Informal settlements mark the landscape of urban areas in many developing countries around the world. War and rural poverty can cause mass migration of people and often simultaneous growth of informal development. These informal settlements are packed with people, creating an unhealthy and hazardous living situation. Many nations face the daunting task of formalising these settlements, which are often built on vacant government land. Integrating these settlements into the urban areas and improving the conditions within them is a necessary step, but the task is not an easy one. Frequently, displaced individuals move to urban areas to look for work, and stay in the area because they are in dire need of a job (Huchzermeyer & Karam, 2006).

Informal settlements place a burden on the local economies, and prove an additional challenge to local governments, who must not only improve living conditions, but help assimilate these informal settlements into the economic workings of urban areas. The issue of informal settlements has plagued South Africa since the end of apartheid, when many black Africans relocated to large cities in search of a new life with better employment opportunities. Cape Town experienced a large influx of new residents, far more than the economy was able to bear. Consequently, many of the individuals expecting to find opportunities after years of oppression found themselves dwelling on the border of the city along with thousands of others. The temporary houses that were built on the outskirts of the city grew into permanent informal settlements. Improving living conditions is difficult, but a greater challenge is making redevelopment a process that benefits communities generating income and creating jobs (WPI Cape Town Project Centre, 2008).


View of Monwabisi Park C-section

Monwabisi Park, located in the township of Khayelitsha, is one of over 220 informal settlements on the outskirts of Cape Town. There are over twenty thousand residents within Monwabisi Park, and of that number, nearly 50 percent are unemployed (Codding, Dignam, Fitzpatrick & Pastor, 2008). A 2005 survey conducted by the City of Cape Town found that the average family size within Khayelitsha is around four people, with an average household income of R606 ($95) per month (City of Cape Town, 2005a). Though the City of Cape Town is very aware of the need for redevelopment efforts in the informal settlements, the process is not an easy one. Because of the wide range of problems these settlements face, not everything can be addressed at once. The Shaster Foundation, a public benefit organisation founded by Dianne Womersley, has been responsible for initiating various projects intended to spur growth within Monwabisi Park. The Shaster Foundation has helped form the Indlovu Project, a series of community-based resources and services including a youth crèche, soup kitchen, guest house and medical clinic. The Indlovu Project currently employs seventeen people and is one of the few entities that has brought employment into the settlement.

Students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have been working with the Shaster Foundation in Monwabisi Park since 2007 to help further plans for sustainable redevelopment. A team of four students in 2008 focused their work on economic growth and made significant progress in laying the foundation for a sewing centre in which sandbags would be sewn for use in building projects. Plans for a sewing centre were set in place, and community members were trained, yet the centre never became fully operational due to a fire that destroyed the building and sewing machines. As a result of the fire that swept through the Indlovu Project, issues such as payment and management within the sewing centre were never addressed. Although they were able to acquire the facilities and machines and train potential employees, no clear management system or salary arrangement was established, leaving many questions to be explored.

The Shaster Foundation has been very successful in bringing about numerous positive projects to Monwabisi Park, but the goal is that someday the project will be truly community driven. The Shaster Foundation has provided the management and financial resources to operate the Indlovu Project to date, but eventually the project will be completely self-sustaining and run by a community-based organisation.  This transition of management creates a number of concerns that need to be addressed including hiring procedures, methods of income generation and the overall sustainability of the project (D. Womersley, personal communication, September 18, 2009).

Research Areas

We researched several ideas that we felt would be valuable to our project before arriving in Cape Town as well as while working on the project.

  1. Complementary currency, a payment system that can be used in addition to the existing currency.
  2. Microfinance, a method of providing banking systems and loans to those with limited access.
  3. Tall-poppy syndrome, when community members are targeted for rising above.


Project Resources

Economy Team Project Proposal 2009 [PDF, 1.3 MB]