Scene 2: An Introduction to 7de Laan


7de Laan is one of the Spine Road informal settlements involved in the planned upgrading process. Today, on our first day on site, we visited the settlement after a brief meeting with one of our liaisons and our two advisers. After leaving the meeting, the ultimate goal of the project was to assist in the consolidation of two other informal settlements into 7de Laan.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
City Employees: Reggie O’Brien, Anneline Plaaitjies
7de Laan Residents: Dion, Magdalene, and Ana


The 7de Laan informal settlement



The 7th Ave sign

Our first encounter in 7de Laan was both welcoming and spiritual. The community was located almost a kilometer inland from one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Cape Town. The cool sea air blowing in off the water lifted our spirits as we took in the community for the first time. A small sign from one of the houses defines the space “7th Ave De- Ln.” Shacks were tightly packed against one another, splitting a road too narrow for any vehicle to pass through. On each shack was a green spray painted number, the government’s enumeration system. Three restrooms were located in a row to the right of the road and seemed poorly maintained despite their accessible location. Wire clothes lines were drawn from the peak of one to a large poll where two women were talking casually and hanging some clothes.

The two women, Magdalene and Ana, welcomed us into their community and explained a little about their stories. They shared with us issues in the community – snakes, gangs, and the poor environment for children to grow up in. They were happy to live in the community, emphasizing God would protect them and had blessed them with the lives they had. They were very grateful for the circumstances that they have to live by.


Dion, the devout community leader

While listening to Magdalene and Ana, a man emerged from the shacks and launched into a speech laced with biblical quotes and references. He later introduced himself as Dion, a community leader and the voice of the people in 7de Laan.  He explained how the communities two main needs were jobs and formal housing, but that they had several other concerns including food security and safety from local burglars. Having lived in his structure for 20 years, Dion validated his authority through being the only living original community member. Throughout his time in 7de Laan, he explained that he has experienced empty promises on multiple occasions by both the government and various NGO’s. Dion expressed that while the lack of tangible progress has impacted his spirit, he continues to believe in his almighty purpose.

“God sent you here to express love to us,” Dion continued, emphasizing that although he prays at the Mosque for the needs of the community to be answered, our presence gives him real hope for the future. Dion emphasized several key infrastructural developments including a playground, an emergency access road, and the maintenance of the community’s location and size. He further explained that larger communities tend to have more safety issues, especially in the case of neighboring Masincedane. As he continued to praise the Lord and bless us for our journey to his settlement, he welcomed us with open arms.


Driving by the communities to get to 7de Laan was a humbling experience for all of us. We all shared a similar background, a good family, home, and upbringing. Seeing the stark contrast here was almost angering. If our group traveled this far to help improve a community, why did others not do the same?  As we neared the community, however the answer became very clear. They had all they needed – a place to live, a safe environment, and food.

One of the first people we were met was Dion. His emotion and commitment to his people was inspiring and showed a potential partner for the project from the community. However, first impressions are not always reliable and we were very interested in learning more about him, what the community thinks about him, and his leadership ability. His concern with people not following through on promises hit our group hard. He seemed determined to get housing, which we knew we could not provide. His concern for the betterment of the children in the community however seemed a very promising area for us to focus on for the project. He also had voiced a concern about not wanting to move the settlement or gain any outsiders. While this was only one viewpoint, from such a poignant individual, a consolidation project could prove difficult. The smaller issues he raised were also feasible for this project, improving toilets, electricity, and fencing.