“reblocking is not just about structure upgrades but about enabling basic service provision”
In February 2016 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 to share experiences regarding informal settlement upgrading. Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC) reports on the exchange.
by Yolande Hendler
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 the 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”.
The first day of the exchange consisted of introductions and an overview of the SA SDI Alliance and 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 first afternoon included a visit to the 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 contrast Kenyan members shared that many 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.
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. This has resulted in the City adopting 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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 stormwater projects and two Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Facilities. Masiy 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.
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:
- Alliance emphasises that its partnership focus with the City is not only reblocking but also informal settlement and area-wide upgrading
- The municipality 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.
Reflections and Learnings
At the end of the learning exchange a reflection session was held which provided valuable insight regarding informal settlement upgrading, building partnerships and community-led engagement.
- “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 Partnerships
- “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)
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)
Interested in informal settlement development?
- Read more posts on reblocking here
- Interested in women’s collectives that are mobilized through saving? Read about it here
- Get in touch with CORC here
- Watch this video about the Empower Shack Project
All images: SDI Alliance South Africa
This post was originally published at the SDI South African Alliance website on 29 February 2016