Lessons Learned in Early Cape Town Upgrading Projects

In order to come up with the best possible strategy towards informal settlement upgrade, past case studies must be evaluated for successes and failures. The N2 Gateway Project highlights a top-down approach by The City of Cape Town government in which the community’s opinion was not taken into account, and therefore the project was said to be a failure. The case of Sheffield Road, on the other hand, presents a partnership between the City of Cape Town, NGOs and the community that resulted in the first successful bottom-up in-situ upgrading approach. Following suit, Mshini Wam has been undergoing upgrade using a similar bottom-up approach with noticeable influence from the process used in Sheffield Road. The story of Mshini Wam continues to unfold, and much is left to learn from this particular upgrading project. The post upgrade analysis of Mshini Wam will provide invaluable background information on the current process, of which advantageous elements can be replicated in future informal settlement upgrade projects.

N2 Gateway Project

The N2 Gateway project was an informal settlement upgrading project that the Cape Town government conducted on the informal settlement Joe Slovo along the N2 freeway. The project was started in 2004 as the pilot for the Breaking New Ground Housing Plan by the National Department of Housing (now the Department of Human Settlements) (Baptist, 2009). It was supposed to be the first of many informal settlements upgraded by the government. The project did not go smoothly however, the government did a top down approach instead of a bottom up approach, there was a lack of communication with the community, creating mistrust and a general lack of misunderstanding of what the community needed from the upgrading process (Tissington, 2009).

The project was intended more as an aesthetic upgrading instead of a project for freeing the community from its informal state while taking their needs into consideration (Tissington, 2009). The N2 which the informal settlement was situated along would be heavily travelled for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and the government did not want to put on display the poverty that informal settlements portray (Baptist, 2009). The upgrading would replace the informal shacks with a new style of government sponsored formal housing intended for low income families (Baptist, 2009). The government estimated that the population was over 20,000 people, and decided that the only way to efficiently upgrade the settlement was to evict everyone to Delft, a settlement 20 kilometers away, far from where the community members worked and went to school. Transportation costs alone would now take up a large percentage of each community member’s earned money (Baptist, 2009). Also, the housing that the residents would be relocated to is Temporary Relocation Housing (TRA), made from asbestos and designed to be inhabited only during times of emergency (Tissington, 2011).

The residents did not want to leave, but frequent fires and floods gave the government the excuse they needed to relocate residents. There were those that resisted though, and they began a court battle with the National Department of Housing. In March 2009, the community partnered with CORC, FEDUP, and the Poor Peoples Movement (PPM) to begin enumerating the settlement, hoping that completing the enumeration process would help them win the court battle, though the work of the NGO’s extended no farther than the enumeration process. March 9th a destructive fire broke out destroying 513 shelters and opening up a large space for new blocked houses to be erected. The community partnered with iKhayalami for the provision of shacks, and by the end of March 2009, 120 shacks had been built (Baptist, 2009).

The enumeration revealed that the government greatly overestimated the population of the settlement, making in situ upgrading possible (Baptist, 2009). This coupled with the success of the blocking project provided a good case in the favour of the community. Unfortunately, regardless of the compelling case which the residents presented, the court ruled in favour of the government because when the eviction process started, the residents of Joe Slovo were illegally living there and therefore did not have the right to challenge the government (Tissington, 2011).

The government did not understand the needs of the residents; they did not understand that uprooting the informal community was detrimental to their livelihood. The government is quoted saying “A better life beckons for the people of Joe Slovo Informal Settlement. The court has pronounced its judgment and the biggest winners are the families who will soon put the misery of shack dwelling behind them.” The progress on the settlement was extremely slow from the start, and the housing was far too expensive for the majority of the Joe Slovo residents to afford. Also, the community was promised that only 70% of the previous residents would have housing in the upgraded settlement, leaving 30% in housing that is intended for emergency use only, further exemplifying the poor planning of the project (Tissington, 2009).

Shortly after the court ruling, the government changed from ANC to DA, and with this change came a change in attitude. A newly hired Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for the Western Cape Housing analysed the situation, and he realised that this poorly implemented upgrading plan was further flawed. He revealed to the court that the relocation process would cost more than the upgrading itself. Also he brought up the massive number of people that would have to remain in TRA housing, which is not legal, because housing was not promised to everyone. The court halted the eviction process in light of this information and the government began exploring in situ upgrading options (Tissington, 2011).

This project failed for many reasons. In 2008, a special audit was conducted by the auditor-general for the National Department of Housing, and he found many flaws in the planning and implementation of the project. Lack of planning included no approved business plan before construction started, the government did not assign clear roles to its different subsections, time frames were estimated poorly, and the project manager chosen was unprepared and inexperienced and was not the first choice of the evaluation committee. Regardless of these findings, the government continued the project. The housing implemented was also not catered towards the inhabitants of Joe Slovo, it was clearly too expensive, and the original plan did not even include enough housing to house everyone (Tissington, 2009). The government failed to communicate with community or make any significant steps towards discovering the community’s needs, and this lack of communication and consideration led to the failure of the N2 Gateway Project.

Sheffield Road

As identified in CORC’s report “Balancing agency and structure in Cape Town” written by Walter Fieuw, The Municipal System Act of 2000 obligated the government to forge a “culture of community participation” in which communities have direct impact on the plans of government. The partnership between the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), and the City of Cape Town in 2010 set the precedent for collaborative efforts between government and non-government organisation towards informal settlement upgrade. Although the partnership was heavily backed, it was faced with challenges. One of which such problem was aligning other service providers for water and sanitation, stormwater management and electricity, but the biggest clash was the joining of macro and micro strategy toward the same goal purpose. At this point in time, the collaboration had reached a stalemate, that lasted until the upgrading of Sheffield Road.

Sheffield Road is an informal settlement community located in Philippi, Cape Town where 167 people reside. According to community led enumerations, 542 people make these 167 families, sharing one functional toilet between 72 people, there were no showers and the land on which Sheffield Road sits is extremely flood prone (South African Alliance, 2011). In 2010 Sheffield was identified as the first of 11 sites for upgrade by ISN (Sheffield Road SDI, 2012). Although Sheffield Road, like many successful in-situ upgrading efforts, relied heavily on NGOs for technical support throughout the project, the success of the project is attributed to the community driven nature of the upgrading. In collaboration with iKhayalami, an NGO associated with CORC, the community reblocked their shacks; building new zinc homes in their place. Through the help of ISN and other NGOs, the community leadership was able to bridge the gap between Sheffield Road and the city municipality, which ultimately led to the institution of new toilets. ISN stressed the importance of community savings requiring each family to contribute R300 in order to get a new home, providing community buy-in and ownership that makes for sustainable upgrading processes (Bradlow, 2011).

As identified by SDI in their “Building a bridge between ‘informal’ and the ‘formal’: Reflection on slum upgrading in South Africa,” the most poignant issue in the Sheffield Road informal settlement upgrade was the mobilization of savings schemes. Savings schemes are the key uniting factors in bringing communities together in the upgrading process, but also prove to be the most difficult to propel. Dividing and conquering has proved to be an effective strategy in which communities divide themselves into clusters, saving per group rather than pooling all community funds into one. Organisation of community meetings produces more attendance at the cluster level and therefore more of the community’s needs are met. Federation for the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) has a unique approach to savings schemes, using primarily female members. Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF) takes a different approach to funding supply in which communities propose funding for upgrading projects. This funding board is comprised of mainly slum dwellers, providing an empathetic perspective when allocating funding to informal settlements for upgrading purposes. CUFF, a relatively new programme has yet to see its funds complete a project fully, but the idea of proposing funding is one that has the potential to be adopted by the state on a larger scale.

Our project proposes possible combination of FEDUP’s approach and CUFF’s may have more promising possibilities. The community would raise its own funds, a process that could be organised by women keeping in line with FEDUP’s mission. Once the community raises a certain amount of money, they would then propose funding from the state, at which point the total would be sufficient to initiate the upgrading process. The total amount of money to be raised by community members would be determined per capita and the government could possibly double the amount raised or fund a percentage.

Mshini Wam

In February 2012, 22 pilot projects were identified by ISN, CORC and the City of Cape Town utilising the new “people centred” strategy practiced in Sheffield Road, one of which was Mshini Wam (Fieuw 2012). This community has been undergoing the reblocking process since March 2012, and they have been able to reblock about 100 houses as of August 2012. Similarly to Sheffield Road, the community was divided into clusters to ensure savings were secured through smaller more manageable groups. The success of both Sheffield Road and Mshini Wam thus far, attest to the community led in-situ upgrading strategies of the partnerships between The City of Cape Town and NGOs. Constraints of the Sheffield Road project in securing savings in a timely manner proved to also be a problem in the case of Mshini Wam. Following the reblocking of the first cluster, further progress was halted. The community members outside the first cluster felt discouraged at the progress within their own clusters, which made savings even harder to secure.  Some community members were only saving in case of fire associated risks and after the provision of emergency services in 2010 and 2011, these individuals were not motivated to save money for upgrading efforts. To tackle some of these challenges, the community leaders are working on ensuring that each cluster is led by an individual that will keep community members informed of project progress. While these savings issues have delayed the upgrading in Mshini Wam, savings continue to grow gradually and 11 clusters totaling 100 homes, have been reblocked thus far (Mshini Wam SDI 2012).