Initial Tour Highlights Many Contrasts


After seven long weeks of researching and preparing to work in Langrug, we still found ourselves anxious and overwhelmed from our very first glimpse of the settlement as we approached. The working group members were all there to greet us as we exited our transport van not knowing what to expect on our first day. We set off on a tour of the settlement led by Langrug’s chairperson, Trevor Masiy.


Working group, WPI students, Scott, Bob, Joey, Natasha


All around the settlement


At the foot of a rocky mountain range, the beautiful backdrop is heavily contrasted with the reality found within the settlement. Shacks made of all kinds of improvised materials could be seen for several hundred meters up the slope. Dirt roads separated each section of Langrug, in a semi-organized way. It was clear that the roads were made as they were needed by the growing settlement and do not reflect a completely planned community. Trash is seen littering the sides of the roads throughout the community, but against our expectations it did not have a terribly strong smell. Visually, one of the biggest impacts was seeing a shack with a side made of garbage bag plastic. Its ripped edge allowed the wind to come into the shack and show the state in which the dweller lived. Cardboard boxes stacked on each other served as the floor for the shack, perhaps to keep the dirt away and the little heat available inside the home. This shack really showed us just how difficult life must be in Langrug, something we had not quite internalized until today.

Yet, the physical challenges seen in the settlement greatly contrasted with the spirit seen in Langrug’s people. As we walked by the shack we just described, we saw the face of a man that seemed to be its owner. He waved and gave a warm smile that many of us would not possess in that situation. This power of spirit was seen in the working group too, most of the women presenting themselves with nice clothes and even heels in the tough terrain. Some of the women, particularly Amanda and Kholeka, were very talkative and confident. Amanda, who is in charge of community meetings, explained the difficulties in convening these events in such an informal setting. She mentioned how they really needed a multipurpose centre (MPC) to have a space for regular meetings. This need for an MPC was not isolated, as we later spoke with Siyanda about her work in documenting the health issues found within Langrug. When asked what solutions she saw as feasible for these problems, she told us that a mobile clinic was a crucial addition to the community, as it could circumvent the trouble of walking to the nearest clinic or hospital in the city. This way, more people would be willing to start antiretroviral treatment for HIV as well as have easy access to non-emergency medical attention. The most important health issues she described were HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and heart conditions. Curiously, though, she did not mention any nutrition problems.

Kholeka is in charge of the mapping of Langrug and digitising any hand-made maps that were created by the community. As we walked, she was very proud of showing us the maps she constructed. They had been done in proper GIS software by CORC, but when we asked her what her contribution was, she was very proud to say she had drawn the maps out of the information collected during enumeration. Kholeka’s response really showed us the strong emotions that are tied to this whole upgrading process.

Victoria was another working group member that had an interesting story to tell. She is in charge of the difficult task of community savings. Her soft voice and timid English made it hard to really understand her, but what little words we got from her were powerful. The community often disliked her because she asked for money and contributions. The lack of concrete progress has made the settlement distrust her and think she is keeping the money for herself. Because of this, she needs to be very accurate and clear in her record keeping so the community can continue in the tough process of enumeration savings. Victoria’s problem really showed us the urgent need implement some sort of project to show visual results to all stakeholders in the project.

That is not to say there have not been tangible achievements in Langrug. Several taps have been built, each addressing and improving upon the issues in the previous design. This demonstrates a conscious learning process that takes place in the settlement. The greywater channels riddled the community and were of varying levels of design complexity. The greywater issues were addressed by the channels using different methods based on the needs of the particular location and terrain, which displays promise in the creativity and skill of the community. Some had been developed with WPI, and the community was emphatic in showing us the improvement in them. Many however, showed a lack of maintenance. This really shows us that enthusiasm for upgrading might not be the same across the settlement.

In walking around almost the entire settlement, we were all able to see some of the different aspects of the community. Four settlement-wide traits that stuck out were the presence of music, children playing, people congregating in the streets and animals.  As we walked throughout the settlement, we heard a variety of music playing from the shacks. At one point Amanda, one of the leaders in the community, started dancing to the music, which showed some of the joy and positivity that exist in the community. Many people were walking about and talking to each other from the roads and from their shacks.  Children were also very present throughout the settlement.  While some children were in their classes, others were out playing in the streets.  Some children were playing with different items such old volleyballs and making music with CDs and spoons.  Other children stood next to the road and were waving to us as we walked by. At one point we saw a small child that was walking through the street, where broken bottles and animal faecal matter were present, without any shoes. This showed how there are plenty of dangerous situations the children can get into as they roam the settlement. Animals also played their own role in the dynamic of the community.  Wherever we went within the community, there were dogs and goats that were walking through the streets.  Other animals such as chickens and sheep could be seen near one of the shacks in a small farm-like environment.  These animals are the pets of the residents and play a role in the cleanliness of the settlement, as they defecate everywhere and it does not seem to get picked up.

As we walked higher up in the settlement, we talked with Alfred. He is, in a way, the second-in-command in the Langrug community, serving as elected secretary of Langrug. We asked about his background, and he told us he had been a Langrug resident for 14 years. He was the secretary of a political organisation, but he was very conscious about not saying who the leader of that organisation was. This perhaps shows how politics and communities do not mix well. On this, Alfred mentioned how he became a community activist because he felt this was far more relevant to the progress of a community than political activism. He described how he used to toyi-toyi, a form of protest, in opposition to the government, but this seemed to be a thing of the past. Today, Alfred thinks the best way to achieve progress is through cooperation, not protest. In a great display of contrast, Alfred mentioned that the second richest man in South Africa had fenced off a huge amount of land next to Langrug for no good reason except to simply have it.

This really pragmatic and cynical view on the situation kind of highlighted what Trevor, Langrug’s chairperson, said during our tour. He was very proud of the work that had been achieved to date. These included the greywater channels, a few relocations and several taps and toilets across the settlement. Yet after two years of work, the reblocking process still was in its planning stages and no construction was immediately foreseeable. Trevor said that he would work to upgrade Langrug, even if it took 100 years. This might seem passionate and moving, but upon hearing more of his comments and the situation between the government and the settlement, it became clear that Trevor was referring more to a frustration at the lack of progress in the settlement. He mentioned there were a lot of available funds for upgrading Langrug, but these had not been released by the government for use. Despite these concerns, Trevor did seem really excited and happy to see the WPI teams. Hopefully we can work closely with him to make his hopes for Langrug come to fruition.


This tour was extremely overwhelming as well as enlightening for all of us. Despite all of the pictures we’d seen of Langrug, nothing could have prepared us for seeing firsthand the reality of the poor living conditions this community faces. There were huge contrasts between the mountains and the shacks, the laughter and the filth, the smiling children and the scavenging dogs. First talking to the working group members was nerve-wracking and at times difficult due to the language barrier. However, they eased these anxieties by showcasing their knowledge, enthusiasm and generosity in sharing their lives, work and stories with us,  for which we were all very grateful. We can’t wait to hopefully make a difference in the lives of the people of Langrug!