Introductions at the Municipality: A Revelation



Since Dawie was in the hospital when we first arrived in South Africa, our teams never received the formal introductions at the Municipality that he had planned for our first day. The meeting was supposed to serve as a way to introduce us to the staff at the DIHS and vice versa. It was also meant to give us a background into the informal settlements of Stellenbosch, including Langrug. Since we had already been working in Langrug for a little over two weeks, this greater context to our project was well overdue.

Cast of Characters

WPI students, Scott, Bob, Harold Lamberts, Hendri Steenberg, David Carolissen, Human Settlements Councillor Valerie Fernandes, Johru Robyn, Natasha Siyengele, Lester van Stavel, Municipality reporters


The conference room in the Municipal building in Stellenbosch. Date: 6 November 2012


After we had all filed into the conference room, Dawie began his introductions of everyone in the room. Though he spoke softly, he commanded everyone’s attention and captivated us for the remainder of his presentation. He impressively recited from memory many details about our lives including our hometowns and our interests. He also gave us a brief introduction to all of the people in the room, which basically consisted of the important people in the DIHS.

Dawie did a brief presentation about the purpose of the department, the other 14 informal settlements in the Stellenbosch region and the money they have available to fund projects in all of these settlements. Dawie explained the severe backlog of housing requests that will take the next 112 years to complete at the current pace. He emphasised that he is always more concerned with food and basic survival over other services like water and sanitation. He provided some stories and pictures from other settlements to supplement this statement as well as put Langrug in perspective. It became very apparent by the end of this presentation that Langrug receives the majority of the Municipality’s funds, (more than all of the other settlements combined), though it is the second largest settlement under their jurisdiction. It was highlighted that Langrug residents forget many of the services and repairs the Municipality provides them, like the million rand spent last year to fix the water pressure to the taps. Dawie also told a few stories about precious money spent in Langrug on jungle gyms or toilets that was put to waste due to vandalism and theft. Since the money that the Municipality receives comes from the taxpayers under the greater government, it cannot be wasted by the discontented people of Langrug when people are eating out of dumpsters and don’t have shelters in other settlements. At the conclusion of Dawie’s presentation, he asked each of us for our opinions on what we had just seen and heard, some of which was going to be used in their internal newspaper. The young woman from the newspaper asked us about what we expected to see in the informal settlements, though it wasn’t clear if she knew we’d already been working in Langrug for two weeks.

After we shared our thoughts, Lester van Stavel welcomed us formally to Stellenbosch and thanked us for bringing open minds and new perspectives to the work of the Municipality. Councillor Fernandes then said a few words asking us to be open and honest to everything we see in the informal settlements. She presented us with gifts and guides for the rest of our time in Stellenbosch, and we took a lot of pictures with everyone. A short lunch followed the end of the meeting where we all laughed and mingled.

Reflection and Learning

This meeting was one of the most eye-opening experiences so far. Since we were immediately immersed in the community, none of us fully understood the resistance of the Municipality in helping to fund the multi-purpose centre. The statistics concerning how much money is already given to Langrug were disconcerting, as we had only heard the working team’s opinions before this meeting. The information about all of the other settlements in need of help was shocking. Many of us felt disheartened about our greed in pushing for the MPC in Langrug when people in smaller settlements cannot eat and don’t have any sort of shelter. We wondered if the Municipality gave the same presentation to the Langrug community, perhaps they would be more grateful for the work and money the Municipality has provided them.

This meeting also confirmed our first impression of Dawie as being a great mediator, compassionate leader and impressive man. His care in getting to know our backgrounds was astounding to witness in our introductions. The respect of his colleagues was clear by their reactions to his leading the meeting. The statistics presented and the stories Dawie told made us appreciate the challenging role of the Municipality in this whole equation. Dawie’s internal conflicts between all of the communities shone through his calm, confident exterior. We will undoubtedly approach our work and meetings with a newfound perspective on the role of the Municipality in this partnership in Langrug.