Scene 4: Realization of Project Assumptions


Throughout our preparatory A-term our team had come to terms with the fact that our project was very unknown.  We knew where we would be working and we had done significant background research on the reblocking of Mtshini Wam as well as other in-situ upgrading efforts carried out by CORC and ISN, but we had no idea where exactly we would fit into the community of Mtshini Wam. With this in mind, our group had accepted the unknown and saw it as an asset. The unknown allowed for so many opportunities, but it was crucial to keep an open mind as we headed into our groundwork in B-term.

Once on the ground, the picture was clearer than it had ever been during A-term, we learned and have continued to learn each and every day we spend in the informal settlement. The community leaders and workers have been able to openly voice the concerns they have within the settlement and which things they want to improve upon, stating which problems are more urgent than others. After a week and a half of learning and shadowing the progress in Mtshini Wam, the group feels welcomed into the community but also a lack of direction and communication between the involved parties.  After several group meetings, we feel as though it comes down to a difference in understanding between what our project group is on site in the community to achieve, both within the smaller assignments the community leadership has requested and our personal goals toward the experience as well.

The team feels as though a large portion of our project entails connecting the gaps and recording what has been one of the first successful reblocking strategies in Cape Town.  Two large attributions to this success have been the accurate enumeration report and the community savings plan in place.  On the other hand, we would like to leave the community with sustainable improvements using our engineering background, which they would not have been able to attain otherwise.

Our direction in the current state is to arrange meetings with the various stakeholders involved in the reblocking process of Mtshini Wam, including interviews with representatives from CORC, ISN, and the Municipality.  In this process, we are hoping to best understand the contributions each party brings to Mtshini Wam, and to identify the gaps of communication or other substance necessary to improve the workflow.  During this “relationship mapping,” we are also intending to start on our on-site contributions, as we wish to leave the community with a tangible short-term contribution as well as a plan for long-term sustainability.

The passion of the community leadership can be seen through the intensity with which they tell their stories, and in our seven weeks on site, it is apparent that they’d like us to leave them with something tangible to their community.  It is our full intent to leave a lasting mark through the various mini-projects discussed with the leadership, including parts of lighting, gardening, and piping layout, as well as a documentation of what truly constitutes a successful informal settlement upgrading process.

Summary Notes of Scene Below:

  • Description of initial meeting with Johan VanStiden of the Cape Town Informal Settlement Management Department
  • Description of initial meeting with contractor Samuel July of GVG
  • Description of meeting with City of Cape Town Project Manager Leon Poleman
  • Reflection on the relationships between the community and the three stakeholders mentioned above
  • Reflection on the project assumptions made by the WPI Project Group
  • Explanation of the responsibilities and project ideas for the WPI Project Group

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Group

Zach Hennings, Rachel Mollard, Adam Moreschi, Sarah Sawatzki and Stephen Young


Contractor: Samuel July

City of Cape Town

Project Manager: Leon Poleman

Member of Informal Settlement Management: Johan VanStiden


The connection we have been able to reach with the community’s team leadership has been an optimistic point in our project so far.  It was humorous that at the end of our first day on site, they told Scott and Bob “you can leave them with us, we’re good with you two for now!”  Another community member told our group, in the introduction to our project work  “after a few days, you’ll start to feel like home here.”  It has been statements like these that make our working relationships within the community healthy and productive.  At this point, connecting with the other stakeholders involved and understanding the full extent of their roles will be a big step in our advancement.

So far we have been in contact with three separate stakeholders, Johan VanStiden, Samuel July and Leon Poleman through informal interviews in Mtshini Wam. Each of these interviews have been informative on the relationships between stakeholders in the reblocking process as well as the many areas for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

A chance meeting with a member of Informal Settlement Management occurred on Thursday, October 25, in the office building of Mtshini Wam while we were speaking with community leaders. He introduced himself with a smile as Johan Van Stiden. His job is to secure service delivery, he noted, and to deal with any infrastructure problems that came about in Mtshini Wam. Stating that his department was the middleman between the cities various departments and ISN, they work together on issues such as sanitation, water and waste. Mr. Van Stiden explained that one of the ways the city is helping Mtshini Wam is to provide a contractor to help the community and EPWP workers learn how to do their work correctly. Van Stiden also better explained the Extended Public Works Program. He also helped us better understand some of the complexities of upgrading from the city’s perspective.

As the pilot project on informal settlement upgrading, with the City and ISN working together, many challenges have arisen, particularly due to miscommunication. For example, as a member of Informal Settlement Management VanStiden was here on site to deal with the encroachment of formalized settlements onto the informalized settlement. It is necessary for the city to intervene in a situation like this, he said, “as then there will be no friction between the two communities for it is a lawful problem.” One important challenge to understand is that within the city there are miscommunications as well. In this example, he is a representative of the Informal Settlement Management Department but there is also a Formalized Housing Department that he has to work with about this encroachment as well. Each department gets approval from their respective engineering departments so they could both be receiving approval for the same area of land.

On Friday, October 26th, we met with the contractor, GVG, hired by the City to help with the upgrading process. Samuel July is the lead contractor on the project so he gave us a brief but useful understanding of the contractor’s perspective. In Mtshini Wam his main focus is on the civil engineering aspects such as leveling, surveying and rebuilding the retaining wall near the Steps entrance. In accordance with his contract with the city, Samuel’s company, GVG, must have engineers on site every day to teach the community workers and ensure the sustainability of the base supports for these houses. For example, every time they demolish a house he must be on site to ensure that the platform they prepare is sturdy and sustainable. His goal is to work with the community as much as possible and describes the situation in Mtshini Wam as “so far so good.” The community and his company have a good relationship and there is good communication between them on-site.

This past Monday, October 29th, was pivotal in our understanding of the City’s impact and standing on Mtshini Wam’s upgrading process.  When Leon Poleman, the Municipality of Cape Town’s Project Manager for Informal Settlement Management, showed up to the community office, he made quite an impression.  Leon explained that the City is caught in a catch-22, where the informal settlements are not technically supported by the Municipal Finance Act, yet constitutionally the government is obligated to provide basic services to all citizens of Cape Town. Since Mtshini Wam is built upon City-owned land, the reblocking process has been supported and driven through CORC, ISN, and the community manpower in order for these basic services to be instituted by the respective City departments.

Leon is very set on seeing change and progress happen in the community, and is going to be someone we intend on interviewing in more detail so that we can best understand his department’s total role in the upgrading process of Mtshini Wam.  In this way, we can grasp the connections, analyze the gaps in communication and resources, and arrange steps to improve upon these areas.    Leon’s style is a wake-up call toward the need for more direct responsibility for each member of the leadership with respect to management and communication.  This is not a familiar area for the community members, but through our inclusion in this process, we hope that we are able to find a bridge in the formal and informal methods of getting this work done productively across the board.

After our meeting with Leon Poleman, our group realized that our project was not changing as much as we thought. When we had first hit the ground, we talked to the community about specific, physical changes they wanted that were more short-term projects. Speaking with Leon allowed us to see that our original ideas of finding the gaps in the upgrading process and offering up possible solutions was still feasible. Our third party perspective gives us a unique opportunity to fill these gaps over the next seven weeks. Slightly overwhelmed but excited to pursue this new long-term project idea, we asked Khaya if it would be okay for us to leave Mtshini Wam a little early that day. It was in this moment we realized the misunderstanding that had occurred between our group and the community leaders. We explained that we needed to return home in order to use the Internet to send some important emails, setting up meetings with the city and contractor representatives we had met earlier.  His voice and body language became more reserved as he commented, “At the meeting with the city and CORC you will not make any decisions about this community. The community must be represented in a meeting of decisions.” Caught slightly off-guard we attempted to reassure him that no decisions would be made, that we had realized we were missing an important piece to our project but his confusion was obvious. Nokwezi also commented, “The meeting is just for your benefit.” These two important community leaders were very adamant about the importance of community representation, and it was this conversation that brought our own assumptions out in the open.

Our first week in Mtshini Wam, we had spent so much time building community relations, strengthening our understanding of this particular community and talking about improvements they still wanted to see after the reblocking was finished. These interactions had been very positive so we kind of assumed they understood that our presence in Mtshini Wam was two-fold: supporting the reblocking effort to improve Mtshini Wam in whatever way we could but also to observe and report on the methods on informal settlement upgrading as being used here. We thought they understood the broad pieces of our project, but how could they if we hadn’t fully explained it to them? It was also a case of miscommunication on our side as our group had assumed that our sponsor or advisors had explained the full situation to the community.

Plans, Ideas, Challenges

After this initial introduction we have maintained contact in order to meet again in the future for a more formalized interview. In preparation, a few questions we have for these three stakeholders are as follows.

Questions for Samuel July and GVG:

  • How has the surveying process been going in the community?
  • How do you see the piping process playing into the slope of the runoff paths?
  • How often does the compacting machine experience problems?  Did you train the community members on how to use this machine properly?
  • What have been effective methods in teaching the community about your work?

Questions for Leon Poleman and Johan VanStiden on the City’s involvement:

  • Where are the current gaps in communication that you are experiencing?
  • What are the most important assets in Mtshini Wam that help you and the City coordinate work?
  • Who are the main points of facilitation for you within the leader?  Why are the others perhaps not as reliable or attributive?
  • How do you see five students from an engineering university playing into the City’s assets for the next two months?

Questions for the community in Mtshini Wam:

  • Can you expand on your thoughts about the tensions a brick and stone community centre will raise?
  • What besides childhood care would you like to see in the community centre, should there be sufficient space on a second floor?
  • We are looking to explain how the goals of the groundwork here are one part of our project through WPI; would you mind if we took a tea time to explain what other parts of our project we need to complete?
  • Would you like to have one person act as a liaison for the community and all other stakeholders such as CORC, ISN and the City? If so we can broach the topic at a meeting with representatives from each organization.

Besides these questions we have, these conversations have allowed us some important understandings of how this reblocking process works in Mtshini Wam. There have been several community discussions and good intentions with respect to the push for positive change in Mtshini Wam.  An example of putting a good foot forward was Klaas in his explanation that Saturday’s community event was an effort to drive fun in the settlement outside of alcohol abuse, which is quite common at the end of the month after payday.  With almost each work-day that has passed, we have met a new party involved in the reblocking process, from contractors like Samuel and Iyanda from GVG to Leon and Johan from the local Municipality.  Gathering information on who contributes what resources and how they keep up (or lack to uphold) communication has been a useful piece of our time; however, there is a lack of moving forward with respect to our responsibilities as a project group.  An important action has been our meetings away from the community discussions, where we have been driving what is truly important to bring up in talking with the leadership and how we can best facilitate what we intend on saying with the language barrier at hand.  An example of this is our recent interview with Noceba, where we were able to better understand the exact pricing breakdown of the housing and community savings figures.  We were able to clearly gain a good foundation of how long their savings program has been in place, the difficulties in “convincing through incentive” method they used, and the surprising lack of difficulty in keeping it up now.

Overall, we feel as though we have more to offer including what the community leadership is talking about for us – we have something unique to offer, and it is on us to communicate this concept.  The fruits of our labor may very likely be locating the gaps in the reblocking and upgrading process, and writing the report of how to make this more efficient and communicative.  This piece of collective analysis would provide the City and NGO’s with a model of how to save not only money and time, but also the health of the citizens they are obligated to provide services toward.  It is vital that we truly consider sustainability and community training on these initiatives, though; the very purpose of an IQP experience is to leave a lasting social change, and not one to be put on a shelf or forgotten about.  We also want that sense of pride and self-worth in the community to sustain itself, possibly through a community story pamphlet and letters of recommendation for the main contributors to the community improvements.

In looking forward this week, we have a great deal of organizing our individual outtakes from the community to do.  We each linked with something unique that the community told us through our various interactions, and in relationship mapping, meeting arrangements, and feasibility studies, we can keep a solid direction for helping Mtshini Wam.