Scene 4: Introduction to Mtshini Wam


All ten project team members in addition to several Flamingo Crescent community members toured Mtshini Wam with the project manager to investigate the outcomes of in-situ reblocking and upgrading.  The reblocking in Mutimi Wam was a pioneering effort to help provide services to informal settlements.  In Mtshimi Wam, the reblocking process needed to occur prior to supplying sewage, water and electricity services as there was not space to do so previously.  A prior project group supported the reblocking in Mtshini Wam last year through implementing plans such as the Litre of Light, gardening projects, and construction facilitation. We toured the upgraded community to observe the outcomes of last year’s momentum projects and investigate key issues with the reblocking process that may arise in Flamingo Crescent.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
WPI Professors: Scott Jiusto, Lorraine Higgins
City Employees: Anneline Plaaitjies, Estralita Kwalo, Reggie O’Brien
City Contractor: Leon Poleman
ISN Staff: Melanie Manuel
CORC Liaison: Sizwe Mxobo
Flamingo Crescent Residents: Nathan, Sheila, Mark, Elizabeth, and Aunt Marie


The Mtshini Wam informal settlement.


We gathered outside the settlement and were greeted by Leon Poleman, the project manager of both Mtshimi Wam and Flamingo Crescent.  At first he was a little unsure why he was there, but he readily picked up the role of tour guide to the group. He introduced us to the settlement of Mtshini Wam and gave us a quick run through of how the reblocking and upgrading process took place.  Once Scott and Lorraine arrived, we began our tour of the settlement.

mark mtshini wam

Flamingo Crescent community member Mark looking intrigued by the vertical garden

Our first stop was at a vertical garden mounted on one of the shacks.  Sizwe stopped the group to take a closer look at the innovative design. The cultivator of the garden had attached the enclosure to the back wall of the shack so that it grew in a vertical orientation. It was also enclosed in clear plastic casing that gave some protection to the plants in case people vandalized the area.

While Sizwe was presenting the garden as an opportunity that may take root in Flamingo Crescent, we noticed that he was standing on a pipe protruding from the ground. When asked what it was, he replied that it designated a toilet area, as did many other pipes like it scattered around the settlement. Mtshini Wam has recently had sewage pipes installed, and these pipes jutting upwards were place holders for toilets that would eventually be constructed. The Flamingo Crescent residents who were with us were not sure about this situation until they saw the blue chemical toilets nearby.  It was then clarified that they would no longer have to deal with these, but instead each family had the option to get their own concrete enclosed, flush, sewage connected toilet. This brightened the faces of the Flamingo residents and they loved the idea of having these toilets as well as possibly being able to paint the outside and make it less industrial in appearance.

Litre of Light being implemented in Mtshini Wam

Litre of Light being implemented in Mtshini Wam

In addition to the ideas of toilets, the Flamingo members were attracted to the cluster organization of Mtshini Wam. They felt that the clusters enhanced the feeling of safety and community and want that for Flamingo Crescent as well. Once we walked through a cluster we were taken aside by Leon and Sizwe to show us what the Cape Town Project Center students had done last  year with the Litre of Light project. In theory, this was only a momentum project that we had planned to accomplish, but seeing it in reality ensured that it might be a viable option for natural light. In addition to this, we discussed implementing transparent sheets for roofing material to provide more light,  but this could be detrimental in the warmer months.

This idea supported the Flamingo residents and members of Mtshini Wam concern for a lack of roofing materials supplied for their shacks.  While the city provided most materials for upgraded shacks, they would not include roofs for larger shacks, windows, or doors. The shack owners would be responsible for providing their own materials if their shack was too large to be completely enclosed by the designated five sheets provided by the city. This was a previous concern that had been brought up during our time working in Flamingo Crescent, and hearing the issue once again made it clear that there needed to be a remedy to alleviate the problem.

mtshini wam cluster

A closer look at a Mtshini Wam cluster

For the WPI team, it was good to visit Mtshini Wam to see the issues that have resulted from the in situ upgrading. Flooding was a large issue since the grading was not done in such a way to make the settlement one level area. The people did have electricity, but their shacks were still dark and some complained about not having enough money to buy windows. The Flamingo Crescent members enjoyed seeing Mtshini Wam and seeing what their settlement would look like in addition to realizing what they should focus on. The Flamingo residents saw that some of Mtshini Wam had no windows and were struggling to afford them.  Through this experience, the Flamingo residents realized what they need to be prepared for and understand that they will not be given everything, but it is up to them to help themselves throughout the process.


Visiting Mtshini Wam was enlightening. We saw the successes and downfalls of in situ upgrading.  This experience introduced our team to what an upgraded settlement will look like so that we might be able to relay information to Flamingo Crescent while remaining realistic about the upcoming construction process.