Scene 15: Public Meeting in 7de Laan


This meeting was held to hear the community’s thoughts and concerns going forward with the planned improvement project in 7de Laan. During this meeting, community members were to gather to vote on whether or not the three communities, 7de Laan, City Mission, and Plot 9, would want to engage on this project as a community.

Cast of Characters

WPI Student Team Members: Chiana, Charles, Mike
WPI Professors: Scott Jiusto, Lorraine Higgins
City Employees: Reggie O’Brien, Estralita Kwalo, Anneline Plaaitjies, Siraaj, Tania
Subcouncillor: Felicity Purchase
Subcouncil Manager: Desiree Mentor
7de Laan Residents (6)
Plot 9 Resident (1)


This scene took place in a meeting hall of a children’s camp, on Camp Road, between 7de Laan and City Mission


The previous week was spent profiling community members in 7de Laan to connect with them and learn what their needs were. During the week flyers were handed out to inform the residents of a public meeting on November eleventh to discuss the proposed settlement improvement project in 7de Laan. Those that we talked to seemed genuinely interested in the upcoming meeting.

As Monday arrived we left our lodge headed towards the meeting hall. The meeting was to be held at 7:00 pm in John Power Hall located down the street from 7de Laan, a cenrally located place between 7de Laan, City Mission, and Plot 9. We arrived at 6:50 pm to the meeting, where we were greeted by two cars in the parking lot. The first contained the head of the sub-council, Felicity, and the second, the sub-council manager, Desiree. As the time got closer to 7:00 pm all the remaining local officials arrived, Siraaj and Tania from the civic center, and our three field officers, Reggie, Estralina, and Anneline, representing our liaison, Levona Powell. As we waited for the communities to filter in, we discussed with the municipal officials how the meeting would run and what would be discussed.

The time was now 7:30, yet no community members had appeared. In an effort to engage them Anneline and Reggie drove to the three communities to remind them of meeting. Eventually the excitement of discussing our project with the community began to fade into a nervous uncertainty. Were the people not coming for a reason? Did they not want to us as students to work with them? Would they only accept formal housing and nothing else?

These concerns were temporarily relieved by the return Anneline and Reggie. Apparently the community had not understood that there was a meeting and furthermore did not know where it to be held. Upon hearing this, our attitudes began to sour. The people had had community meetings in the past in this hall – they knew where it was – and we had done plenty of advertising for this meeting – both through flyers and talking to the people directly. The people knew there was a meeting, they just chose to ice us.

At precisely 7:42 one woman came in the doors, inquiring about the meeting. She was a resident from Plot 9 and had come to represent her family. However, due to this lack of attendance, the council could not continue waiting for the meeting. The lack of participation echoed the views of the communities towards our project. They did not want to take an active role, but rather have things provided for and done by them. A community based upgrading approach would not work.


The community attendance roster

We needed 51% attendance, and at this point we had under one. Despite the disappointment in the woman’s face, she understood our decision.

It was now 8:06 pm and time for us to leave. However just as we headed for the door six community members from 7de Laan walked in the doorway, several of whom we personally recognized – Dion, the firebrand housing advocate from our first day, and Sister Wilma the gregarious woman we met on our second day. They tried to explain that they were there representing the community as its leaders, and would go back down to inform their people of what happened.

At this point the subcouncil chair took over and expressed her sadness that the opportunity to improvement their living situation was no longer possible. The lack of interest would only cause further difficulties and likely failure on both sides. She was frustrated for the catch 22 now presented her – the people were annoyed at the lack of government involvement in improving their living situations, but when the government wanted to get involved, the people did not. The leaders heard this and acknowledge the sad truth, that due to their own action, or perhaps inaction, once again, a great opportunity had slid through their fingers.


On the ride over to the community we were nervous, anxious, and unprepared. None of us knew what to expect. By the end of the evening, we again found ourselves at a loss. If we were not in 7de Laan, then what would we do? Where would we be? Our nervous excitement was now a confused panic as our project fell through before our eyes. We were hurt and let down by the community. They had welcomed us with open arms, and seemed so enthusiastic to move forward with us in the reblocking process. We had gotten to know them, lowering our invisible internal barriers. We had told them about our families and our struggles. Little did we realize our efforts were falling on the ears of a deaf community, set in their ways and methods. The opportunity was not simply for improvement within the settlement, but within themselves and their identities.