Welcome to Mtshini Wam

Everyday scene in Mtshini Wam.

Joe Slovo Park, located in Milnerton, Cape Town, South Africa, served as a new project site for WPI Cape Town Project Centre this year. The project took place in a neighborhood or informal settlement of Joe Slovo Park called Mtshini Wam. The formal community of Joe Slovo Park was formed by the top down upgrading strategy executed by the City of Cape Town in the late 1990s to move the residents of Marconi Beam informal settlement into formal RDP houses. Many, however, were unable or unwilling to pay for their formal services and either sold their houses or rented their backyards to shack dwellers. The settlers paid fees to the formal residents for electricity, and services at high costs in order to reside in the area. Due to these high costs, many residents could no longer afford to stay as backyarders, for this reason, a few chose to move into the empty land between the RDP houses, which at the time was covered in rubble. Over time, open areas in Joe Slovo Park became dense informal neighborhoods, reverting Joe Slovo Park back to an informal state (Barry 2006). Mtshini Wam was one such community that began as scattered shacks in this empty land between RDP houses within the formal settlement of Joe Slovo Park.

Since its formation in 2006, Mtshini Wam has become home to 497 people in 250 shacks erected on unsuitable land for settling. The shacks were placed on the land with little consideration of future growth of the settlement and constructed with salvaged materials. In 2006, a single fire destroyed 42 shacks before being contained demonstrating that roads to allow emergency vehicles through the settlements are needed (Fieuw 2012). Sanitation is a large issue for the community as there is only 1 for 150 people and 16 chemical toilets. Toilets were put in place after negotiations with the City of Cape Town in 2008 and taps were installed with community savings in 2011. Short-term accommodations are often arranged in these communities by residents, many in Mtshini Wam use illegal electric connections as there is no other option.

Rooftop view of Mtshini Wam with Table Mountain in the background.

Due to these terrible conditions and the strong motivations of the community members, Mtshini Wam was chosen as the first site for a new type of in-situ upgrade called reblocking under the partnership between the City of Cape Town, Community Organisation Resource Centre and the Informal Settlement Network. Under this new practice of reblocking, the community is under transformation since February 2012 and is expected to complete the reblocking phase of upgrade in late January 2013. Conditions improved significantly in the community as a result of reblocking, homes are now more weather proof, stagnant water is less common due to the sloping ground, and access for vehicles has opened among other improvements. The community of Mtshini Wam is vibrant and hard working even under such conditions and will serve as a model as reblocking continues to be a replicable process of informal settlement upgrade across South Africa.

Read more about the Background of informal settlements and upgrading strategies.