Scene 7: City Mission Visit Illuminates the Option of Reblocking


City Mission is one of the Spine Road informal settlements involved in the potential upgrading process. Today was our first visit to City Mission, the third largest of the four settlements with roughly 15 families.  The community is directly next to Masincedane, another informal settlement. While our liaisons have expressed interest in relocating its residents to 7de Laan, the community members we spoke with had other ideas.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
City Employees: Reggie O’Brien, Estralita Kwalo
City Mission Residents


The informal settlement of City Mission along Spine Road


Parking in the shoulder of Spine Road, we headed towards a small settlement in the dunes, flagged by haphazard electricity polls.  From the van, the community looked well developed with two concrete, formalized buildings subdivided among families.  One of these was even a two story structure.  However, as we began to approach the community, we saw the true colors of the settlement.


An inside look of City Mission

The concrete structures were in a dilapidated state, and the general organization of the community was decentralized and disorderly.  As we began to walk into the settlement, several dogs greeted us, ridden with fleas and seemingly malnourished.  Most obvious was the excess building material and litter strewn about the settlement.  In order to enter the community, we had to duck under several low clothes lines strung between structures and poles. Televisions and radios from many of the structures filled the whole community with sound, although few seemed to be paying any attention. The noise seemed a background distraction from their daily lives rather than a form of direct entertainment.  Additionally, this community seemed populated by almost all of its residents.  This was rather uncommon as previous settlements we had visited were occupied only by the women and children with absent working husbands.

The group split up and spoke with several community members.  Some residents were in groups, while others spoke individually outside their structure. Many of the stories we heard followed a cohesive pattern similar to that heard in 7de Laan: common safety concerns focused on the children and a strong disinterest in moving from shack to shack. The largest difference we heard was in speaking with Ann, an older member of the community who has lived in Mitchells Plane her whole life, but has settled here in City Mission for the past seven years with her four daughters, two sons, and three grandsons.

Ann sat in a lawn chair beside a neighbor’s house, in a sundress and large shading hat. She mentioned that she had not built her current home herself, but rather moved in after someone else constructed it. When asked how she liked living in the community, she said, “I’m fine here.”  However, as we continued to tease out her story, she reluctantly noted that while she was on the housing list, she had been on it for 5 years and wasn’t confident that she would be getting a formal house in the near future or even if her name continued to be on the list.  She was quite unsure as to the process of getting on the list as there had been “too many faces to be sure.”

Ann then brought up a point that few Strandfontein community members had mentioned: reblocking.  Ann expressed great interest in contributing to the upgraded shack structures uniformly built in a centralized fashion.  While admittedly, the government-instituted zinc structures lacked the enclosed yards, color, and personalization that many of the structures had adopted here, Ann and other community members we brought the idea to felt that the improved materials would be a good base for her structure, and current materials could be used to personalize it. If such a structure were provided, she said she may consider moving, but never again from shack to shack.


This was an important day for our group to observe the state of City Mission and their major concerns.  Every community member we spoke with mentioned that they felt safe, stable and were content with their current location.  Some are on the housing waiting list, but aren’t as concerned about getting a formalized house as we saw in 7de Laan.  We heard many similar infrastructure upgrading concerns such as a place for the children to play safely, more water taps, and well maintained toilets.  While the situation will become more clear after the community meeting, this was an important day in that we found reblocking in 7de Laan may be a good option to pursue and may entice some members of other communities to consolidate.