Sheffield Road Archives - SASDI Alliance

From Nairobi to Cape Town: Learning about Upgrading and Partnerships with Local Government

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, Learning Exchanges, SDI No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

From Ghetto informal settlement in Nairobi, the Kenyan SDI Alliance together with an official from the nearby Kiambu County Government visited the South African SDI Alliance on a learning exchange in Cape Town from 22 – 25 February 2016. Community leaders and an official from Ekurhuleni Municipality, near Johannesburg, also joined the group.

The purpose of the exchange was to share experiences regarding informal settlement upgrading, partnership formation between community movements and local governments, project planning, preparation and mobilisation processes. Kenya’s Federation, Muungano wa Wanavijiji has been supporting Ghetto community in obtaining tenure security and identifying housing beneficiaries. Currently the settlement is set for the final phase in a government-upgrading project that requires re-planning its public spaces and houses, a familiar process that the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and Informal Settlement Network (ISN) call “reblocking”.


Priscilla, community leader in Sheffield Road speaks about reblocking

With introductions and an overview of the SA SDI Alliance on the first day, the visitors shared their key learning interests as relating to

  • Partnership Formation between communities themselves and between communities and local governments
  • Upgrading Processes – how communities organise themselves during upgrading, how technicalities in construction and implementation are dealt with, the role of project funding and community saving

Savings and Income Generation

With savings as the core practice of the SDI network, the afternoon visit took place at a FEDUP savings and income generation group in Samora Machel, Philippi. The group explained how its FEDUP membership enabled individuals to access small loans from the Federation Income Generation Program (FIGP). With a particular set of criteria for loan access, repayments and additional loan cycles, the group had established a number of small businesses such as beading, second hand clothing, fried chicken or locally tailored clothing.

The meeting sparked an animated discussion on how savers could maintain their momentum and interest in savings, especially after receiving a house or an informal settlement upgrade upgrading can be seen as fulfilling the “immediate savings purpose”. A loan group member explained that she viewed saving as valuable backup to draw on when problems arose. In Kenya, members became tired of “saving for nothing” – they therefore began using their savings in smaller projects while waiting for larger projects to occur. The Kenyan visitors further noted the value building trust between members through administering loans to small groups of five savers.


Mary Wambui (Kenya SDI Alliance) and John Mulia (Kenya Official) look at FEDUP savings book

FEDUP Income Generation businesses in Samora Machel

FEDUP Income Generation businesses in Samora Machel

Reblocking in the City of Cape Town

Over the next two days the group traced re-blocking projects and informal settlement upgrading projects in the municipalities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

In Cape Town the SA SDI Alliance used its first re-blocking projects in Joe Slovo and Sheffield Road settlements to build a partnership with the City of Cape Town to jointly pursue future upgrading and reblocking projects. As a result the City adopted reblocking as a policy, an indicator of increased intent to engage with community-led processes. In Sheffield Road the group saw how reblocking establishes access routes, courtyards, increased space for communal water and sanitation installation as well as safer public open spaces. Since reblocking, the community has successfully negotiated for electricity installation.

Courtyard in Sheffield Road after reblocking

Courtyard in Sheffield Road after reblocking

In Sheffield Road: Rashid and Samuel (Kenyan Federation) in discussion with Lulama (ISN leader for Philippi region)

In Sheffield Road: Rashid and Samuel (Kenyan Federation) in discussion with Lulama (ISN leader for Philippi region)

Mtshini Wam was the first settlement that was reblocked in partnership with the City of Cape Town in 2013. While walking through the settlement the group noticed the improved differences between the projects: the layout of Mtshini Wam enabled 2 households to share water and sanitation facilities. Noticeably, a number of residents had self-built a second storey on to their structure after having participated in a community design process for double storey units as further development after upgrading. Through persistent negotiations after reblocking, the community received municipal electricity and ground levelling to mitigate flooding. ISN National Coordinator, Mzwanele Zulu, explained that such incremental upgrading contributed to incremental tenure security.

Double storey structures in Mtshini Wam

Double storey structures in Mtshini Wam

In Flamingo Crescent, the most recently upgraded settlement (2014), community leader Maria Matthews introduced the group to the settlement’s reblocking experience: engaging fellow community members to save, planning meetings with the City and community participation during reconstruction. Due to its enumeration figures and the reblocked layout, the community succeeded in negotiating for individual service installation and electricity per re-blocked household (1:1 services). Flamingo’s site was levelled with all access roads paved and named before erecting the reblocked structures. The visitors saw that for the SA Alliance, upgrading / reblocking is a cumulative experience, with consistent improvements in new projects based on past project learning.

“Reblocking made a big difference, but upgrading is far from over,” Maria Matthews explained. “We have many social and health problems remaining here.”

(Maria Matthews, Flamingo Crescent Community Leader)

Arrival in Flamingo Crescent

Arrival in Flamingo Crescent

After reblocking in Flamingo. 1:1 Services per household.

After reblocking in Flamingo. 1:1 Services per household.

Upgrading in Stellenbosch Municipality

In Langrug the group encountered an example of partial reblocking in a settlement about ten times the population size of those in Cape Town, with about 4000 residents. Community leader, Trevor Masiy, traced the settlement’s partnership with the SA SDI Alliance and the joint partnership agreement with Stellenbosch Municipality, which informed the settlement’s upgrading initiatives in drainage and storm water projects and two Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Facilities. Trevor also highlighted the challenges experienced by disrepair of past upgrading projects. He therefore emphasised the value of community involvement not only in project planning and implementation but also in maintenance.

Walking through partially reblocked section of Langrug.

Walking through partially reblocked section of Langrug.

View on to Langrug

View on to Langrug

Water and Sanitation Facility in Zwelitsha section, Langrug

Water and Sanitation Facility in Zwelitsha section, Langrug

Partnership Meetings

Two separate partnership meetings with Stellenbosch Municipality and the City of Cape Town allowed the visitors and two visiting officials an insight into the practical workings of partnership building and project negotiations. The partnership meetings in Cape Town and Stellenbosch focussed on updating all gathered on current project progress and discussions on renewing and continuing the partnership relationships. Discussion highlights included:

Cape Town

  • Alliance emphasises that its partnership focus with the City is not only reblocking but also informal settlement and area-wide upgrading


  • The muincipality explained that reblocking is not just about structure upgrades but about enabling basic service provision
  • The municipality spoke about its partnership with Langrug and SA Alliance as fluid, moving towards different ways and means of reaching a common goal
Partnership Meeting with Stellenbosch Municipality in Franschoek

Partnership Meeting with Stellenbosch Municipality in Franschoek

Alliance begins Cape Town partnership meeting in song in Bosasa Community Hall, Mfuleni

Alliance begins Cape Town partnership meeting in song in Bosasa Community Hall, Mfuleni

Reflections and Learnings

On Upgrading:

  • “We have been focussing on permanent houses. This can become strenuous for communities because it demands resources and scaling up. But our thinking has changed when we saw how reblocking has attracted government attention. (Rashid Muka, Kenyan Federation Leader)
  • “In Kenya we always thought that upgrading means erecting permanent structures. I am learning about incremental upgrading – something I’d like to take home” (John Mulia, Kiambu County Government, Kenya)
  • “The value of an incremental approach is that you don’t start with the end product (a house) and impose it on a community. Upgrading is not only housing. You can be in a temporary shack and as long as you have opened up spaces to basic services, then that is upgrading.” (Mary Wambui, Kenyan SDI Alliance )

On Building Parternerships

  • “What is key in achieving a relationship with a municipality? Involving the community, drafting good plans and implementing precedent setting projects that can influence policy, especially if there is no policy yet” (Sizwe Mxobo, CORC Technical Support)
  • Strong social movements that know what they want are important in building partnerships. They can remind municipalities about their commitments” (Nkokheli Ncambele, ISN Coordinator Western Cape)
  • “We want to pull stakeholders together and understand how to journey together. We want to be able to say this exchange gave birth to some of the lessons we learnt. What has come out clearly is the value of learning by doing.” (Rashid Muka, Kenyan Federation Leader)
Group gathers in a courtyard in Sheffield Road

Group gathers in a courtyard in Sheffield Road

On Community-Led Engagement

  • In this exchange I understood a lot about talking with communities. Government needs to understand the value of partners coming on board. The government of Kenya has made many plans but the community needs to point out what they want and need, not us the government. A project becomes sustainable when it is community driven.” (John Mulia, Kiambu County Government, Kenya)

Rethinking ‘successful’ cities – SA SDI Alliance wins runner-up at Ingenuity Awards 2013

By CORC, iKhayalami, ISN No Comments

Re-blocking as an innovative approach to urban informal settlements.

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

If “the most successful cities will be those that embrace ground-breaking solutions to meet the changing needs of their citizens” (Ingenuity Awards)

the question really is: What constitutes a  ‘successful’ city – and ‘ground-breaking’ solutions?

In a time of mass urbanisation these questions caught the attention of the Financial Times (FT) who in 2012 decided to publish a series of three magazines along with a global awards scheme, the FT / Citi Ingenuity Awards: Urban Ideas in Action programme. The awards aimed to recognise and honour “ingenious individuals or organisations that have developed solutions to urban challenges” (FT publication, July 2012, p.3). The South African Shack Dwellers Alliance participated in both award rounds (2012 – 2013) and won runner-up for the regional Africa submissions in 2013. The FT and Citi – financial service giants in global business news and banking – ran the awards together with Insead, a leading global business school who joined as a research partner.

2012 Awards

In 2012 the award entries were grouped in the categories of energy, education, health and infrastructure. Together, these were seen as providing a good overview of contemporary urban innovation. iKhayalami – an NGO part of the South African Shack Dwellers Alliance – used this platform to share its work around the community-driven, re-blocking process in Sheffield Road informal settlement in Cape Town. The community’s ideas were at the centre of the re-blocking process which addressed pertinent issues of decent sanitation and water, thereby uniting the community and restoring a sense of dignity. In short, every level of the project dealt with design, capacity building, engaging the state, policy-making and replicability. Nairobi’s Community Cooker Foundation won the 2012 awards while Sheffield Road reached the final round in its category. As the impact of re-blocking became more significant through its replication and growing support base, a new submission was entered under the banner of the South African Shack Dwellers Alliance which is affiliated to Shack Dwellers International (SDI).

SR 2

A courtyard in Sheffield Road informal settlement after re-blocking.

2013 Awards

In the meantime the 2013 award categories had changed to regional areas (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, North and South America) to allow for a broader scope of applicants. A panel of judges (that included architects, city planners, academics and public policy specialists) would judge regional submissions based on the criteria of originality, impact (how much of a difference the project made), sustainability and project transferability to other cities.

By this time, the increased scope of re-blocking in South Africa was evident: it had expanded from iKhayalami to the South African Shack Dwellers alliance and its associated communities. One of the alliance’s social movements – the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) – was at the forefront of the blocking-out agenda as its reach and relationship extended to numerous informal settlement communities throughout South Africa. The re-blocking approach also expanded to policy level whereby it was being drafted as a policy document for implementation in the City of Cape Town. This was done in consultation with the alliance partners.

The idea of re-blocking

As in 2012, the idea of re-blocking was again at the centre of the alliance’s submission in 2013. This innovative and community-centred approach responds to the haphazard spatial layout of many informal settlements that makes it difficult for social or emergency services to gain access to settlements, particularly when there is a fire.

Re-blocking is a social, community-driven process.

On the one hand the re-blocking process is technical. It encompasses a spatial reorganisation of shacks that opens up courtyards and creates clear pathways in a settlement. This gives officials an opportunity to provide improved services as well as making the settlement more safe and secure. Re-blocked shacks are built using Zinc aluminum, which is more fire resistant than conventional materials.

On the other hand, re-blocking is deeply social. Throughout the re-blocking process, the community’s ideas and impetus are key. Re-blocking is led by community designers together with technical assistance from alliance development practitioners in iKhayalami and the Community Organisation Resource Centre (Corc). Community Designers are community members whose design skills are grounded in past project experience.  Andy Bolnick, director of iKhayalami explains,

“Reblocking is about poor communities coming together, redesigning their spatial layout and upgrading their communities in partnership with the state which leads to more equitable and inclusive cities” (Andy Bolnick, Director of iKhayalami)

For Cape Town municipality, its “work with the alliance has provided a solution to the enormous housing backlog [it] is dealing with” (Seth Maqetuka, Executive Driector for Human Settlements in the City of Cape Town).

2013 Runner’s Up: SA SDI Alliance

Nkokheli Ncambele (ISN community leader) and Andy Bolnick (director of iKhayalami) at Ingenuity Awards Ceremony in New York.

Nkokheli Ncambele (ISN community leader) and Andy Bolnick (director of iKhayalami) at Ingenuity Awards ceremony in New York.

After FT journalists visited the alliance in 2013, a panel discussion of the African finalists was held in London in September 2013. The award winners were announced in December 2013 in New York. Both Andy Bolnick and ISN community leader Nkokheli Ncambele attended the award ceremony. The alliance’s submission won runner-up in the Africa region, following Nairobi-based Sanergy, a network of low-cost franchised toilets which also won the overall award for 2013. Social entrepreneur and Sanergy co-founder, David Auerbach explains that Sanergy’s approach is a market-based one which follows the idea of creating something that can scale up (FT publication, July 2013, p. 13). In addressing the persisting problem of human waste Sanergy creates “a network of low-cost franchised toilets which are operated by resident micro-entrepreneurs on a pay-per-use basis” from where waste is collected, organically fertilised and sold to farmers for profit (Ibid).

Rethinking ‘success’

The Ingenuity Awards certainly saw a fascinating variety of innovative projects, of which the African submissions addressed some of the most pressing challenges faced by people living on the informal, social and economic margins of cities.

In addressing the question of a ‘successful’ city, the FTs suggested that

“…the success of a city should be measured not in terms of economic transactions per square metre over a given period of time but in terms of social transactions” (Architect Teddy Cruz,  in FT publication July 2012, p.3)

For FT architecture and design critic, Edwin Heathcote  this view “would dramatically redefine our notions of what a successful city looks like – drawing it in terms of population rather than its turnover … It turns on its head our idea of economic success in terms of personal space and residential footprint… In a stroke, [it] democratises our view of the city [whereby] innovations propose solutions for the informal as well as the developed city” (FT publication, July 2012, p.7).

Yet, from the past two winners it seems apparent that the FT and Citi view business and market-based solutions as answers to addressing the pressing challenges of urbanisation. Should ‘successful’ cities and ‘ground-breaking’ solutions not also expand on market based approaches to challenge the political status quo and existing power relations between the formal and informal sectors? The social processes of community mobilisation are just as significant as the ‘technical’ outcome of re-blocked shacks or a micro-entrepreneurial approach to waste disposal. ISN community leader, Nkokheli Ncambele reflects on the social processes of re-blocking,

 “Blocking-out focuses on so many aspects not only just sanitation but on all aspects of people’s lives. I was surprised that the alliance did not win the award but it is good that we were recognised for what we are doing”

(Nkokheli Ncambele, ISN community leader)

The question of a ‘successful’ city then reaches beyond mere ‘technical’ engagements to how these engagements happen. It is a question that asks, how can urban poor communities engage with the state and other actors in a way in which they are more equal and not more powerless?