First Partnership Meeting: Tensions Emerge


After our tour of the settlement, we convened with the intentions of discussing WPI’s role in Langrug. However, tensions within the partnership of the community, the working group, the Municipality and CORC quickly emerged and clearly needed to be addressed.


Working group, WPI teams, Scott, Bob, Joey, Natasha, Sizwe


Wendy house in Langrug on 22 October 2012


After the tour, we all settled back into the wooden meeting shack known as the wendy house, and Scott facilitated a meeting with the intention of discussing where WPI would fit into the community and how we could help with their projects. Scott made impressive, persistent efforts in trying to keep on track, but he eventually had to give in to what Trevor wanted to discuss, which involved directly addressing the Municipality officials (especially Joey). The meeting grew into a display of grievances between the parties. It almost felt like the Langrug leaders were using our presence as a buffer for the Municipality people, as the leaders felt very comfortable expressing their fervent concerns. This was a tremendous opportunity to understand what type of problems had arisen between the DIHS and the community. Trevor emphasized his feeling that the partnership was crumbling because the DIHS seemed to plan a lot of ideas for Langrug but had not committed to implement any yet.

The tension was palpable from the first words Trevor spoke. Trevor argued that the Municipality has too many processes and procedures that prevent concrete things from actually happening in the community, which causes mistrust and lack of community motivation. It also puts Trevor in the difficult position of handing out empty promises to the community during general meetings. Joey responded by explaining that these procedures were in place to ensure long-term sustainability of the upgrading projects and that the government has systems in place that require specific information and authorisation. Sizwe, a CORC representative who works closely with both sides, also attempted to mediate the argument to make the conversation more productive.

Our team found ourselves internally siding with one side of the argument or the other. Some of us felt that the government’s argument was more logical and less emotional and that the processes they have in place ensure that upgrading projects are sustainable. Others of us sided more with the community, especially after Trevor said that it is a community-driven process in which the community should be able to do the project without jumping through so many Municipal hoops. It is fortunate that the members of our team can view this tension from both sides so that we can take all of the stakeholders’ opinions into consideration.

As the discussion progressed, Trevor said that the working group wants a renewed involvement by the DIHS to regain the momentum from previous initiatives.  Joey committed the DIHS to meet 4 hours every week (Mondays and Thursdays) with the working group. This is an important outcome of the meeting, and Scott had a big role in this achievement. However, this shows that the meetings in the working group need very careful facilitating and planning to be productive and achieve their goals.

Alfred mentioned that the community was not sure what it was expected to do and it was not sure what the government was supposed to do. This highlighted the fact that the parties were not completely sure about their responsibilities in the upgrading process. This is a crucial aspect to determine where each party should focus and how to avoid tensions if boundaries are crossed. By applying regular reporting techniques to the working group, the flow of information between parties could be greatly improved. This fact was emphasized when the Municipality asked for a detailed cost analysis of the reblocking process. As an outsider, it seems like making this list would be a simple task that could be completed in as little as a day. The community, however, clearly did not realise they had to provide that information to the city and also seemed unsure where to start getting that information from. It seems like these seemingly small tasks, such as budgeting a project or listing expectations and grievances, are made vastly complex due to a lack of reporting, lack of technology and information sharing, varying community sentiments and overall miscommunication among various stakeholders.

We ended the meeting with a prayer said in Xhosa by Siyanda. We took a group picture with a few of the women from the working group as well as Alfred. They said goodbye and Kholeka even hugged a few of us as we got onto the bus. They said that they couldn’t wait to see us tomorrow, which was sweet of them and a nice change from the tension in the meeting. The women seemed to be more comfortable talking in smaller groups about non-business-related topics.


Overall, we felt overwhelmed, anxious, excited and hopeful following the meeting. It was crucial for us to witness the tensions between the community and the government first-hand in order to start getting them on the same page. Although it was frustrating to end the meeting without any purpose defined for our time in Langrug, we learned so much from the encounter that it made up for this lack of focus. There is clearly a communication problem greater than what we had anticipated. However, we are having trouble imagining what concrete things we can do to help them, especially since we don’t feel it is our place to try to fix the problems directly. We can only continue to build relationships with all parties involved, learn all sides of the story and work collaboratively to develop a reporting system and effective meeting strategies that work for the community.