Supporting Informal Settlement Upgrading Communications in Langrug

An Interactive Qualifying Project to be submitted to the faculty of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Science

By: Megan E. Dempsey, Brittany T. Nichols, Michaella M. Reif, Juan M. Venegas


The apartheid regime (1948-1994) in South Africa heavily restricted the urbanization of black South Africans to impoverished townships and shanty towns that offered little opportunity for socio-cultural or economic advancement. Many blacks, particularly Xhosas, moved to the Cape Town area in search of work, and the apartheid regime responded to this population influx by forcing them to reside in shanty towns outside the city. Following apartheid’s dismantlement, blacks continued to settle outside Cape Town, which does not have enough housing to support the influx of people. Black South Africans began settling on private or government-owned land in informal settlements. These settlements are made up of shacks and improvised water and sanitation facilities.

Government organisations have recently attempted to upgrade these areas to meet the demands of community members. The local, provincial and federal South African government have been struggling to provide these informal settlement residents with basic amenities for decades. Previous upgrading projects failed to produce enough momentum due to a lack of community involvement; local municipalities, funded under the federal government’s housing policy (Informal Settlement Network, Stellenbosch Municipality, Langrug Community Leadership, & Community Organisation Resource Centre, June 2011) ,  took charge of these projects without taking community sentiments into account. Projects were managed from government offices instead of on site (in situ), which led to a lack of effective participants and large gaps in communication between involved stakeholders. The lack of inertia behind these upgrading initiatives forced stakeholders to change their strategies to involve communities in their own settlement projects.

This new strategy is currently underway in Langrug, a small informal settlement in the Municipality of Stellenbosch. This community is unique in that community participation is valued and that projects are conducted and managed in situ. There is a strong alliance that exists between the government’s Department of Integrated Human Settlements (DIHS) and the NGO Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) as they work together in Langrug. This strategy is certainly an improvement from previous upgrading approaches, but there are still underlying communication issues that hinder project progress and community satisfaction. The communication aspect of upgrading projects is essential in order for trust, transparency and sustainable solutions to result. In Langrug, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Cape Town Project Centre implemented the co-researcher model to help report community opinions and attitudes to the DIHS and CORC. The co-researchers are a team of motivated Langrug residents who demonstrated leadership in their community, and they continue to work on their own projects alongside CORC and the DIHS. Thus far, the co-researcher model has proved to be a useful tool in community-driven upgrading projects. Having Langrug residents in charge of their own projects ensures that upgrading solutions are sensitive to the opinions and needs of the community, which contributes to sustainability.

While this co-researcher model has had observable successes, there are still aspects of their role that can be further defined and improved upon. There is a communication gap between the co-researchers and the DIHS that prevents the government officials from being completely aware of the status of the upgrading initiatives in Langrug. The government has also heard contradicting views on the community attitude towards these projects and the solutions they implemented. The co-researchers need to develop methods by which they can keep both the DIHS and Langrug residents informed on the status of projects. While there are some technical aspects to developing communication, the culture of the people of Langrug, the co-researcher team dynamic and the relationships with stakeholders are delicate pieces of the communication network that need to be addressed for a sustainable solution to result.

Our project mission is to support the co-researchers as they attempt to develop and communicate upgrading projects to the Langrug community and involved external stakeholders. In order to gain the co-researcher’s trust, our team must work jointly with them on an activity early on to foster a cooperative relationship. After a working relationship is established, we can then jointly identify and map current communication networks within the Langrug upgrading project system, and from that identify any barriers that are hindering the progress of these projects. Having identified these communication barriers, our team can work alongside the co-researchers to develop effective reporting strategies to keep relevant groups, particularly the DIHS, updated on the projects and the community attitude towards them. By enhancing the communication network alongside the co-researchers, our project can help ensure that these community-driven projects are responsive to the sentiments of the Langrug residents in addition to providing them with the improvements they deem necessary.

Meet the Team

Setting the Stage

CTPC Context

Background Research

Sponsor: Department of Integrated Human Settlements

Sponsor: Community Organisation Resource Centre

Cast of Characters

Project Planning