Scene 1: Complexities of the First Major Reblocking Process – 11.6.12


Mtshini Wam is the first large scale reblocking process ever completed between the 3-prong partnership of the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), and the City of Cape Town Municipality. For this reason, this particular project is a learning opportunity for all parties involved, allowing the partnership to adapt the process as they move on to upgrade more informal settlements. While there are examples of previous informal settlement upgrading strategies, Mtshini Wam really is the pilot project in a string of reblocking strategies being tackled by CORC, ISN and the City of Cape Town. The community in Mtshini Wam has proven itself to be competent and motivated in its enumeration process and saving scheme, which is one of the main reasons that the City of Cape Town has chosen to partner with the community and multiple other stakeholders to provide infrastructure services.  Although Mtshini Wam has proven very successful thus far in the reblocking process, there are still many obstacles to overcome. In recent conversations with community leaders like Roots and Klaas (Khumza), as well as our CORC sponsor Sizwe, our group has been better able to grasp the complexities of the reblocking process in Mtshini Wam and at the core, what works well and what can be improved upon.


Summary of Scene Below:

  • Gaps in the reblocking process in Mtshini Wam
  • Challenges of the reblocking process in Mtshini Wam
  • Reasons to re-map Mtshini Wam
  • Ways to move forward in improving the reblocking of Mtshini Wam with our WPI project


Cast of Characters

WPI Project Group: Zachary Hennings, Rachel Mollard, Adam Moreschi, Sarah Sawatzki and Stephen Young

CORC Liason: Sizwe Mxobo

Community Leaders: Roots and Klaas


Previously, our conversations with our CORC sponsor Sizwe were merely surface topics about our project, as he is stretched very thinly over multiple different projects through his work with CORC, but during a recent conversation we were able to dive into some of the integral details of what makes the reblocking process so challenging. At the beginning of the project, there was a strong sense of motivation to finish reblocking within the community. They saw immediate progress as shacks were upgraded quickly and the quality of life for those individuals that had received the new zinc shacks had, in fact, significantly improved. As the process has gone on, the motivation of the workers seems to have declined. Significant progress has been made, but with so many shacks still waiting to be reblocked the end goal doesn’t seem as clear. Since this process is so new, the leaders and workers have little prior knowledge of the many skills they now practice on a daily basis, including technological, technical and managerial skills. On top of this, there is a sense of true informality within the work done in the informal settlement, and rightly so. The practices of using schedules, keeping records, and doing detailed long-term planning, are all new concepts to community leaders and workers. The infrequent use of comprehensive planning and structured schedules also present challenges between the formal City of Cape Town and the informal community of Mtshini Wam. The reblocking partnership requires both parties to compromise on a happy medium between a completely calculated process and an informally planned process, which has been quite challenging to find.


As we sat with Sizwe, looking at the updated map our group had roughly sketched out a few days earlier, he asked us how many shacks were completely upgraded. After counting, we realized that roughly 100 shacks had been reblocked out of the 250 that need to be completed by the deadline of January 31st, 2013. This deadline marks the end of the contract with the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) paying the 45 reblocking workers, and at this point in time, it is unclear whether or not the contract will be renewed after this date. With some quick math in the office, we realized that the build rate of the past 10 weeks, 10 shacks per week, would not be fast enough to finish the rest of the houses by the deadline.  But, if the rate of shack building were to increase to 17 shacks per week, for the next 9 weeks, the project could be completed on time. This increase in efficiency is crucial to the successful completion of the project over the coming days and weeks. Although money is not the only driving factor for the community to complete the reblocking process, it does offer important motivation as the reblocking does require a lot of hard manual labor and time..


Our previous conversations with Roots and Sizwe have proven that the re-mapping of Mtshini Wam will be a significantly important piece of the project for our team in the coming weeks. Not only will the updated map be a crucial tool for the City in their plans to provide piping infrastructure for the 1 shack to 1 taps and toilets, the map will also act as a future-planning tool as the community finishes the reblocking process in the coming months.  Since the beginning of the reblocking process, the map has only served as a general outline for where the shacks should be placed and what size they should be, not as an exact design where the clusters sizes are marked on the ground and the shacks are placed accordingly. For this reason, it is relatively unknown as to how much land has been used and how much is left for the completion of reblocking. A detailed map will be essential to ensuring that the project is completed by the deadline with the correct number of shacks put in place. Due to our limited knowledge of land surveying, our group has begun strategizing some techniques that will help us to fix up the current map of Mtshini Wam. In our recent conversation with Sizwe, our group was better able to understand the complexities of the mapping and reblocking process from the point of view of CORC.


From the beginning of the mapping process, before the reblocking had even started, each shack was measured and made to scale in cardboard pieces that were then arranged on a map of Mtshini Wam with the entire community’s involvement. CORC then had CAD drawings drafted up to more clearly illustrate the exact placement of shacks for the City of Cape Town as they moved forward in making more detailed maps that included piping layouts, roads, etc. When reblocking began to be physically implemented, the community and CORC came to find that original layout was not 100% accurate. Some shacks were arranged in such a way that they were not accessible and in other cases, space allowed for bigger or more shacks to fit in the clusters than originally anticipated. As we questioned participants further, we realized that when the cardboard pieces were fit on the map, they were not reblocked in their original location, rather placed however they would fit. This caused problems because the community leaders had already decided that everyone would remain as close to their original location as possible to avoid dealing with neighbor hostility.


A comprehensive map unfortunately is not the complete solution due to the complexities of the upgrading process. There is also the added element of savings and planning. In order for a cluster to be reblocked, every shack must contribute individual savings toward the savings account. Since the reblocking has been happening by cluster, the savings requirement can sometime slow the overall progress. If cluster 13 is wrapping up reblocking, then 14 is logically the next cluster to reblock, but what if not all of cluster 14 has saved? This slowing down of the process only further impedes the ordering of materials on time. Materials like the G5, siding and fire kits from iKhayalami, the City and the contractor GVG need to be ordered in advance due to the quantity required by the community. A slower material delivery counteracts any plans the community may have made for the day. An example of this is when the community is ready to build the shacks but the ground must be compacted first and there is no G5. An entire day of work is lost due to a miscommunication of an order. There are also instances when the workers must demolish 10 shacks in order build 8 new homes, so where do the other two families live in the time being? Anywhere they are welcome, whether that be a neighboring shack or a formal house in the community of Joe Slovo Park. Community members displaced from their homes is unfortunately unavoidable, but their displacement does not need to extend past the promised 2-3 days. If plans are made and materials delivered in a timely fashion, then reblocking can be successful without too much discomfort.


Plans, Ideas and Challenges

As a third party looking in on the process, it’s plain to see that there are no clear answers to these reblocking complexities and challenges. Our job is to understand what has worked well and what hasn’t worked well.  From there, we will be better equipped to tell the story of Mtshini Wam and present a model for upgrading efforts, hopefully providing some insight into where changes can be implemented in future upgrading projects. Through our meetings with different stakeholders involved in our project, we have begun to draw out relationships and responsibilities among partners, which will aid our final reblocking/upgrading report. Further investigation of each stakeholder will be necessary in order to fully grasp the complexities, and we plan to schedule individual meeting with the City of Cape Town, ISN, CORC, iKhayalami and the community leaders. Through this method, we will also be able to find gaps in the process that can hopefully be rectified in the short term within Mtshini Wam or in future informal settlement upgrades. Moving forward with other elements of project, the mapping will be a large focus of our work. We plan to use tools like a portable GPS to plot exactly where shacks are located, and allow the community to also use this tool for the placement of the new shacks to ensure the plan is followed here on out. All elements of our projects present significant challenges as we liaise with multiple stakeholders. It is important to understand that each group faces its separate challenges outside the partnership, and that we must remain unbiased as we report on the work of each group and their involvement in the process.