Scene 2: Meeting With The City, CORC, and ISN – 11.9.12


It became clear for our project group that in order to get on a solid track in understanding this reblocking effort, we needed to get on the same page as the partnership in a meeting setting. Following our Partners’ Meeting in Mtshini Wam the previous Friday, Leon Poleman, the City Project Manager in Mtshini Wam’s upgrading, extended an offer to attend this meeting. Coming prepared with questions, concerns, and steps necessary to progress in our project work, this meeting was a big step in our time here.

Cast of Characters

City Director – Human Settlement Directorate

Leon Poleman – Informal Settlement Upgrading Project Manager

Scott Jiusto & Robert Hersh – WPI Professors and Project Advisors

CORC representatives –

  • Sizwe – WPI group’s contact, facilitator of upgrading in Mtshini Wam

  • Olwethu – technical team representative

  • Charlton – secretary of meeting from CORC

  • Other CORC representatives (1-2)

ISN representatives –

  • Zulu – lead contact person from ISN in Mtshini Wam’s upgrading process

  • Johan – Zulu’s colleague

Lovona – Maselunge’s informal settlement representative from the City

Johan Van Straden – City facilitator for informal settlements

City Engineering Department representatives (2)

WPI Mtshini Wam Project Group Members


“We are talking about reconfiguring the way that people live.” –Leon Poleman

There were about 25 people around the meeting room table ready to discuss the progress and concerns of reblocking informal settlements. What the WPI students were not aware of was that Mtshini Wam was only one settlement being discussed in this meeting, although the City managers and engineers were quick to address our questions.

The discussion points started with an introduction from the City Director of Human Settlements, who said that “no notes or scripts are needed to tell you about this situation.” The partners were all eager to help improve the quality of life of the shack dwellers around Cape Town, yet it became relevant how crucial communication, accountability, and tensions factor into the newly-formed partnership. In the meeting, we also learned about the City’s vital need for engineering and feasibility plans to upgrade settlements’ services, and ISN and CORC’s roles in reblocking settlements for the promotion of these services.

Student Questions for the Partnership

During the meeting we were able to ask a few questions we had prepared for the City:

  • How did the City get involved from a timeframe perspective?

    • The Director answered this question by stating that it was about three years ago that discussions about Mtshini Wam’s upgrading process were started. Talking points were about preventing fires and providing basic services, although it was through CORC and ISN that the idea of community- based reblocking would provide a legitimate channel to these two solutions. Hesitations on the City’s side of business included a lack of approvals, tangible plans, or regulated processes that are the standard for allocating City funding to community projects. This hesitation is understandable to our group, though – the success of this project directs the future of more informal settlement upgrading efforts from this bottom-up approach being used now.

  • What have been some common difficulties you have been facing?

    • Three of the City members answered this question, starting again with the Director. He stated that the main difficulty was working with other partners ready to take on some of the tasks that the City usually took care of. The NGOs worked on the basic layout engineering plan, while the community leadership was willing to handle the groundwork. Leon then chipped in to say that the NGOs serve as consultants and liaisons to the City, and in order for this partnership to work, a winning plan needs to take hold. Lastly, one of the City’s engineers said the main difficulty he saw was the paradigm shift from top-down improvements to bottom-up strategies newly introduced in the case of Mtshini Wam.

    • The City has a strict need for engineering plans and communication for progress to happen on their end. Leon stated that “everything has a start and an end and a cost to it. Someone plants it, someone pays.” These words had an air of frustration and a push to the partnership to fully understand that the City has a lot of pressure riding on this project. To this effect, it is important that we are diplomatic in the way that we go about creating progress and keeping good relations with the stakeholders involved.

  • There are 3 main groups and a lot of people working on this. Which parts of the City of Cape Town are involved in the reblocking process?

    • The City engineer answered here again in saying that the engineering logistics and funding are provided by the City municipality. Leon then continued to say that the City hires service providers once the logistics and funding are finalized to get the best quote. It seems as though there may be more to this answer, although this cut-and-dry answer helped us to see that the City likely needs concise communication and answers to stay on track.

  • Do you still work with Water and Sanitation, electricity…how many people do you have to talk to?

    • Although not a direct answer, the City engineer stated that the City provides the infrastructure, but it is the responsibility of the community to provide the maintenance of the services. This is a big reason why the City is pushing for 1:1 services – personal accountability and community security are best handled with individual facilities. Working to find common solutions with such limited space and resources has been a challenge for our group as well in moving forward with community development initiatives.

  • What do you think are the biggest challenges in communication that everyone faces?

    • Zulu from ISN stated that miscommunications are always going to happen, and it will take about two years for the partnership to work out the majority of them. He furthered this by stating that this is a ‘learning by doing’ process and that the partnership needs to capitalized on their mistakes as they come about. One of the CORC representatives concluded this answer by stating that the partnership is essentially trailblazing this effort, so everything is new. Our group was able to relate to this concept of trailblazing – we are starting from scratch on leaving Mtshini Wam with sustainable improvements, just like the partners at this meeting.

Plans, Ideas, & Challenges

In the upcoming plans, we think it could prove beneficial to schedule meetings with Zulu from ISN, Sizwe at CORC offices, and engineering department representatives to best understand their position within the upgrading process. Furthermore, we want to know about their individual challenges, what has been learned, and their main concerns in the success of upgrading an informal settlement

The main challenges at this point in the game are the allocation of resources, a defined understanding of stakeholder responsibility in the partnership, and a continuous stream of progress and planning communication. It is important for our group to establish some sort of plan for a final product and a continued plan to improve Mtshini Wam’s upgrading process, which is why figuring out these challenges is so important. The tensions between partners are real – they aren’t going away anytime soon because like Leon said, “we all want to improve the quality of life for these people” – until roles and interests are fully discussed in another large meeting, this will undoubtedly continue.

The combination of working in a pilot project environment from the City perspective and a new culture to the WPI student viewpoint is a challenge in itself. Nothing can be assumed in an environment like this. Who will be handling what, how the resources will come to site, the safety and sustainability of the community’s facilities – these are constant questions roaming around our heads as we try to tackle Mtshini Wam’s hopes for improvement.

This project is a work in progress, and leaving a tangible result, that “leave us with something” piece is our main priority. The City meeting has given us hope in that the workbook we could create would be a definite improvement to their future upgrading of informal settlements on City properties around Cape Town. It is still a mapping game on ground and in stakeholder involvement at this point in the game, but being an important part of this meeting certainly brings a hopeful light to our efforts coming up.