizwe has been working with CORC since 2011, providing technical support, often in informal settlement upgrading initiatives, ranging from community mobilization, capacity building, assisting settlements with preparing development plans or engaging City officials around service delivery issues.

In 2012, Sizwe project managed the upgrading and re-blocking of Mtshini Wam informal settlement in Cape Town. The project set a precedent for informal settlement upgrading, at local and national level whereby the City of Cape Town used it as a benchmark to deliver a reblocking policy. It was also awarded an Impumelelo Gold Award in 2013. Since then Sizwe has spearheaded 3 other upgrading and re-blocking projects in the City. Sizwe’s work has also focussed on Langrug informal settlement near Franschoek in the Western Cape. Through deep engagement with the community Sizwe assisted CORC and the community in devising a pallette of informal settlement upgrading strategies. The planning of Langrug was awarded the SAPI National Award in the Community Category.

Planning reblcoked Layout in Mtshini Wam informal settlement, Milnerton

Planning reblocked Layout in Mtshini Wam informal settlement, Milnerton

Why Planning?

When tracing his steps as a planner, Sizwe links his interest in participatory, community based planning to his roots.

“I was born and raised in an informal settlement and still live in one. I have always wondered what it would take to transform an informal settlement. When I saw the first housing developments in Samora and Delft I asked myself why people had to move away from their current locations and amenities. Why could changes not happen where people lived?”

Sizwe’s fascination with community development – particularly how informal communities could be transformed to formal settlements – inspired him to study Town and Regional Planning. He remembers that although informality was addressed by the curriculum it largely focussed on how to move from a shack to a house.

“My biggest attraction has always been how planning principles can be used in informal settlements. When I was planning chairperson we took students to Nyanga and explored what in-situ upgrading is about. I learnt that my interest in fighting for people who are generally not considered by planning institutions – landless people in urban areas – is called advocate planning. Others did not always understand my approach to planning. Through working at CORC I found my feet and understood what planning is for me. Winning this award has been a further confirmation. We are no longer talking the language of eradication of informal settlements but of upgrading”

In Nyanga, Cape Town

In Nyanga, Cape Town

In Kuku Town informal settlement with community leader Verona Joseph

In Kuku Town informal settlement with community leader Verona Joseph

A different approach to Planning

“In the ever-changing role of a planner, I think a key element for planners is to ensure the relationship between people and land. Public participation should be more than drawing up plans and asking for a community’s approval. It should be about supporting people to come up with their own development plans for their communities”

(Sizwe Mxobo)

As a profession planning is rapidly transforming. Most urban policies developed in South Africa focus extensively on community participation. Both the National Development Plan (NDP) and Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) talk about community participation as a central tenet for development. However, government has also identified this as a missing link and capacity both within the municipal and private sector. Most recently, the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) has floated tenders in 49 different municipalities to develop community based plans. Clearly, community participation in the planning sector is the need of the hour.

SAPI Award Ceremony in Durban, Oct  2014

SAPI Award Ceremony in Durban, Oct 2014

Discussing Plans with Flamingo Crescent Community Steering Committee

Discussing Plans with Flamingo Crescent Community Steering Committee

With Kuku Town Steering Committee, Kensington

With Kuku Town Steering Committee, Kensington

Designing with Communities: CPUT – Manenberg Studio 2014

By CORC, ISN, News No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

Manenberg community leaders and architectural students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) recently collaborated on a six-week long planning studio in Cape Town (March-May 2014). The studio aimed to generate ideas around alternative housing design and delivery options that would address the needs of Manenberg residents within their existing challenges and ‘urban’ conditions.


CPUT students with Manenberg community leaders Terence Johnson, Melanie Manuel, Na-eema Schwartz & Errol Snippers (left to right)


Manenberg was established in 1966, during a time of forced removals when the apartheid government relocated low-income coloured families from District Six and other parts of the city to an area known as the Cape Flats, 20km away from Cape Town city centre.  During Manenberg’s construction phase in the late 1960s it was classified as a ‘sub-economic housing development area’. Although the design and structures of these semi-detached houses and project-like flats differed, this term indicates that most did not have ceilings, inside water or doors to their rooms (Reference). As construction continued into the mid 1980s, other buildings and social amenities sprang up. Many people currently live in backyard dwellings. Along with experiencing overcrowded living conditions Manenberg’s communities are continuously exposed to high crime and gangsterism.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 4.20.36 PM

The studio brought together about 40 students from CPUT’s Department of Architectural Technology and Manenberg community leaders who represented the Manenberg Slum Dwellers, the Movement for Change, the Backyarders Network, the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). The studio was facilitated by ISN and supported by the technical team of the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC).  For more background on ISN-affiliated communities in Manenberg and backyard dwellings click here.

ISN representative and Manenberg community leader, Melanie Manuel, explained that the studio offered an opportunity for Manenberg residents to come up with a better proposal to address overcrowded conditions and inadequate basic services. For the students the studio offered valuable exposure to inclusive planning practice. They were tasked to assist the community in the design and planning of housing and the related community ‘place’ layout.  This required students to work closely alongside community leaders to explore innovative and relevant concepts that would generate flexible solutions. Mizan Rambhoros, Senior Lecturer at CPUT, explained that

“Traditionally, architectural students work on hypothetical projects. This makes working with a community in a studio and involving a community in the design process a completely different scenario. In a ‘live’ project it’s not possible to follow a rigid process – this really opened the student’s eyes.”


Sharing planning concepts with community leaders

The studio began with a site visit to Manenberg in which community leaders highlighted their primary concerns to the students – recurring floods, fires and security issues. Together, they identified the site they would engage with – the block between Red River Street and Red River Walk that experiences a high prevalence of crime and overcrowding. Students continued to meet with community leaders on a weekly basis, altering and adjusting their housing design and concepts according to the communities’ feedback.

“By working together with the students we could share our experiences and give them more in-depth input on what would work and what wouldn’t – especially because they were honest and open to criticism”

(Melanie Manuel, Manenberg community leader and ISN representative)

‘Incremental Growth’ and Final Presentations

On 9 May, the students presented their final design and concepts. Each group presented their understanding of the contextual and conceptual issues they encountered, designs of a detailed layout and a model of proposed housing units.  The idea of ‘incremental growth’ presented a common strand through all presentations. Several groups highlighted how external circumstances influence mind-sets and subsequently how people interact with each other. This caused them to ask: how can space facilitate a change in mind-set and interaction with people?”


In responding to the presentations, Na-eema Schwartz from the Manenberg Backyarders Network, commended the students for addressing aspects that were highly relevant to community members – such as idle time and space, fire, flooding and security. In reflecting on the studio, Errol Snippers (Manenberg’s Movement for Change) shared his experience:

“These youngsters have opened my eyes to the way I look at buildings and safety features. Maybe they’ve learnt from us, but I’ve learnt from them too. In this short time we’ve gotten to know each other. I love their passion and drive and would love the kids in Manenberg to have the same passion”


Errol Snippers (Manenberg Movement for Change)

By the end of the studio it was evident that ‘incremental growth’ was not only reflected in architectural concepts and designs. Even more so it was reflected in both community leaders’ and students’ reflections.

“The studio presented our first opportunity to work on a ‘live’ project in which we needed to feed back our ideas to the community and think about what would be relevant to them.  At the beginning, some of us had quite a stereotyped mind-set. Working together with community leaders in the studio was a learning curve for us all. We now design and accommodate for people’s social situations because we understand them.  How do you design with communities? You have to become ‘part’ them”

(Nomfundo Dlamini, CPUT student)

The next step will see community leaders share the students’ work with the rest of their communities and establish how to use and implement the concepts and design. Such community-based, participatory planning practices contribute to harnessing local knowledge and packaging it into an action plan. In this way communities become key agents in their own development plans.