Scene 1: Pressing Forward Despite Little Progress – 11.12.12-11.13.12


To a degree, our project has been at a standstill for the last past week or so. We have established relationships with many stakeholders involved in the reblocking of Mtshini Wam, and we have begun to put our mini-projects like gardening into place. However, we have yet to make any real forward progress with the community in terms of our team’s involvement in the reblocking process. We felt it imperative to not impose our own biases and preconceived notions about what was slowing the process of reblocking and what quick fixes could be put into place to rectify some of the outstanding issues in the reblocking of Mtshini Wam. On a social level, we felt that the community saw us as equals and plainly, we got along very well. Yet on a work or professional level, we felt as though we were still observing and holding back on our recommendations or true feelings about reblocking. After weeks of observation, conversations with CORC, ISN, the City of Cape Town we had come to a stall in the work we were doing in Mtshini Wam. On one hand we were tasked with leaving something tangible for the community to see and interact with, letting everyone know that we had in fact done something to benefit the community.  On the other hand, our group felt that are knowledge could better serve the community through a reblocking workbook and story of Mtshini Wam, using our engineering background to give something to the community that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to able to provide themselves. We were stuck, and unsure of how to push onward with our goals, while also fully involving the community. At this stand still we needed a method to push forward, and these past few days have finally opened doors for us to do so.


Summary of Scene Below:

  • Monday morning meeting with project advisors and community leaders in Mtshini Wam
  • Working with Nokwezi on the material flow diagram and making an agenda for the Thursday’s meeting with CORC, ISN and iKhayalami
  • Made progress with the reblocking element of our project in Mtshini Wam
  • Established a more solid direction with our workbook and where we can help fill in gaps in Mtshini Wam, preventing future gaps in other reblocking projects

Cast of Characters

Nokwezi – Community Leader and Coordinator of Reblocking in Mtshini Wam

WPI Project Advisors: Scott Jiusto and Bob Hersh

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



It was our Monday morning meeting in the office with our Advisors Scott and Bob and we were alone in the office without community leaders talking about the past weeks events and where we wanted to go from here. We discussed the rate of building increase and how the number of shacks built per week was crucial to the project’s full completion by January 31st 2013. Our advisors had the sense that finishing by this deadline was less important to the community and that they perhaps were looking to ride out being paid by the EPWP as long as possible. From our sense of the community over the past few days, this was untrue. The community instead felt a sense of urgency to complete by the deadline, knowing full well that when the contract is up the pay is up and the motivation to finish the reblocking would diminish quickly. Although our mini-projects like Litre of Light and community gardening were still important to follow through with, we felt as though we had a much larger purpose in the community at this time. Through our observations over the past three weeks we had begun to see places in which the reblocking process in Mtshini Wam could be improved and where changes could be made in future projects to ensure their timely success. We were uneasy about presenting these ideas to the community because the past week someone had written that the students arrived and did nothing.  We expressed this concern with Scott and Bob and they decided it needed to be addressed with Nokwezi to make sure that the community was comfortable with our work and role.

Our meeting with the community was a already running about an hour late at this point, as African time often works, so we decided to seek out Nokwezi ourselves and hold an impromptu meeting outside the cluster currently being reblocked. Scott started the conversation by talking to Nokwezi about how the community sees our work and if they’re happy with us so far. She explained that it’s difficult at times for everyone to know abou the work we do because not everyone works with us on a daily basis, and we also stand around observing so often that people wonder what we’re writing so furiously in our notebooks. This explanation followed with the reassurance that Nokwezi and the community members know that we’re trying very hard to work on our projects, but that everyone is busy and it’s sometimes difficult to have someone working with us at all times. It was relieving to hear that Nokwezi undertood our role, and also understandbale that someo of the community members were still unsure about our role, because quite frankly there are too many of them to explain our roles in detail. Nokwezi is by far the one community leader who has a very strong opinion and presence, so her continuous approval has really helped us to feel secure about our project work. Scott followed up by asking about the comment that was written on our calendar about the students doing no work. Nokwezi immediately laughed and exclaimed it was a joke to mess with Sizwe our CORC liason. Surprise, they like to joke just as much as us! Again, it was a big relief to know that the community was not completely disillusioned with our work in Mtshini Wam. Since this door has opened, we decided to push slightly further and ask if the community would like us to offer some of our own suggestions for reblocking as there was a sense of urgency to finish the project on time. Nokwezi responded very positively and wanted to head back to the office immediately to start mapping out where the community gets all of their materials to hopefully resolve some of the miscommunications that have been slowing down the reblocking progress.

Scott and Bob left to tend to another project group and we moved to the office to continue this constructive conversation. Over the past few weeks, we have learned that once the ball gets rolling in the informal settlement setting, its imperative that you keep the momentum or you must remotivate all over again. We sat down and started mapping out where materials for the shacks come from and how exactly the community gets them. We started with the siding materials from iKhayalami and quickly noticed a discrepancy. In order for the community to order the materials they must phone or SMS three different individuals, where the process used to be a direct call to the iKhayalami factory. We also mapped out who they call and where they get every single piece of material for the building of shacks, e.i. the roofing, G5, etc.

With the sense that the community wanted our input on the reblocking process and our ideas on how they can effectively finish on time, we went home and drafted up some forms that can be used to track the progress of the reblocking and aid the community in keeping pace with the time left to finish. On Tuesday we came back with our new ideas and presented them to Nokwezi only. She understood the importance, but agreed with our group on the fact that the forms needed to be significantly more visual and simplified. Through past work with the community we knew that the visual element of these forms was key in making absolutely sure that the message was gotten across. If the forms were not easily used, there was no purpose in having them in the first place. With these ideas in mind, we decied to revise the forms and come back with a more visual representation to Thursday’s meeting with iKhayalami, ISN, CORC and our team. The day was also spent drafting up an agenda for Thursday’s meeting with iKhayalami to ensure the community communicated all their concerns while they had the appropriate audience in the community.


Plans, Idea and Challenges

This scene really solidified that our work in Mtshini Wam was not insignificant and our work had not gone unnoticed. The pace of our project had greatly picked up and we were thrilled to be moving into the reblocking section of our project in greater depth. Before these events, our group really didn’t have a sense for whether or not the community had wanted us to work on reblocking or solely the community development aspect. Moving forward we hope to revise and put to use the forms for planning and keeping track of the reblocking progress. Our hope is that the forms can not only be used in Mtshini Wam as they finish their reblocking, but also in the informal settlements in line to be reblocked through the CORC, ISN and City of Cape Town partnership. Eventually, these forms will supplement the information provided in the reblocking workbook so that this process will be replicable and sustainable.