Johannesburg Archives - SASDI Alliance

Building Continuity: Denver Community and University of Johannesburg Studio 2015

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN No Comments

By Motebang Matsela (on behalf of CORC)

From 27 April to 22 May 2015, the community of Denver informal settlement in Johannesburg partnered with students from the University of Johannesburg’s (UJs) Department of Architecture in a collaborative design studio. Such studios focus on co-producing ideas, scenarios, plans and typologies on informal settlement upgrading and housing. Denver’s first collaborative studio took place in 2014. It was the first of consecutive, annual studios that would build on previous work and span a period of 3-5 years. The 2015 studio therefore started where the last studio ended, focusing on establishing tangible outputs such as a collaborative design handbook and a catalogue of dwelling typologies.


Co-producing Ideas: Denver Studio 2014

In 2014 the studio catalysed the generation of co-produced mapping and socio-demographic data on the settlement. The aim was to formulate community action plans (CAPs) for Denver Settlement in an effort to encourage short-term community initiatives and to support further productive discussion with local government agencies and other stakeholders regarding incremental upgrading in informal settlements. It also introduced students to the necessity and value of planning with communities, shifting the focus from traditional ‘top down’ delivery towards ‘responsive’, community-orientated approaches. For more background on the settlement and the 2014 studio click here.

Aerial view of Denver informal settlements

Aerial view of Denver informal settlements

A growing partnership

The idea of co-production suggests the involvement of different stakeholders. For this studio, therefore, the role players included Denver community members and leadership, the Ward Councillor and community representative, a collective of community volunteers assembled at various stages of the long-term studio, Aformal Terrain in partnership with the Department of Architecture at UJ and its students and the Alliance’s ISN, FEDUP and CORC who offered technical and social support and facilitation.

Unlike previous studios that customarily take place in informal settlements, the Denver studio had to change venue when xenophobic violence broke out in Johannesburg. The socio-political atmosphere of the violence and hostel raiding was deemed an unsafe environment to operate under.


As indicated, the collaborative outcomes are valuable aspects of the studio’s work. Based on the experience of last year’s studio, Gauteng’s ISN leaders highlighted the need for community members to gain tangible skills throughout the studio and upgrading process just as the students do. Each stage (module) of the studio therefore couples a community member’s practical participation in the studio with project management skills. In this year’s studio, more emphasis was placed on community participation and benefit.

This led to a revision of the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) formalising the partnership between the SA SDI Alliance and UJ’s Architecture Department.

Some of the changes were highlighted in terms of:

  • The precedence of the relationship between Denver community and SA SDI Alliance
  • Denver community decisions will be respected and take priority within this project
  • Any data generated by the community residents will remain the property of the residents. Copies of any formal information packages generated from the studio engagement will be made available to community leadership.
  • All parties agree to inform each other in writing around documentation, marketing or exhibiting of the Denver project. The documentation will sufficiently acknowledge the role of each party and most importantly the residents’

Building Continuity: Denver Studio 2015

The objective of this studio was to incrementally build on the content of the 2014 studio, creating continuity and ongoing engagement between past and future studios. It also aimed to develop a collaborative design ‘handbook’; a catalogue of typologies of dwellings in informal settlements with related strategies for improvement through self-build, co-ops, CBOs, local government assistance, infrastructure etc.

This investigation focused on three main issues;

  • site (the physical)
  • planning (spatial and developmental)
  • policy (strategies from governmental level)


The intention was that these three focal areas would form a broad scale critical inquiry into current upper strategies for informal settlement upgrading and as a starting point suggested possible linkages with existing bottom-up initiatives.

It is envisioned that the outcomes will come to fulfilment in various forms through the studio process over the next 3-5 years in the form of awareness and knowledge packs about the settlement, site handbooks and guides on in-situ upgrading at various scales (shelter, site, policy, planning etc.), design studies for future densification and longer term formal development. A number of other valuable outputs not limited to this list will be determined through the studio process.

These potential outputs aim to bridge the gap between current bottom-up and top-down strategies already active in Denver – aiming to ‘connect’ community initiatives and local government intentions in more productive conversations toward improvement.


The studios final presentations tabled prototype-scenarios generated in response to a three-week focused research exercise focusing on 3 scales;

  • Dwelling-and-Neighbourhood,
  • Planning
  • Policy

In this final week (loosely termed ‘rapid design prototyping’) students worked in mixed groups, integrating information from the 3 earlier foci with the aim of generating scenarios for the potential improvement of Denver Informal Settlement. It is intended that these scenarios become useful tools for engagement with the residents of Denver in focused workshops and engagements during the course of this year.

Tinasonke Community: Our show houses help us negotiate with Gauteng Province

By FEDUP, uTshani Fund No Comments

By Cynthia Ntombekhaya Yalezo and Philda Mmole * (on behalf of FEDUP)

This piece of land – where we now live – was not always called Tinasonke**. When we still stayed across the road – there in Tokoza township – as backyarders, it was called Caravan Park. There were only labour tenants living on this land because it was used to farm apple and apricot trees and mielies (maize).

**(Tinasonke township is located in Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, near Alberton in Gauteng. It was formally established in 2009).


Tinasonke community leaders, Philda Mmole and Cynthia Ntombekhaya Yalezo

Walking through Tinasonke

View of Tinasonke

From Tokoza to Tinasonke

When we lived in Tokoza, about 1500 of us backyarders came together in 1997 to form the Zenzeleni Housing Savings Scheme as part of what we now call the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP). We wanted to improve our conditions by living on our own land and in our own houses. This is when we identified Caravan Park and negotiated with the owner of the land, who sold it to uTshani Fund on behalf of FEDUP in 1998 for R1.2 million. As a savings scheme we contributed R 260 000 of the cost which we used as a deposit for the land.

Each member of our savings scheme had to contribute R600 to cover the cost of the deposit. Some of us were working, others not. But we tried to help people. We lent money to Mama Msani to buy and resell bananas to earn the R600. There was a split and not everyone contributed to the cost of the deposit but we all moved away from Tokoza in 2003.

Philda and Cynthia outside FEDUP office in Tinasonke

Philda and Cynthia outside FEDUP office in Tinasonke

The beginning: our plans for houses

At this time we submitted our housing subsidy applications to the provincial government. Once they were approved we planned the site layout with the support of consultants who drew the layout professionally and submitted it for approval. We are now about 1200 people in Tinasonke, living on 514 sites. When we drew the layout plan – the municipality asked us to name our land.

We chose “Tinasonke” which means “all together”. We want everyone in FEDUP to get access to land together.

Since we moved here our savings group separated. Some members wanted RDP houses while the rest of us wanted FEDUP houses (Through the People’s Housing Process FEDUP members can directly access housing subsidies and construct larger houses through Community Construction Management Teams. FEDUP houses are generally 50m2 or larger, depending on the extent of additional savings. RDP houses are 40m2 in size.)

RDP house (left) , FEDUP show house (right)

RDP house (left) , FEDUP show house (right)

Far left: Lucky Khwidzili (uTshani Fund), Elias Matodzi (Owner of show house) Far Right: Philda Mmole, Cynthia Yalezo, Emily Mfundisi Mofokeng (Tinasonke Steering Committee members)

Far left: Lucky Khwidzili (uTshani Fund), Elias Matodzi (Owner of show house)
Far Right: Philda Mmole, Cynthia Yalezo, Emily Mfundisi Mofokeng (Tinasonke Steering Committee members)

Plan of Action: Building our show houses

Some community members have RDP houses. As FEDUP members our subsidies have been approved but we haven’t received them yet. We don’t want to fold our arms and wait for government to deliver houses. We want to do something ourselves – because when you wait for government you can wait 100 years. We try practice freedom, democracy.

We decided to build two show houses in Tinasonke to show government that we can do it ourselves. We used our own savings money from our Urban Poor Fund to pre-finance the two houses. In Tinasonke we have three savings schemes that meet every Saturday. Two are made up of FEDUP members in Tinasonke, and one is a savings scheme of landless people.

For the show houses we selected FEDUP members according to their age and participation. One of the show houses belongs to Nthathe Elias Matodzi. He has been a member of FEDUP since we moved to Tinasonke. FEDUP is in his blood. We like FEDUP because being part of this organisation gives us knowledge.

We want to negotiate with our show houses. We want government to see that we are doing things for our selves. We want government to match us with money so it can meet us half way and give our subsidies to us. Even now the rest of the community want FEDUP houses because they have seen our show houses. We want provincial government to see that we can do it for ourselves.

* Compiled by Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC) 

Elias Matodzi's 'two' homes, (showhouse on right)

Elias Matodzi’s ‘two’ homes, (showhouse on right)

Elias in his soon-to-be-completed house.

Elias in his soon-to-be-completed house.

Roof tiles delivered to Elias' showhouse.

Roof tiles delivered to Elias’ showhouse.


SA Alliance at National Human Settlements Indaba 2014

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, News, Press, SDI, uTshani Fund No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

FEDUP members welcome Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Deputy Minister Zoe Kota-Fredericks at the SDI Exhibition booth

FEDUP members welcome Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Deputy Minister Zoe Kota-Fredericks at the SDI Exhibition booth

Twenty years after Joe Slovo’s historic Botshabelo Housing Accord, Lindiwe Sisulu, incumbent minister of Human Settlements, invited stakeholders in the human settlements sector to the National Human Settlements Indaba and Exhibition, which was held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 16-17 October 2014. This included the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) on behalf of the SA SDI Alliance and Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI),

Aims of the Indaba

The Indaba not only marked twenty years of South African democracy but also ten years after the first social contract was signed in 2004 during Sisulu’s first term as Minister of Housing from 2004-2009. The first social contract, similarly, brought together a number of stakeholders in the housing field to discuss and sign an agreement regarding co-operative and collaborative housing practice which would pursue the aims of the then newly launched housing policy: Breaking New Ground (BNG): A framework for Sustainable Housing Development. BNG largely focuses on “promoting the achievement of a non-racial, integrated society through the development of sustainable human settlements and quality housing”. Click here for more on BNG policy. Ten years later, however, the implementation of BNG has been only partially successful.

Against this backdrop, the 2014 Indaba aimed to:

  • Review progress in the implementation of BNG
  • Review the impact of the Social Contract for Rapid Housing signed in 2005
  • Commit stakeholders to a second social contract towards 1.5million housing opportunities by 2019.
Rose Molokoane and SDI delegates from Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe

Rose Molokoane and SDI delegates from Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe

South African and International SDI delegates at Exhibition booth

South African and International SDI delegates at Exhibition booth

Day 1: Pledges towards a second social contract

Amidst actors such as the South African Banking Association, the Chamber of Mines, construction companies and trade union representatives (to mention but a few), SDI and the SA Alliance voiced the interests of the urban poor and advocated for an inclusion of the urban poor in planning, decision-making and implementation.

During the first day’s introductions, Jockin Arputham, SDI President and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, shared a message of support ahead of the minister’s keynote address which is outlined here. In the afternoon contributors pledged their commitments to the second social contract.

SDI President Jockin Arputham with Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Deputy Minister Zoe Kota-Fredericks

SDI President Jockin Arputham with Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Deputy Minister Zoe Kota-Fredericks

Jockin Arputham speaks at Press Briefing

Jockin Arputham speaks at Press Briefing with Minister Sisulu and Director General Zulu

The SA SDI Alliance Pledge

In response to the Department’s larger orientation, Rose Molokoane, national co-ordinator of FEDUP, powerfully shared the pledge of the SA SDI Alliance:

FEDUP pledges to work with national, provincial and local government to deliver 1000 housing actions every month, improving the life of 1000 households. These actions will include

1)   Organising communities through savings

2)   Upgrading services such as water, sanitation, drainage, energy and roads

3)   Building bigger and better houses

4)   Advising the ministry on how to work with communities and organise them to be full stakeholders

We also commit to draw other organisations of the urban poor into the pledge as equal partners. We cannot do this alone. You cannot do this alone. You need our help. “We know the minister is serious about supporting us. What about the MEC’s? What about the local authorities? Are you?

View Rose Molokoane’s speech here:


Day 2: Reviewing BNG projects & the second social contract

The second day of the Indaba concluded with presentations by several MECs on the successes and challenges of implementing BNG projects in four provinces, followed by the reading and signing of the second social contract. The specifc commitments of the second social contract are documented here.

Rose & Jockin sign the second social contract on behalf of SA SDI Alliance and SDI

Rose & Jockin sign the second social contract on behalf of SA SDI Alliance and SDI


Throughout the Indaba the minister repeatedly referred to the value and experience of SDI and the South African Alliance’s work in forming an inclusive atmosphere that engages the urban poor around their own housing development.

Over the last twenty years the SA SDI Alliance has developed an ongoing partnership with the Department which spans from the signing of the Botshabelo accord in 1994, participating in the 2005 national housing accord, the signing of the first social contract in 2005, the 2006 MoU pledge with the Department for subsidies of R285million with which FEDUP has built over 2000 houses to the Department’s most recent pledge of R10million in August 2014.

Throughout FEDUP’s partnership with the Department its core vision has always been: “Nothing for us without Us”. This message is also at the heart of FEDUP’s pledge. As the second social contract is implemented in the next five years, it is the collective vision, experience and practice of the urban poor that is crucial to a truly inclusive implementation not only of housing but also of incremental, in-situ informal settlement upgrading as a vital step towards attaining housing and tenure security.

“We cannot do this alone. You cannot do this alone. You need our help.”

(Rose Molokoane)

Co-producing Ideas: Denver community and University of Johannesburg Studio

By CORC, ISN No Comments

By Motebang Matsela and Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

Over the years, the SA SDI Alliance has been involved in several architecture and planning studios in which university students and community members co-produce ideas and scenarios around housing and upgrading. The most recent of these studios took place from July to August 2014 in Johannesburg’s Denver informal settlement together with community members, students from the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Department of Architecture, the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) who offered technical and social support and facilitation.

UJ students and community members in Denver informal settlement

UJ students and community members in Denver informal settlement


Motebang Matsela (CORC technical support and CORC studio facilitator) (centre), with community members and students

Denver informal settlement

Denver informal settlement is situated in a light industrial zone that spans the southern section of Johannesburg’s central business district. It was formed in response to Denver hostel, an inner city accommodation, established around 1946 by the government of the time to house rural labour migrants. As the hostel operated for men-only, Denver informal settlement sprang up as an accommodation option for the wives of men living in the hostel. Over the years the settlement has continued to grow along with an increasing demand for housing by its residents.


Aerial view of Denver

The studio: co-producing training for students and communities

The studio developed out of a longer engagement between UJ’s Department of Architecture, CORC and ISN, who had already collaborated on past studios in Ruimsig (2011) and Marlboro South (2012) informal settlements in Gauteng. The Denver Studio, however, differed from past studios because it introduced the first of a series of project management modules.

For the SA SDI Alliance, studios lay a foundation for productive discussions with local government that voice communities’ views, opinions and requirements. They also introduce students to the necessity and value of planning with communities, which contributes to a focus that shifts away from traditional ‘top down’ product and ‘delivery’ approaches towards ‘responsive’, community-orientated approaches.

While these outcomes are valuable aspects of collaborative work, Gauteng’s ISN leaders highlighted a current gap: community members need to gain tangible skills through the studio and upgrading process, just as the students do. Each module therefore couples practical participation in the studio with project management skills. Upon completion of every module, community residents will receive a certificate of participation. The vision is that these modules will run as an ongoing series throughout future studios and that they will incrementally build on the content of past studios, creating continuity and ongoing engagement between past and future studios.

Community members receive certificates of participation

Community members receive certificates of participation



The Studio: co-producing ideas

The course engaged eighty 3rd and 5th year students in a site-specific situation that used joint mapping and data to generate community action plans (CAPs). These investigated short, medium and long term planning scenarios that would encourage short-term community initiatives and support further productive discussion with local government around incremental upgrading

The students were divided into ten groups, each of which partnered with two or more residents from Denver settlement who took the lead as designated community planners and explained the community’s various concerns to the students. One of the community leaders, Chief Mbata shared his views on the studio as a platform to commence a dialogue about the urban poor and their conditions of living. He went on to speak about the over crowdedness and the illegal electrical connections that have claimed a lot of shacks and their contents in and around Denver.

“I wish to see these dangerously exposed cables go, and better connections made by the municipality, but when shall that happen?”

(Chief Mbata, Community leader at Denver informal settlement)

Students and community members then investigated the following key themes for ten areas in the settlement:

  • Spatial Justice
  • Humane Environments
  • Scenario Planning
  • Context
  • Spatial / Physical / Social
  • Systems / Networks
  • Interfaces / Thresholds
  • Undercurrents / Threats
  • Aspirations / Perceptions
Students and community members in Denver informal settlement

Students and community members in Denver informal settlement

Final Student Presentations in August 2014

Final Student Presentations in August 2014

While they engaged with these themes, the community, supported by ISN and CORC, also undertook an enumeration of its settlement with the support of iSN – in a combined effort to collect comprehensive information.

As a community member, Daphne Ntombenhle Mabuso used her in-depth knowledge of the community and its history to compile the studio’s data in a collective documentation of Denver that represents the settlement as accurately as possible. Some of the studio’s content includes figure-ground drawings, actual land-use maps and various other maps that identify needs, constraints, observations and possibilities within Denver. This documentation can serve as the basis for continuing discussions between the community of Denver and the City of Johannesburg. (Click here to access the students’ documentation of the studio).

In the last week of August, the students presented their socio-spatial analyses of courtyards, pathways, open spaces,permanent vs. temporary structures and rental vs. owned units to Denver community. These open up a space to begin small-scale projects and a discussion with the local authorities. During this time community members also received their certificates signalling their participation in the studio and the project management skills they acquired. In this way community residents are becoming formally skilled participants and drivers of their own development in a collaborative, co-productive training space.

(Photos: Motebang Matsela, CORC)



Gauteng settlements install ‘Litres of Light’

By CORC, ISN No Comments

By Motebang Matsela and Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)


Naledi informal settlement in Soweto, Johannesburg

Many informal settlement dwellers have no access to electricity and are forced to rely on open fires, gas and paraffin appliances or candles as sources of light, warmth and energy.  The resulting frequency of fires that ravage informal settlement homes throughout South Africa is well known.  Gauteng’s Informal Settlement Network (ISN) introduced an alternative lighting option to community members in Gauteng settlements together with a team from ‘Litre of Light‘ Switzerland, who visited Johannesburg from 5-12 April 2014.

‘Litre of Light’ offers an alternative source of light through installing a 2litre PET bottle – that is filled with purified water and bleach – onto the roof of a structure. The water inside the bottle refracts the sunlight during the day and creates the same light intensity as a 55-Watt light bulb. With the correct installation and materials a solar bottle can last up to 5 years. The ‘Litre of Light’ is assembled by using cheap, durable and readily available materials. This enables urban poor households to access an affordable, environmentally friendly, long-term alternative to electric light during the day.

Demonstrations on how to assemble the 'Litre of Light' bottle

A ‘Litre of Light’ team member demonstrates how to assemble the light

ISN representatives introduced the team from Liter of Light to community members in four Gauteng settlements: Kliptown and Naledi in Soweto (South West Johannesburg), Innesfree informal settlement in Sandton (North Johannesburg) and Holomisa informal settlement (East of Johannesburg).  They had chosen these settlements because of the poor light conditions – many shacks do not have windows and those that do, only receive limited light due to the high density of structures in the settlement.

Over the week, the ‘Litre of Light’ team visited each settlement and workshopped community members on how to assemble the lights: a two litre plastic bottle is pushed through a steel sheet that serves as a metal lock to prevent the bottle from slipping. It is then embedded into a corrugated iron roof. A small part of the bottle is left outside while the rest of it protrudes into the room. After the initial demonstration community members proceeded to assemble their own lights. Each community installed a light in two structures. ISN community leaders are establishing the interest that was generated after this initial exchange – with a view to establishing how to move towards a broader vision of “candle-less settlements”.

The readily available materials and straightforward assembly process means that a majority of informal settlement households can install the light themselves.  This also brings about a potential income-generation opportunity in the long term. Both ISN and the Litre of Light team hope to spread this alternative source of light, as a manner of improving livelihood opportunities for shack dwellers and minimising the risk of day-time shack fires.

A community member in Innesfree, Johannesburg assembles a 'Litre of Light' bottle

A community member in Innesfree, Johannesburg assembles a ‘Litre of Light’ bottle

Kliptown communities in Gauteng relocate after heavy flooding

By ISN No Comments

As a heavy down pour of rain struck Gauteng in the first week of March, the banks of the Kliprivier broke and severely flooded Kliptown, one of the largest areas in Johannesburg comprising 14 informal settlements. The floods of 5 March affected 401 households, completely destroying the shelters and belongings of more than 15 families who were moved to the Kliptown Community Centre. They stayed there for about two weeks as they received emergency relief, food parcels and blankets.  Many children were unable to go to school as they had lost their uniforms and school books in the floods. Elderly residents and those living with TB, diabetes and HIV were in dire need of medical attention as they had lost their medication, missing out on daily treatment.

“One old lady was swept away by the floods and her leg was caught in razor wire. She couldn’t go to hospital until we took her. Things like this make the community angry because this is not the first flood. It’s been happening for the past five years” Dumisane Mathebula, ISN community leader

The Informal Settlement Network in Kliptown

As displaced people kept arriving at the community centre, community leaders affiliated to the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) called a stakeholders meeting in which the leaders of Kliptown’s 14 informal settlements met with representatives from the Department of Housing, respective ward councilors, representatives from the police, churches, crèches and NGOs to identify specific responses and tasks towards relocation.


Existing materials are offloaded as relocation begins in Kliptown

ISN community leaders were tasked with sourcing support for flood victims. They wrote numerous letters to local businesses and hardware stores, sourcing support and building materials (timber, cement and nails) as well as blankets and food to support families who had lost everything. They also entered into negotiations with Region D Municipality about securing land for community residents who could not reconstruct their dwellings on the previous site due to the threat of continuous rainfall. After five years of repeated flooding, community leaders emphasized the urgency of relocation to municipal officials who agreed to using one of three suitable sites (earmarked for housing and serviced with infrastructure) for relocation.

“Before the floods we had a gap in our relationship with the city. The floods are an opportunity to be closer to the people and show the city who we are and that we are organised” Dumisane Mathebula


The City of Johannesburg

The city was tasked with coordinating the relocation and layout, hiring a contractor and leveling the site according to the standards of the Emergency Housing Programme (EHP). This included providing one chemical toilet per seven households and taps in accordance with minimum EHP standards. During the relocation existing structures were demolished and reconstructed on the new site, using old materials wherever possible. As a number of structures were made of cardboard and tin, much material could not be re-used which has resulted in smaller and overcrowded shelters for many households. Since 17 March about 30 households have been relocated, including all displaced families staying in Kliptown Community Centre. Relocated residents are only staying in the structures temporarily as some are listed to receive subsidy housing on that land.

For Kliptown community resident and ISN leader, Jeff Mokoena, the heart of the problem is that the municipality did not address the problem of flooding in the past or relocate community members after the 2013 floods. He explains how the floods have been a recurring issue because people’s shelters are located within wetlands and flood lines.

“My concern is that the city is not managing informal settlements or making sure that people are safe. There is a lack of educating communities about the dangers of settling in flood line areas. We need to be informed by government around these issues so that we can participate in decision-making processes, as it says in the government’s National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP). Kliptown is over 100 years old and we ask ourselves why it is not being prioritized. We have analysed the Freedom Charter but it is not being implemented here. When our sadness, frustration and anger comes together it becomes so big that you cannot  swallow it….”

“But I think since 2012 we have a breakthrough with the regional office of the city.  The relocation we are now doing is professional. We have requested a formal letter giving us a clear indication who will relocate where. Today I am a happy man because we are leading the relocation process and building a new face of Kliptown”



National leaders of the Alliance congregate in Cape Town

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, News, uTshani Fund No Comments

By  Walter Fieuw, CORC

Leaders of the South African SDI Alliance congregated between 16 – 18 January 2012 at the Lutheran Youth Centre in Athlone to follow up on progress made since the strategic meeting held at Kolping House in January 2011. At last year’s meeting, the Alliance agreed to a shift of focus towards upgrading of informal settlements. Despite one of the world’s largest housing delivery programmes, the South African government has failed to curb the demand for housing and the improvement of basic living conditions for milllions of poor people. The Alliance has pledged ‘to strengthen the voice of the urban and rural poor in order to improve quality of life in informal settlements and backyard dwellings’. This we will accomplish by supporting communities who are willing and able to help themselves.

At Kolping House strategic meeting, the following four broad strategies would define the work of the network:

1. Building communities through FEDUP and ISN using SDI social tools;

2. Building partnerships with government at all tiers;

3. Implementing partnerships through projects; and

4. Keeping record of learning, monitoring and evaluation.

Upgrading informal settlements is an inherently complex endeavour considering the various socio-political realities connect to harsh living conditions and illegality. However, across South Africa the urban poor are mobilising and building institutional capacity to engage local governments around community-initiated upgrading agendas. As the Alliance’s saying goes, “Nothing for us without us”. Dialogues and outcomes of this year’s strategic meeting focused on meeting the development indicators which the Alliance set for itself at Kolping House. This year will see a renewed focus on the following:

  • Capacitating regional leadership structures, and the creation of a national ISN coordinating team
  • Recommitment to the spirit of daily savings, daily mobilisation and daily exchanges of learning
  • Deepening the quality of selected settlement upgrading, while growing the ISN network
  • Developing relevant and sensitive indicators, guidelines and protocols for the Alliance’s core activities to spur self-monitoring and evaluation.
  • Resourcing the Alliance through effective partnerships with local governments, universities and other development agencies such as the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP, Dept of Human Settlements) and the promotion of establishing Urban Poor Funds, similar to the Stellenbosch experience (hyperlink: http://www.sasdialliance.org.za/blog/Memorandum/)

Building coalitions of the urban poor able to capture the imaginations of city builders, both from the top-down and the bottom-up, is not often highly regarded or understood when upgrading strategies are devised. The Alliance is committed to strengthening the voices of the urban poor through building effective, pro-poor partnerships and platforms with local government, and implementing these partnerships at project level. As the process to understand the discrepancies and commonalities between the agendas of communities and the municipality gets underway, work must begin. Communities and the municipality develop, in partnership, a mix of “quick wins” that can build trust and show real change for communities. At the same time, the Alliance is also geared towards challenging many of the assumptions that lie behind planning for the urban poor throughout cities in South Africa. Other projects that get chosen for implementation are difficult cases designed to influence the way the municipality operates so that its methods come closer to the planning priorities of communities. All the project types also influence communities. At these interfaces of bottom-up agency and top-down city management, new ways of seeing, grappling with and finding solutions for informality emerge, and shack dwellers are no longer passive by-standers to the development enterprise, but active partners and innovators of finding workable, affordable and scalable solutions to urban poverty.