Monwabisi Park as a Model for Redevelopment

One of the main goals of our project is to model a prototype water and sanitation centre that can both address current issues and be effectively replicated throughout other informal settlements. In doing this, we must adhere to certain ideals, including those of sustainability and permaculture, in order to mesh our efforts with those of the Shaster Foundation and other contributors already working to develop environmentally friendly solutions.

A Sustainable Future: Permaculture and the “Eco-Village”

“Permaculture” is a design theory developed by the Australian naturalist Bill Mollison that encourages populations to “work with, rather than against nature” (Jungck, 1985). This idea is embodied by the “eco-village” concept, which entails full employment and reuse of available natural resources by a community in order to achieve the highest possible level of sustainability and independence from importation of necessary daily materials. Approaching a project from a permacultural standpoint includes working with what is already there: firstly to preserve what is best, secondly to enhance existing systems, and lastly to introduce new elements. For example, this project is looking to recycle “grey water”, which is the non-sewage byproduct of water used for activities such as washing hands and doing laundry. This grey water would then be recycled back into the system where appropriate in order to maximize the conservation of resources. The Methodology will further explain how this project seeks to exemplify these permacultural principles in its proposed solutions.

The Shaster Foundation and the Indlovu Centre

Volunteer housing at the Indlovu Project

Volunteer housing at the Indlovu Project

The Shaster Foundation for Community Development is an organization founded in Cape Town by Dianne Womersley. Womersley has been involved in community work within the informal settlements for over 15 years (Shaster Foundation, 2008). The foundation bases its work on the aforementioned principles of sustainability, permaculture, and the conservation of natural resources. The objectives of the Shaster Foundation are:

  • Improve the health and well-being of impoverished communities in a sustainable way
  • Enable communities to grow food and create shelter for all
  • Stimulate economic development and much needed job creation
  • Revive a sense of pride in traditional and indigenous culture
  • Encourage self-sufficiency and conservation of natural resources
  • Encourage volunteers to contribute their skills to the community
  • Protect the environment
  • Eliminate waste
  • Create a world that works for everyone – no one is left out

(Shaster Foundation, 2008)

WPI students and professors have worked very closely with the Shaster Foundation since the Cape Town Project Centre’s inception in 2007, and hope to continue to do so into future years. The foundation will aid the effort as a whole by upholding sustainable values in their contributions towards the overall goal of creating an “eco-village” within Monwabisi Park. The foundation’s greatest achievement thus far toward that end is the Indlovu Project, a comprehensive development plan “made of several different elements worked into an integrated and cohesive whole that forms the heart of the Monwabisi Park informal settlement” (Shaster Foundation, 2008). The people of the Shaster Foundation are currently focusing most of their time and energy towards this facet of the redevelopment, which includes a Community Centre, a laundry centre (designed by WPI students in 2007), and a crèche.

Previous WPI Project Teams

The WPI Cape Town Project Centre was piloted in 2007 by a group of four IQP students and advisors Scott Jiusto and Stephen Weininger. The team collaborated with the Shaster Foundation and the local community to design and construct a communal laundry facility for Monwabisi Park. In the fall of 2008, another group of four IQP students under the guidance of advisors Scott Jiusto and Robert Hersh began further research on possible solutions to the water and sanitation shortcomings of Monwabisi Park. They provided a strong base for our own work by observing and quantifying the various problems in the water and sanitation conditions across the entire park. Their research included determining the number of working taps in the park, the types of toilets used within the park, and the public health of the community. After a thorough assessment of these conditions, the team started researching possible methods and devices to fix them. A WPI MQP team led by advisors Jeanine Plummer and Scott Jiusto continued to expand on this conservationist foundation into 2009 from American soil, designing a comprehensive water facility as a model for implementation across Monwabisi Park. The information these groups have collected and the design concepts conceived from it have been a great resource in our investigation into possible toilet and sanitation options, with particular attention paid to the laundry centre, tap design, and the water facility.
Laundry Centre

The laundry station proposed and constructed by Alex et al (2007) represented WPI’s introduction to the Monwabisi Park scene and established the working relationships between WPI and the key players in the park’s redevelopment efforts. The station’s design reduced the labor involved in clothes washing while embodying sustainable practices through its provisions for rainwater collection and effluent reuse as irrigation. The small adjacent grove of fruit trees fed by the station’s grey water effluent also provided a comfortable and safe venue for the social congregations that are often integrated into the laundry process (Alex et al, 2007). The completed laundry station is pictured in Figure 1 below.


The taps at Monwabisi Park are currently operated by a valve system; however these taps have been vandalized by people who steal the metallic parts and sell them for rand. Granfone et al (2008) investigated a new approach to attaining tap water, which involved the usage of a foot pedal instead of a twistable valve. The implementation of a foot pedal tap offers many advantages and would be a very fitting solution to the main problems that surround current tap usage. It would deter on-site contamination of water, because there would be little hand-to-tap contact. Residents also hang buckets on the taps which often causes them to warp and break. To remedy this, the team suggested that a concrete stand be installed underneath the tap to place buckets on, alleviating the physical stress of their weight and reducing the probability of tap damage (Granfone et al, 2008). Figure 2 below depicts a CAD model of this design.

The Water Facility

Carbonneau  et al (2009) further elaborated on the plans proposed by Granfone  et al (2008), including the design of a water and sanitation facility that “would give the community access to basic water and sanitation features including water taps, a laundry station, and toilets” (Carbonneau et al, 2009). Their proposed facility is a structure that is integrated with sustainable, environmentally friendly, and sanitary elements that, if implemented, would alleviate some of the water and sanitation issues present in the park. It would be equipped with features including rain collection tanks, hand washing stations, bathing areas, and a public toilet facility (Carbonneau et al, 2009). A blueprint of the water facility is shown in Figure 3 below.

Within the center of the facility, the team suggested establishing a gardening area with an irrigation system contingent on grey water run-off from the laundry, bathing, and hand washing stations. The rainwater collection tanks are also suggested to emphasize conservation practices and lighten the demand on the municipal water system. The rainwater collection tanks would be primarily used for the hand washing stations and laundry facility. The team also suggested a fire hydrant to be located at the water facility. Access to fire hydrants is a recently highlighted issue after a devastating fire that occurred in 2008 (Carbonneau et al, 2009).

The team also investigated waterless toilet options due to the continuing emphasis on water conservation. The types of toilets suggested included the Hybrid Toilet and the Enviro-Loo, which will be explained in detail in a later section. The proposal was that each toilet would be exclusive to a few families, and privately enclosed and locked. There would also be one or two public toilets for passerby and occasional visitor use (Carbonneau et al, 2009).

Water and Hygiene Specialist

Granfone et al (2008) also recognized that a centralized water facility cannot be managed and maintained by an untrained citizen. A water and hygiene specialist would have to be selected and educated on how to manage the facility, as well as have the responsibility to educate the residents of Monwabisi Park on health and sanitation procedures. The other responsibilities of the job would include the distribution of medication for diarrhoea, and, if necessary, revoking privileges for failing to practice the mandated sanitation procedures or vandalizing the facilities. The specialist would also have the responsibility of handling the transfer of water from the taps to the buckets, to further prevent the contamination contributing to the spread of disease. There would be a container for every resident’s house and another in the water facility, all with sealable lids to prevent possible contamination during transport from the water facility to household. The person who would take up this job would also ideally live on the premises of the facility to be present in case any issues arise.

Along with the sanitation benefits, this position would also provide a job opportunity in the community. The water specialist position would be appointed by the local leaders in the street committee, and the selected resident would need training by the Cape Town Water and Sanitation Department before he or she would be qualified to operate such a facility.