MAPS collaboration Archives - SASDI Alliance

National Community Exchange – Durban to Cape Town (Part 2)

By CORC, iKhayalami, ISN No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

A four-day community exchange was underway from 29 April to 2 May 2014, during which community leaders from Durban visited informal settlements in and around Cape Town.  This blog continues to trace the experiences and reflections collected on the exchange, the first two days of which have been recorded here.

Day 3 in Langrug informal settlement – Sanitation, Drainage and ‘Greening’

View of Langrug informal settlement, Franschoek

View of Langrug informal settlement, Franschoek

Located in the affluent wine-farming area of Franschoek, Langrug informal settlement, home to about 4500 people, is characterised by extreme poverty, poor housing and sanitation. In the face of these challenges the community signed a precedent-setting Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the locally presiding Stellenbosch Municipality that channelled government funds to community-based upgrading initiatives. This translated into relocating 16 families, the construction of a second access road, the construction of grey-water and drainage channels and a community designed, multi-purpose Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Facility. The facility includes a communal homework area for children, a hair salon, benches and laundry basins. Click here for a comprehensive profile of Langrug. Currently, Langrug is involved in the second phase of upgrading: ‘greening’ the existing WaSH facility with vertical vegetable gardens and developing a dry sanitation facility in Zwelitsha, an ‘informal’ section of Langrug without taps and toilets.

Existing WaSH Facility after 'greening'

Existing WaSH Facility after ‘greening’

KZN visitors taste Langrug's spinach

KZN visitors taste Langrug’s spinach

The exchange visitors were introduced to all these aspects on a detailed walk-about. Langrug community member, Alfred Ratana, indicated the differences in depth and purpose of the drainage and grey water channels and explained the processes accompanying relocation. He emphasised the uniqueness of Langrug in that it was a municipality-driven project which was not community financed.

“Langrug shows that municipalities can have a different approach to communities. Our experience shows that municipalities can include us in their plans and construct with us – not for us”

(Alfred Ratana, Langrug community member)

Langrug community member, Alfred Ratana, speaks about Langrug's grey water drainage

Langrug community member, Alfred Ratana, speaks about Langrug’s grey water drainage


Viewing a community-constructed drainage channel

Langrug community members also explained the breakthrough presented by Zwelitsha’s dry sanitation facility: due to its location on a steep mountain slope it has been impossible to provide water and sanitation services to around 600 families. The dry sanitation facility, however, is a step towards changing this. The vertical vegetable gardens in Langrug’s existing WaSH facility (developed in partnership with Touching the Earth Lightly) showed the visitors how the community secures food and generates income. By selling the spinach it grows, the community intends to generate income to sustain daily running costs of the facility.

The visitors were also impressed by a crèche facility that had been established between external partners and mothers in Langrug who wanted to provide an alternative, more affordable option for their children. The teachers of the crèche explained that,

“getting something started is not about presenting an idea to social services. You just need to start. Once the idea is happening, you can take the outcome to social services and get it registered”.

Once back at the WaSH facility Langrug’s steering committee shared details around the developments in their settlement. The group was also joined by Diana Mitlin and visiting colleagues from Manchester University. Read about their impressions here.

Sharing impressions after the walkabout

Sharing impressions after the walkabout

Langrug's steering committee explains the steps it took in the upgrading process

Langrug’s steering committee explains the steps it took in the upgrading process


Day 4 in Mtshini Wam – Reflections on how to continue

The final visit to Mtshini Wam showed the visitors what a large-scale re-blocking project could look like. During upgrading, the settlement also received one on one services, some in-structure toilets and public water points. More details on Mtshini Wam’s re-blocking are documented here.

Over four days the group had seen much, listened intently, exchanged questions and pondered how to take these impressions back home. Some key points:

  • Visiting Langrug presented a highlight for the visitors from Durban as the topography and accompanying challenges (steep inclines, drainage and flooding) are similar to the conditions in their own settlements.
  • Langrug’s drainage and sanitation facilities therefore presented relevant options for the Durban visitors
  • The visitors were inspired by the initiative and commitment they encountered in their fellow community leaders, something they wanted to take back in responding to circumstances in their own settlements
  • The exchange highlighted the importance of partnerships and the ever-present opportunity to form partnerships as a foundation for wielding large scale change
A street view of Mtshini Wam after re-blocking

A street view of Mtshini Wam after re-blocking

KZN leaders in conversation about securing service provision

KZN leaders in conversation about securing service provision

Durban’s Kenville and Foreman Road settlements will share their experiences of the exchange in mass meetings with their communities this weekend (16-18 May). Their next steps are to enumerate their settlements and establish a relationship with their councillors.

As the visitors embarked on the journey home, ISN community leader, Nkokheli Ncambele, reminded them that

“it is important not to impose everything you have seen on this exchange on your communities at home. Rather take what you have learnt and present it to the community as a suggestion. Then you can decide together what you want and how to make it work in your own settlement”

Exchanges certainly are the most important learning vehicle in the South African Alliance. They facilitate the direct exchange of information, experience and skills, thereby building a horizontal platform for learning between urban poor communities. Through sharing successes and failures in projects, giving and receiving advice on engaging government, sharing in work and life experiences and exchanging tactics and plans communities become central actors.

OPINION: Opportunities in Urban Informality, Development and Climate Resilience in African cities

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, Press, Resources No Comments

Article from (Climate and Development Knowledge Network)


Blaise Dobson and Jean-Pierre Roux (SouthSouthNorth) argue that African urbanisation and burgeoning informal settlements present an opportunity to build truly adaptive cities.

African cities are characterised by high levels of slums and informal settlements, largely informal economies, high levels of unemployment, majority youthful populations, and low levels of industrialisation. They have the highest growth rates in the world despite the fact that sub-Saharan Africa is still only approximately 40% urbanised. The urban poor, who largely reside in informal settlements and slums, are vulnerable to a range of global change effects, including global economic and climate change impacts. These can combine to have devastating effects on the poor, who generally survive on less than US$ 2 per day, but also on the ‘floating middle class’, who are defined as living on between US$ 2 – 4 per day, and constitute 60% of the African middle class.[1]

The African Centre for Cities (ACC) and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) hosted a three-day workshop in Cape Town in July aimed at developing a framework for understanding the intersection between climate resilience and urban informality, and promoting integrated urban development and management within African cities. ‘Champion groups’ from Accra (Ghana), Kampala (Uganda) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), which included local authorities, academia and civil society attended.

The African city: Four future scenarios

Prof Edgar Pieterse from the ACC opened the discussion by outlining four future scenarios for African cities:

  • The status quo: Small middle-class gated enclaves and neglected slums
  • The green status quo: Gated enclaves, new towns, pockets of greening and slum upgrading
  • The smart African city: Smart grids, mobility, improvement of spatial form (compaction) and slum upgrading
  • The adaptive city: Smart grids, full access, low-tech, localised renewal of slum economies and ecosystems

Pieterse’s four pathways challenged a few of our preconceptions about what an ideal African city should look like. First, it highlighted the real possibility that selective greening (e.g. promotion of a ‘green economy,’ improved building standards and more efficient infrastructure) can fail to address deeper structural issues contributing to informality and vulnerability of marginal communities. This greening is likely to reinforce the status quo of small, gated enclaves and underinvestment in slums while not addressing the spatial issues that exacerbate informality and vulnerability. Second, it highlighted the ideal of an Adaptive City, which is not necessarily high-tech. A preoccupation with high-tech solutions for African problems may ignore the most accessible and affordable solutions to urban challenges.

Cities are critical to addressing the threat of climate change in Africa 

The late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom’s parting appeal was that we should not pin our hopes on a single international agreement to manage common resources like the earth’s climate system. Instead we need “evolutionary policy” that can adapt quickly to uncertain futures. According to her, these adaptive policies critically depend on sub-national actors, in particular cities. While the US failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol, more than 1000 US cities have now signed the US Climate Protection Agreement to strive to meet the Kyoto protocol targets in their own communities.

While nation states struggle to negotiate a high-level climate change agreement and national governments interpret how best to integrate climate compatible development into their particular contexts, it is often up to sub-national entities, like cities, to implement these plans.

Ostrom’s work also shows the importance of playing to the strengths of a myriad of institutions to cooperate across multiple scales. On our workshop fieldtrip to Langrug informal settlement an hour outside of Cape Town we saw how her insights rang true. The improvements that have made Langrug a more resilient settlement despite its informality were due to collaborations between a network of different institutions, communities, and individuals cooperating across multiple scales. Block committees in the settlement, Slum Dwellers International (SDI), the Informal Settlements Network (ISN),Stellenbosch Municipality, the University of Cape Town and Worcester Polytechnic collaborated to mobilise financing, gain political legitimacy, map out the settlement with a Geographic Information System (GIS), and embark on various upgrading projects.

There is another reason why cities should be in the forefront of the fight against climate change: They are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In rapidly emerging African economies, environmental concerns take a backseat to development priorities. To the extent that African governments are concerned about climate change at all, they are predominantly looking at adaptation rather than mitigation.  However, whilst a ‘development first’ approach is understandable from an equity point of view, many ‘leapfrog’ technologies exist that are both pro-poor and GHG mitigating. Researchers within the MAPS collaboration have developed a typology to classify poverty-alleviating mitigation actions that may be helpful for African leaders as they prioritise their efforts to build adaptive cities. African cities have cost effective options like bus rapid transport systems, small plot intense agriculture, participative waste management, household biogas, improved energy efficiency building designs, cooking and lighting technologies. Development and mitigation do not have to be mutually exclusive; there are low emissions development pathways that are both viable and optimal.

lang 2

Moving forward

At the workshop, presentations by the city teams from Accra, Kampala and Addis Ababa all confirmed and elaborated on Pieterse’s characterisation of the challenges facing African cities. However, the presentations also highlighted the geographic and cultural specificities that make each city unique and generic cookie-cutter solutions a bad idea. On the second day, delegates attempted to develop a framework to approach informality and resilience across African cities in a systematic way; an ambitious and laudable experiment. We believe the potential energy unleashed in the sharing of comparative stories from different cities is a good starting point for further work on a stylised framework to address issues of urban informality and resilience in the African context. It was exciting to be part of a south-south exchange where African solutions were sought by Africans, for African cities.

In our opinion, cities (urban governments and their constituents) have a critical role to play in addressing the threat of climate change. The theme of African urbanisation in the 21st century cannot be ignored. Socio-technological solutions exist that can harness the latent energy of informality. Growing urban informality can be an opportunity to leverage innovative ways to make the Adaptive City a reality.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

For more information about this CDKN project, please visit the project page.