Scene 2: “Before you leave, leave us with something”


On the second day in Mtshini Wam, we were introduced to the rest of the 45 community workers that we hadn’t met the day before. During their morning break we took a moment to introduce ourselves as Roots translated our words to Xhosa. After introductions, they divided into their different groups for team pictures: Demolition, Building, Cleaning, Compacting and Technical Design. Each group used different props to better explain their jobs in the upgrading process for the pictures, which was very fun and showed their positive attitude towards the upgrading process.

We were in that awkward time of transition between activities when our group was asked to come back outside because the community members wanted to say something to us. Surprised but excited, we walked back out to stand in front of the crowd and waited. A pause took hold of the crowd, and then a man unfolded himself from his wheelbarrow chair to stand before the group. “Hello, my name is Mr. Landulay, and I am very excited to have you here in our community. My only request is that before you leave, leave us with something.” Our mumbled thanks were cut short as another community member, Mr. Sizani, spoke up saying, “We are grateful to have you here to try, by all means, to help us with our challenges.” Quietly we stood, unsure of how to truly thank them for these words of open trust in our presence in the community.

These words, even in their simplicity, have been ringing through our heads as we contemplate what exactly we can leave for them, plans, money, a finished product? What exactly do they want to gain from us being here? A question we will continue to ask ourselves throughout the entirety of our time in Mtshini Wam, making sure to constantly check ourselves for grounding to this statement.

Encouraged by the community’s reaction to our presence in Mtshini Wam, our group split up to shadow the reblocking teams. This one on one time allowed each of us to become familiar with that section of the reblocking. Then we could relay the information back to the rest of the team. What we learned was not only the process of each team, but a deeper social understanding of the community in Mtshini Wam through a few key interactions.


Summary Notes of Scene Below:

  • Shadowing the Demolition Team
  • Shadowing the Cleaning Team
  • Shadowing the Building Team
  • Shadowing the Compacting Team

Cast of Characters

Community Leaders:

Mziwekhaya (Khaya)

  • Building Team Supervisor
  • Technical Design Team


  • Community Project Manager


  • Runs Savings program for Mtshini Wam
  • Cleaning Team Supervisor


  • Compacting Team Leader


  • Building Team Leader


  • Compacting Team Leader
  • Technical Design Team


  • Cleaning Team Leader


  • Roofing Team Leader


  • Siding Team Leader


Reblocking Teams

      Building Team:

  • The building team is split into two, the roofing team and the siding team.
  • The Siding Team builds the sides and erects the shacks and puts them in the ground.
  • The Siding Team depends on iKhayalami for the materials and tools to complete the job.
  • The Roofing Team builds the roofs once the shacks are complete.
  • The Roofing Team depends on iKhayalami for the tools, and the government for the materials to build the roofs.
  • Roofing Team Leader: Siburiso
  • Siding Team Leader: Hcarman
  • Team Supervisor: Mziwekhaya

Demolition Team:

  • Responsible for demolishing the old shacks
  • They depend on tools from iKhayalami for demolition.
  • Team Leader: Melikhaya
  • Team Supervisor: Nokwezi

Compacting Team:

  • Responsible for leveling the ground for storm runoff, and responsible for making the sand and G5 bases and compacting them with the compacting machine. The compacting machine is a roller that is gas powered and controlled by a long handle.
  • They depend on a government hired contractor to bring the compacting machine, and to deliver the G5 needed for the bases.
  • Team Leader: Sia
  • Team Supervisor: Roots

Cleaning Team:

  • Responsible for the removal of rubble during demolition, and then all community members working on reblocking are responsible for loading up the rubble truck when it arrives to remove the rubble.
  • They depend on government hired contractor for the truck that comes to remove the rubble.
  • Team Leader: Phila
  • Team Supervisor: Nonceba

Technical Team:

  • Responsible for the planning and other technical aspects. Made up of members of the other teams.
  • Team Leader: Roots


Community Members:

Two members who stood up and talked


  • Cleaning Team
  • Worked with Rachel, talked about life story, etc

Lulama (Donono)

  • Cleaning Team
  • Worked with Sarah, teaching her Xhosa and inviting her into the Community


CUFF (Community Upgrading Finance Facility): an initiative of the South African Alliance, the fund is capitalized by CORC, uTshani Fund and contributions from SDI. The Fund’s board—made up of 60% shack dwellers and 40% support NGO professionals—receives proposals for upgrading projects, but the community is ultimately responsible for writing up the project description, get quotes from suppliers, and implement the project (with support from ISN, CORC and uTshani Fund) (SDI 2012).

iKhayalami: “is a Not For Profit Organisation whose primary aim is to develop and implement affordable technical solutions for Informal Settlement Upgrading that are designed, where appropriate, to be imbedded into a people’s driven process and scaled up with the support of the State.” (iKhayalami 2012)



Shadowing Demolition Group from Adam’s Perspective

Shadowing the demolition process of an older informal shack with Klaas proved incredibly useful toward the group’s understanding of the reblocking efforts in Mtshini Wam. As the Supervisor of the Demolition Team, Klaas was able to direct his fellow teammates while telling me about the reasons for this particular demolition.  It turns out, the man inside this particular shack was smoking too much marijuana late at night, and as a result the community punished him physically, as well as kicked him out of Mtshini Wam and destroyed his home soon after.  The code of ethics toward injustice is currently this standard consequence whether it be stealing, abuse, or any other serious offense.  This was shocking but also understandable, as our team is no longer under American culture and standards.  In a community with very little formal organizations, Klaas stated this method has proven tremendously helpful to the safety of residents.

The process of demolition is as follows:

1. The team identifies the next shack within the cluster to be knocked down, and gives this cluster’s residents 48 hours to move their family members and belongings into a neighboring shack.

2. On the day of demolition, the team starts in a group of six to eight men with shovels and hammers, one of these men being the Supervisor (Klaas).

3. The men receive directions from Klaas, and start on tearing out boards from the siding.

4. While continuing to rip out the siding, a few men check to see the remaining structural integrity of the beams and ceiling.  so long as they aren’t wobbling too much, they continue to rip out the nails and siding.

5. Half of the men pile the removed materials outside the shack while the others find the breaking point and knock down the shack’s remnants.

6. The roof is moved aside while the last of the knocked down materials are pulled apart.

7. The men move all of the wood into a community pile outside the cluster so that the Cleaning team can come in and address the trash and greywater underneath the shack.

What impressed our group with this demolition process was that with only six men, a few hammers and shovels and no assistance of communication devices like walkie talkies. They were able to work cooperatively in 20 minutes to completely knock down the structure.

Shadowing the Cleaning Team from Rachel’s Perspective

Splitting into our separate groups with the words of the community members welcoming in mind, I was grabbed by Nonceba to join the cleaning team, a mother of two who had graciously welcomed us to the community from the first day. I was immediately put to work, being handed work gloves from two people willing to work with just one glove each. Nonceba raked an area where an old shack used to be located for pieces of plastic and waste to be thrown away. The old wooden shacks were lofted above the ground by crates, which allowed water to go underneath the homes rather than inside them. This caused a large collection of greywater filled with scraps of garbage.

The process of cleaning is as follows:

  1. Once the demolition team has deconstructed the old shack, the cleaning team removes the scrap wood and garbage to the rubble pile.
  2. When all the scrap wood and large garbage is removed, the crates that support the base of the shacks to prevent flooding are removed from the ground
  3. What’s left is a large pool of greywater that has moved underneath the shack during rain and remains there collecting garbage and debris, which needs to be raked out of the pool and put in trash bags to be put in the rubble pile
  4. Large rocks and pieces of wood are left in the greywater for compacting
  5. The muddy water is dug up to back sure that the dirt and mud contain no plastic pieces that could potentially cause water to collect in the ground
  6. At this point the cleaning team’s job is done for that particular shack.

As I was getting my hands dirty, the women of the cleaning team joked and laughed with me as I attempted Xhosa to no avail. I met one woman in particular named Sandisiwe who took me under her wing and taught be how to clean the area properly. She opened up quickly, telling me about her life and story. She was 24 years old and originally came from the Eastern Cape looking for work like most other residents of Mtshini Wam. She ushered me to lunch in the local eatery, and Zach and I sampled chicken hearts! We opted from some sugary freeze pops instead. The whole WPI group joined us in the cafe and everyone in the community pulled up chairs for us to sit.

This experience made me feel like less of a guest passing through, but more a helper and a part of the community. I was welcomed with open arms by most all members of the community. Sandisiwe being so open with a person who was a stranger less than an hour before is so foreign to me as an American, as for the most part we try to guard ourselves and dance around the truth. It was refreshing to have such openness and an exchange from a woman not much older than myself, helping me to learn about what its like to be a young woman in her 20s in Mtshini Wam. This experience that I had with Sandisiwe and Nonceba, I assume, will be one of many encounters with friendly and open community members in Mtshini Wam. This will be something to look forward to as the weeks progress, the sharing of new ideas, the actions of those ideas and the learning through the process.

Shadowing the Building Team from Zach’s Perspective

We followed the building team in charge of building the sides of a shack and putting everything together besides the roof. We learned how the team’s process works from start to assembly. The siding material comes in small sections which click into each other, and then wooden boards are used to hold those all together, with two wooden beams running horizontal, one at roof level, the other a foot or so above the bottom of the wall. The siding material is ordered from iKhayalami through CUFF who pays 80% of the costs while the community pays 20% of the costs. The government cannot provide the siding material, but they provide the roof “zincs” and the wooden beams that go along the roof, or “tent poles.” They also provide the nails used in construction and the plastic sheeting that goes along the bottom of the shacks. The whole siding team was with us when Klaas was explaining these things to us. He told us how four people would assemble a side of the shack, and then once all the sides are assembled and the base is prepared, the shack will go up in under 45 minutes. The metal is easily bendable, allowing for gaps between panels to be removed easily. Once the shack is together, it takes only four guys to move the entire shack where it needs to be. There are 13 people total per building group. Shacks are able to go up very quickly with everyone working together.

Shadowing the Compacting Team from Steve’s Perspective

The compacting team, led by Sia, serves two functions. The primary function is to prepare the ground on which shack clusters will be placed. They are responsible for building the platforms that shacks sit on. This requires demolition team to clear a space for the cluster and cleaning team to remove all rubble from the area before the team can begin work. Also required is the compacting machine, sand and G5 material, which is a cement, gravel and sand mixture that is wet and mixed to eventually harden after compacting. During the shadowing of compacting team, the process was outlined by Roots.

The process of compacting is as follows:

  1. Place sand on ground approximately level
  2. Use compacting machine to compact the sand
  3. Mix G5 with water and distribute on the ground
  4. Compact and use Surveyor tools to level
  5. Place sand on ground, compact and level

When the required materials or prerequisites are not met, the compacting team works on their other job. This is to turn the pathways between shacks into sloped channels that carry water out of Mtshini Wam. This is an extremely important process, as flooding is typically a larger disaster in Mtshini Wam than fire. Another problem this addresses is greywater. According to Roots, stagnant pools of unsanitary water that collects when it rains over time. The process is a simple one.

1)     Pickaxe the ground approximately 5 cm deep

  • Across entire path until approximately 15 cm from shack walls

2)     Shovel this loose earth into a wheelbarrow

3)     Carry the earth to a sand repository


Plans, Ideas and Challenges:

This second day provided a more vivid depiction of the work that goes into the reblocking process in Mtshini Wam, which we encountered firsthand. Shadowing the different teams allowed our group to better understand how reblocking was being implemented in Mtshini Wam. This time for detailed observation will prove invaluable for our report on the Informal Settlement Upgrading process later in the term. Our interactions throughout the day with community members reinforced our sense of welcoming as a part of the community and a feeling of encouragement as we move forward with our project.