Upgrading Efforts and Early Childhood Development


Shacks: The Challenges of Housing in Informal Settlements

Shacks are a common style of building in informal settlements due to their low cost and ease of assembly. They are often packed tightly together within a settlement, which reduces the required space for people to live but can increase fire risk due to limited access via roads. In South Africa, most shacks are constructed using nails, wood, and corrugated iron or zinc to form the walls and roofs. Community members either construct their own shack or purchase one from shack builders. A three metre square shack can be purchased for R2,700, which includes transportation and assembly (Xi & Gontsana, 2014).

Many community members choose to build their own shacks from materials they find or buy, and as Mabie, a K2 community member stated; “Everyone has building skills here, you can’t live here unless you can build your own house.” Members of informal settlements are resourceful and use the materials they have as efficiently as possible. The 204 informal settlements in Cape Town contain approximately 193,000 shacks and although the city is trying to relocate the residents of these settlements, they face many difficulties as a part of this process (City of Cape Town, 2013). The city has a grant of R2 billion to move residents into formal housing, but this grant can only provide 16,000 units on serviced sites with water and electricity. With a backlog of 500,000 people waiting for housing, the goal of putting everyone into formal housing is a long term one at best, and measures must be taken to improve the living conditions of the population that currently occupies these informal settlements (Tuxford, 2015).

Building a Multipurpose Centre (MPC) in Informal Settlements

A WPI team worked in Langrug, Stellenbosch in 2012 on the planning for a multipurpose centre (MPC) for the community. The team first assessed the community’s needs before proposing a design for approval. They also identified problems that community members were facing and how the MPC would help to alleviate them. They put together a detailed guidebook on the MPC development process, from initial planning through to the final budget of the facility. The guidebook is a useful tool for building a structure in an informal settlement. It includes tips for identifying the needs of the community, discussing ideas and plans, identifying suitable locations, the design, timelines, budgets and continuing community involvement. These tools were especially useful for aiding in the design of a community hall in K2. In working with the guidebook and in collaboration with SASDI the process for the actual building, management and maintenance of the hall is similar to the process used in Langrug. The guidebook served as a good starting point for our team, allowing us to produce an updated edition with elements taken from Langrug (Brooks, et al., 2012).

To learn more about Langrug’s MPC guidebook click here.


Reblocking, a process developed by Shack Dwellers International (SDI), aims to reconfigure shacks found in informal settlement to maximize public space and minimize community disruption (SA SDI, 2013). Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) such as the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) use reblocking to make informal settlements safer and more hospitable to the residents of these communities. Reblocking a community offers benefits such as more efficient spacing of houses, improved sanitation, access to facilities, and stronger community relationships. Furthermore, reblocking helps to unify the community, creates lasting change, and provides job opportunities (Hennings et al., 2012). One of the main benefits of reblocking is the community’s sense of pride and ownership of the outcome.

Since each informal settlement is differentiated by size, shape, location, and socio- cultural beliefs, diverse approaches are necessary to efficiently elevate standards of living within these communities (Impact Design Hub, 2015). Reblocking enables community members to identify assets and places they wish to improve (Antolick et al., 2013). “Different approaches are needed to effectively transform these settlements into more dignified living spaces, and working with communities is paramount to succeeding in upgrading initiatives” (Fieuw, 2014). By treating each settlement as a unique project, the needs of the community can be better met.

Past WPI teams have worked on reblocking with the communities of Flamingo Heights, Mtshini Wam and Monwabisi Park, to restructure the area, fix homes, increase community involvement, decentralize water taps and toilets, and create safe public spaces. To learn more about these projects click here


Early Childhood Development (ECD)

Early Childhood Development (ECD) is an essential part of a young person’s life. Stimulation from an early age will aid in children’s development and future learning skills. Many children are unable to reach their full potential because of circumstances such as low income and poor geographic location. These children are not only deprived of learning from an early age, but also of nutrition and proper care. As stated by UNICEF, the first few years of life, “play a vital role in building human capital, breaking the cycle of poverty, promoting economic productivity, and eliminating social disparities and inequities” (2015).

South Africa in particular has a large population of children who are not developing properly in their youngest years of life. Out of the nearly 6.2 million children living in South Africa, approximately 3.8 million live in circumstances of “dire poverty” (Atmore, 2012).

Sikhula Sonke, a community based organisation that works to meet the need for quality ECD in Khayelitsha has brought ECD programs for children and parents to the settlement of K2. The organisation offers free programs and training to parents, caregivers and pre-school teachers of young children in the township. They offer multiple programs such as teacher/parent training, coaching and support, family and care-giver support, and community outreach projects (Sikhula Sonke, 2015). For K2 specifically, Sikhula Sonke has brought in a program to introduce ECD for the children of K2 that are not attending a crèche.