Partnerships in Langrug: A Model for the Future

Currently, the government is the primary organization responsible for solving the sanitation problem. However, in South Africa, its top down approach of building bare bones facilities has not been successful. The facilities are often unclean, smelly, and undignified. In addition, they regularly break, which causes two thirds of the government’s annual $125 million budget to be spent on equipment and repairs. A. Mels et al (2008) report that providing conventional sewage solutions to its informal settlements would far exceed the budget of The Cape Town Water Services Dept (WSD). The magnitude of this challenge is too great for the government alone to solve. It does not have the personnel or the budget required. If a solution is to come, other stakeholders must be involved. Private businesses, NGOs ,  and communities are all stakeholders that have the potential to take on this challenge. Each of these organizations brings different resources to the table; therefore, each could benefit from working with the others.

Private business could impact sanitation provision greatly. If business incentives, such as selling waste as a valuable byproduct or by offering complementary, for-profit services around ablution blocks, were created some of the financial burdens associated with sanitation provision could be eased. Also, businesses have the potential to bring technical skills, innovative approaches, and financing to sanitation services that governments cannot.

NGOs bring knowledge and resources to the table that governments do not have as well. NGOs work on the ground, and therefore have a better understanding of the social dynamics of sanitation provision and of the needs and desires of a community. Also, because they work on the ground, NGOs are better suited to implementing and overseeing social programs, such as hygiene education.

Communities themselves also have the potential to impact sanitation provision. If sanitation-improvement initiatives derive directly from the community, then they are far more likely to be successful than if they derive from a faceless government official. The reason for this is because, if the community played a key role in the establishment of better sanitation systems, they will value them more. Also, involving the community helps to eliminate, “the municipality will do it for me,” mindset that is ubiquitous throughout South Africa’s informal settlements. This mindset is detrimental because it creates a sense of entitlement and keeps people from helping themselves. If a community has the, “I can help myself,” mindset, they are, in fact, likely to help themselves. Also, if the community is heavily involved, the government can take a back seat role, thereby freeing up resources for other locations. Presently, community resources have remained largely untapped in South Africa’s sanitation provision.

Langrug, which is located directly outside of Franschhoek, South Africa, is an informal settlement that is progressive in its multi-stakeholder partnerships. In this settlement, the municipality will no longer simply build a tap or toilet but will work closely with the community and NGOs to find a sustainable solution. A key philosophy in Langrug is community empowerment. A, “nothing for us, without us,” mentality has been adopted where no upgrading is done unless the community is directly involved in the process.  The municipality, in collaboration with two different NGOs, Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC) and Shack Dwellers International (SDI), is facilitating this initiative. Short summaries, taken from the websites of CORC and SDI, are included below.

SDI is a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It was launched in 1996 when “federations” of the urban poor in countries such as India and South Africa agreed that a global platform could help their local initiatives develop alternatives to evictions while also impacting on the global agenda for urban development. In 1999, SDI became a formally registered entity.

CORC is a nucleus for professionals and grassroots activists who think independently yet plan and act collectively. It is the hub of a new synergy between intellectual pioneers and collective action. CORC provides support to networks of urban and rural poor communities who mobilize themselves around their own resources and capacities. CORC’s interventions are designed to enable these communities to learn from one another and to create solidarity and unity in order to be able to broker deals with formal institutions especially the State. The entry points for such interventions are community-based centres for learning. These are settlements whose residents are involved in the incremental provision of land tenure, basic services and affordable housing – either through acceptable relocations or on-site upgrading. At these centres CORC  and their community partners attempt to set precedents that transform the way all stakeholders think and act in response to the urbanization of poverty

The relationship among the municipality and the NGOs in Langrug is unique. These organizations work in direct partnership with each other, and this partnership is outlined in a formal agreement. Langrug is one of the first communities in South Africa to adopt such an agreement between a government and an NGO.

With this partnership, these stakeholders have begun a process of sustainable, incremental upgrading. This process began with the creation of a community council, which is made up of community leadership and leads upgrading initiatives from within the settlement. So far, this council has lead an enumeration project that mapped and assessed demographics, employment, infrastructure, water, and sanitation in Langrug. Because of this enumeration, the community better understands their needs and where to begin the upgrading process.

WPI was brought into this multi-partner, community-led upgrading process when it began its work in Langrug. Fortunately, WPI’s mode of operation coalesced perfectly  with this system. Specifically, WPIs co-researcher model was directly compatible with the “nothing for us, without us” mentality. The co-researcher model involves paying community residents a small stipend to work and research alongside WPI students. These co-researchers provide knowledge of their community that is essential to implementing successful projects.

Sizwe of CORC and WPI students holding an informal community group discussion


In years past, co-researchers worked only as long as WPI students were in South Africa. This year, however, it is being taken a step further – the co-researchers are to continue their work throughout the next calendar year without the presence of any WPI students. This will help to further the idea that upgrading must be community-driven.

This community-driven, multi-partner context, so different than the traditional and unsuccessful top down, government driven approach to upgrading, is the ideal environment to further WPI’s work in water and sanitation.  Ideally, Langrug will become a centre for research in sanitation from which the rest of the world will be able to learn.



Mels, A., D. Castellano, B. Braadbaart, S. Veenstra, I. Dijkstra, B. Meulman, A. Singels, and J. Wilsenach. Sanitation services for the informalsettlements of Cape Town, South Africa.248(1-3), 9/3/2011.