Scene 3: Cluster Meetings in Flamingo


Residents in Flamingo Crescent had been divided into groups based on the desired location of their upgraded shacks. Their shacks would be organized into 6 clusters, each with approximately 10 structures and 25 people.  Cluster meetings would then be used to collect information on the progress of how much each household in the cluster had contributed toward the upgrading progress. These meetings also served as a time for community members to raise concerns they have with the upgrading process. The meetings are lead by the elected community members and the project steering committee.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
WPI Professors: Scott Jiusto, Lorraine Higgins
City Employees: Anneline Plaaitjies, Estralita Kwalo, Reggie O’Brien
ISN Staff: Terrence Johnson and Melanie Manuel
CORC Liaison: Sizwe Mxobo
Flamingo Crescent Residents: Mark, Elizabeth, and Auntie Marie


The Flamingo Crescent informal settlement, in and around Lenrika’s shack 


As we waited in the billiards room, Terrence, Elizabeth, and Mark went around the community collecting members of clusters 1 and 2. Slowly, one by one, the community members piled into the hot dark room and lined up against the wall opposite us. Confused, they looked back and forth at each other, then at us.  They didn’t know who we were or why we were there. Terrence then took lead beginning the meeting by introducing us in English then in Afrikaans.  Then, as Veronica started to explain our goal as a project team, the community started to get excited, whispering to each other and nodding their heads.  After finishing discussing what our project was about, Terrence decided it was best for us to move outside so that we could have more room to talk.  At this point, Elizabeth and Mark went around the community, gathering remaining residents. The cluster meeting then became a much larger community meeting.

Once outside in the empty area where a shack used to be, everyone lined up and listened to Terrence about how the meeting was going to be run.  He asked the residents to tell us their shack number, the size shack they currently have, their desired shack size, the amount they have contributed, and the amount of Rand they owed.  The community also explained their concerns about the upgrading process. A few women in the community expressed how happy they were..  Another few members explained how they didn’t want their homes touched.

One by one, community members stepped forward and explained their contributions.  Throughout the residents’ speeches, a strong disconnect became apparent.  Residents seemed unaware of one another’s situations and aspirations. Loyalties and tensions among neighbors were clear throughout the community. At one point a woman accidentally hit another woman while stepping forward and the two became heated in a serious argument.  Little did we know, the woman who was intoxicated wanted to start a fistfight. The fighting quickly ceased when Terrence, Elizabeth, and Mark went to calm the woman down. As they were calming her down, Anneline took over the meeting and continued collecting the information of the remaining community members.  Once he returned, Terrence entered the middle of the group and told the community that they needed to start working together and acting as one.  Small fights about private matters could divide a community.  Chiana then explained that savings needs to be a group effort. The community has worked hard to raise funds, and their accomplishments should be a source of pride and unity.

Our co-researchers work by the motto “One Love,” and yet they sometimes struggle not to argue.  Coming together as neighbors could be a serious challenge for the community, but perhaps the savings plans and community-driven upgrading may help unify them as a community and protect the area they had been working so hard to build.


In this scene, we were able to observe the expansion of a cluster meeting into a community exercise. This scene illuminated opportunities for improvement in organization and communication.  The cluster meeting format was a unique communication style we had not come across in our research, but was very useful for the enumeration process and accountability.  The structure could possibly be improved through designating a cluster leader from each group to meet separately and discuss any community wide issues in order to avoid neighborhood rivalries interfering with the process.  While these rivalries seem common in any neighborhood, due to the lifestyle in informal settlements, tensions tend to be more exhausted and lead to physical violence more often.  However, this scene highlights how the savings process was essential to informal settlement upgrading because it helps to set many small grievances aside in order to unify under the common goal.