Joe Slovo History

Joe Slovo Park has a deep history of informality, as well as formality. At its roots is the former informal settlement Marconi Beam, which existed from the 1960s to the late 1990s. Marconi Beam has served as a model for informal settlement upgrade to stakeholders involved in other upgrading processes since its division in the late 1990s. As recounted by Barry (2006), a South African sociologist, Marconi Beam, situated in the city of Cape Town in a suburb of Milnerton on privately owned land, first served as a settlement site for low-income workers of Milnerton Race Course. Although the people of Marconi Beam lived informally from the 1960s, the problem of informality became noticeable to nearby middle class residents in the mid-1980. Drawn by the prospects of employment at Milnerton Race Course, families of Xhosa-speaking South Africans from Ciskei and Transkei migrated to Milnerton and settled on the private land illegally. In 1990 a strike of Milnerton Race Course pushed many groomsmen to move into Marconi Beam. Around this time, attempts were made by the government to halt the further growth of Marconi Beam by upholding the Prevention Squatting Act 52 of 1951 that would force the squatters to remove their shacks from the area. Little progress was made however; roughly 25 shacks were demolished before the residents gathered a court order to stop further deconstruction of the settlement. Soon after, the land was deemed a transit area, which allowed Marconi Beam squatters to maintain their residence on the land, while new land was sought after to relocate the settlers (Barry 2006).

In 1993, a committee was created to facilitate the negotiation between the Marconi Beam residents and the Milnerton Municipality, and a decision was later reached in 1995 to relocate Marconi Beam residents to Joe Slovo Park and du Noon. Key stakeholders in the redevelopment process of Marconi Beam include the overseeing group, Marconi Beam Development Trust, the NGO Development Action Group (DAG) and CONDEV project managers. DAG served to advise negotiations with the Municipality and the development of policies, and later took the role of managing the movement of Marconi Beam into Joe Slovo Park. Between 1997 and 2000 many people were moved from Marconi Beam to Joe Slovo Park into formal housing, yet few of the held actual ownership (see Figure 3). Due to issues regarding payment of land taxes, service fees and general disorganisation of the Municipality, the many people were still not owners of a formal house. These problems ultimately led to the demise of Joe Slovo Park as a “formal” settlement, and soon after its beginnings, the informalisation process crept through the settlement (Barry 2006).

Blueprint for formalised Mshini Wam

Joe Slovo Park, designed as low income housing, quickly became informalized (see Figure 4). Instead of neat rows of houses with nice yards, the settlement was nearly indistinguishable from the original informal settlement (Myers 2011). This reinformalisation occurred for several reasons, all stemming from the lack of understanding the government had for the informal communities. One of the main concerns of those in charge of the design of Joe Slovo Park was retaining the property values of the surrounding neighborhoods (DAG sourced 2012). Catering the development to this ideal instead of to those who would inhabit the development attributed to the failure of Joe Slovo Park as a formal neighborhood of low-income housing. The formal settlement blueprint is not designed to handle the social dynamics of an informal community. “The very poor can in fact not afford to participate in the conventional housing programmeme. Once they acquire a subsidised house, they become liable for municipal rates and service charges. There are even more accounts of poor people selling these houses to raise a bit of cash, because they can’t afford to live in the houses provided for them” (Robins 2002). Not only were services too expensive to afford for many of the residents of Joe Slovo Park, but the terminology used to describe the houses before the relocation was not familiar to the residents, making them believe the houses would be far larger than in reality. Those who could not afford the houses set up spaza shops and shebeens in shacks outside their houses because the houses were too small to run their businesses inside, and the residents were too poor to formally extend their homes. This inability to extend their homes led to backyard shacks being erected when extended family members came to live with the formal housing owners. Many residents also rented their backyards to those who wanted to be close to economic opportunity, and shacks would be set up to accommodate them. As more shacks got erected, and further informal businesses were started, the park quickly reverted back to the informal state it came from (Robins 2002).

Mshini Wam is a neighborhood that was founded in 2006 when it was erected in an open space ringed by formal RDP houses in Joe Slovo Park. There were threats of eviction, but civil rights organisations fought back and Mshini Wam continued to grow. The population is 497 people in 250 shacks in a very small physical area.  They had no water or sanitation services when the settlement was formed, and at first they paid R50 a month to the RDP houses surrounding the settlement for water. Not until 2009 did the settlement get 16 chemical toilets from the city, then three taps were installed when the community formed a relationship with the ISN who helped the settlement fight for their right to clean water. The residents of Mshini Wam have a strong sense of community, and instated some of their own community rules. Along with these community established rules, the community as a whole saved money to buy concrete to pour at the base of the taps to strengthen them and reduce the risk of losing their water source (SDI 2012).

Reinformalised Mshini Wam


Mshini Wam is plagued by fires and flooding. Fires have claimed the lives of community members, for the settlement is so densely populated allowing little access for emergency vehicles. This density also inhibits the provision of true water and sanitation services. None of the shacks have formal electricity, and general living conditions are very poor. In 2012, the relationship with ISN had finally led the Mshini Wam to perform a community led enumeration of the settlement. Enumerations provide invaluable data and demographic information of informal settlement communities, information that can later be used to legitimize negotiations made with the government for service provision. CORC also led workshops in Joe Slovo Park, informing the community members of the reblocking process, in collaboration with skills and information they would need to begin upgrading their settlements. CORC also provides the financial backing to make the upgrading project possible (Kumar, 2012). Mshini Wam is one of the first settlements to begin this new wave of informal settlement upgrading. The community first reblocked the settlement through a blueprint design, and with the approval of the City of Cape Town they were able to begin the reblocking process in-situ.

The reblocking process will eventually lead to the institution of roads in Mshini Wam, which will provide access to emergency services as well as space for communal gatherings. The new homes being built are made from iron sheeting and are built on raised platforms, which is a large improvement from the previous housing, being fire resistant and also providing greater protection against flooding. These changes will cut down on fires by allowing better access for emergency vehicles, better housing spacing, and the construction of houses with fire resistant materials. The City of Cape Town has promised those in Mshini Wam electricity as well as a toilet in every shack. A system for controlling the path and flow of runoff water is also a future goal of this reblocking effort. Continuing the collaboration of the community, NGOs and government, monthly meetings have been, and will continue to be held between CORC, ISN, the Extended Public Works Programme and the community to insure the process continues on the right path. As of August 2012, over 100 of 250 shacks have been built (SDI 2012).