Flamingo Crescent Rising


July 13, 2014

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Letters Home, Scott Jiusto, Upgrading



IMG_4485[1]Backstory: We worked in Flamingo Crescent in 2013, students supporting the community leadership group of Elizabeth, Markie, Ulrike and Auntie Marie and ISN and CORC in advancing plans for reblocking and other community improvements.

Returned to Flamingo on Friday with Sizwe (CORC) to find the place a beehive of activity. The main path is turning gradually into a road, defined now by concrete curbing but still loose, unleveled rubble leading in a big squared U shape into, through and back out of the settlement. As I made my way around, I first met Markie leading a small crew putting up a half dozen new shacks just on the left-hand side upon entering Flamingo. It’s great to reconnect – he says he’s well and still determined, they’re making progress despite lots of challenges. The new structures are shiny iKhayalami-supplied, fire-resistant metal shacks still open to the sky awaiting roofs.

We soon also find Terrence (ISN), more hugs and smiles, he’s also well, working hard, and similarly reporting progress amid challenges. A line of new shacks along the rear 

From Mark and Terrence I learn (or intuit):perimeter are all in place with residents returned from the temporary quarters they crafted in the nooks and crannies of existing shacks to ride out the couple weeks during which their shacks were demolished and replaced by various community working crews.

  • It takes everything they’ve got to manage the project and construction processes, but they’re fully engaged creatively, tactically, physically, emotionally, improvisationally, intellectually.
  • An example: the right-hand road was located by the contractor in a way that created a 9 rather than 11 meter deep space for structures, requiring on-the-fly mental recalculations and negotiations by Terrence and residents to find workable solutions. In this “cluster” of maybe 8 shacks (just one of many multifarious spatial fragmentations that reblocking is designed to help coalesce into “the community”), the reworking apparently went quite smoothly, with collective goodwill, resulting in a stretch of new structures now in place, including also Sheila’s sizable spaza shop that she is readying to reopen soon.
  • By contrast, work in an earlier cluster was contentious and difficult. Dealing with complaints is a daily if not hourly part of the job description, and can include community members who didn’t save upset because they want a bigger shack than now allocated; doors and window locations need adjusting; people want to keep some of their old shack materials but the city reportedly insists they are unsightly (and perhaps a fire risk?) and must be removed; job opportunities during construction are prized and those not working often want in, meanwhile the crew (and its leaders) must figure out what needs to be done and how to work together – and delays mean people are temporarily all but homeless during the coldest months of the year. Stressful!
  • Coordinating with city and contractors must also be on-going to deal with surprises and challenges as they arise, but troubling questions nonetheless emerge (Why are those stormwater manhole covers sticking out of the road so much? It’s not possible the pipes are pitched the wrong way, is it?);


Meanwhile, deeper, sadder realities: in a community of maybe 200 souls, at least four departed in just the past couple months, including two ends of life’s spectrum, one a not

 yet born child of a close friend, another an older but still vibrant woman, Berenice, the first person I really talked with in Flamingo last November who had a beautiful, large home under a tree in the far left corner of the settlement and who struck me with her lively mind, range of experience, story-telling, fortitude and generosity of spirit. She was willing to see her home, which she and her son had built over years into a haven of comfort, beauty, and remembrance, torn down and replaced with a much smaller, Spartan structure. She exuded an ease, vitality and serenity having withstood some really difficult times including under apartheid, then losing family members (including her son) in tragic ways, then struggling as one of Flamingo’s first inhabitants and serving as an early, now largely retired, community leader. Perhaps there’s poetic closure in her passing with her house into time along with the first era (or two) of Flamingo Crescent. More prosaically, a man went to bed a week or two ago telling folks he didn’t feel well and was simply gone in the cold morning. I don’t know anything about the fourth person other than she was a woman living in the far right corner of the settlement and that her passing, in the inexorable calculus of survival in hard places, means her claim to 10 or 20 square meters of living space can now be reallocated to neighbors, a modest but not inconsequential estate bequest to the remaking of this tiny world within the world.

More Inside News for CTPCers: Elizabeth was ill but recovering and Auntie Marie in good spirits. Sizwe and I are to meet with the CECD this week to advance the crèche plan, which would likely coincide with our return with new students in October, as the reblocking project is maybe 20% complete with September seeming to folks like the time to completion. The roughly 11 x 7 meter area along the back wall planned as the play area may be switched to be the crèche space, providing a double story structure to block the skollies from scaling the wall as a getaway and placing the kids’ playground more in the center of the settlement. I passed onto each of our key collaborators a gift from you guys of the CTPC Annual Report – they (the books!) were devoured eagerly by all, as they were in Langrug also – and everyone said a heartfelt “Thanks” and “We miss you.” I’m looking to meet with our city Flamingo friends soon, too.



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