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Partnerships facilitating Community Participation in Cape Town

Isandla Institute | 2019-02-26 | 622 views

Strong partnerships between municipalities and civil society organizations are noted as good practice in informal settlement upgrading. Partnerships offer a way for stakeholders to share resources, knowledge and skills in upgrading projects. They can also be used to facilitate meaningful community participation – a principle that often lacks in practice.

Municipal documentation from the City of Cape Town displays evidence of partnerships with civil society organisations to facilitate community participation. A deeper look into some of these partnerships reveals lessons which may be useful for other municipalities that are working towards creating an enabling environment for community participation.

Community Participation and Partnership

One of the key principles underpinning informal settlement upgrading in South Africa is community participation, as outlined in the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP). A participatory approach to upgrading recognizes that residents in informal settlements are not merely passive recipients of state services. It acknowledges the crucial role of the community’s knowledge and experience in contributing towards producing fully developed and integrated neighbourhoods.

Community participation generally ranges from mere consultation to co-production during the upgrading process. However, meaningful community participation is not a once-off occurrence, but rather sustained through a range of techniques throughout an upgrading project. It entails relations of trust, deep collaboration, effective communication, and community empowerment. In practice, local governments do not have the full capacity to facilitate meaningful community participation and so, the role of partnerships with civil society organisations becomes pertinent.

Partnerships between local government and civil society organisations in informal settlement upgrading are typically initiated to fast track interventions, where the capacity of the one actor strengthens that of the other. At other times, partnerships are initiated from a desire to improve governance by tightening the relationship between local government and communities [1]. The rationale of partnerships should be to create strategic relationships for developing sustainable livelihoods in the long-term rather than primarily addressing immediate short-term problems.

Partnerships in the City of Cape Town

The City of Cape Town showcases partnerships in their strategic documentation (IDP/BEPP 2016/2017). There is no best approach to partnerships as contexts differ. Nonetheless, perhaps there are some useful lessons to learn from the partnership projects between the City of Cape Town and community organisations.

Community participation is usually evident in re-blocking projects. Re-blocking is when shacks in a highly dense informal settlement are reconfigured and repositioned so that the spaces in the settlement can be better used and allow for better service provision [2].

Although re-blocking is only an initial stage in informal settlement upgrading, it is sometimes a necessary process and presents an opportunity for citizens to play an active role in transforming their community. The shared responsibility of re-blocking should not be undermined, as it may further set the precedence for participation in the subsequent stages of the upgrading project.

So, how does the City of Cape Town partner with organizations to facilitate community participation?

In 2013 the City of Cape Town adopted a re-blocking policy which aligns with the City’s strategic focus for human settlements development. It sets out the mandate, parameters and provisions for re-blocking, including the scope for relevant role players. One of the aims outlined in the policy is to “[a]ctivate community participation in the design, planning and implementation of the project, creating a renewed and collaborative partnership between the City and the community” [3].

Although the policy was only adopted in 2013, records show that the City has embarked on 21 re-blocking projects since 2009, in partnership with ISN, CORC, iKhayalami and Habitat for Humanity. To date, 5 projects have successfully concluded. The terms of the partnership were outlined in project-specific Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs).

An MOU is a legally binding document which clarifies the nature and form of contributions from both stakeholders. It is an effective means of establishing a clear relationship (based on defined roles and responsibilities) between the City and the community organization. Some of the roles and responsibilities may be defined as follows:

Partner Organization
• Community engagements
• Facilitation
• Develop a robust and well thought out micro finance model
• Ensure active community participation
• Participative layout design
• Coordinate engagements with the City of Cape Town and other tiers of government
• Develop finance model according to affordability and terms of community contribution repayment
• Oversee of the implementation of all plans

The City of Cape Town (supported by departments like the Informal Settlement Management Department, the Spatial Planning Department and the Building Regulations Department)
• Seek partnerships to facilitate re-blocking
• Co-ordinate with other relevant departments
• Budgeting and operational maintenance
• Approval of the new layout and prototype design
• Implementation of infrastructure as per policy

The distinct roles and responsibilities in the partnership are aimed at activating participation in the design, planning and implementation of the project. They support the involvement of the community in savings schemes, information gathering, and negotiations around tenure, norms and standards [4].

What benefits have emerged as a result of partnerships through re-blocking projects?

In a study conducted by Kiefer & Ranganathan (2018) , it was found that partnerships between the City of Cape Town and CORC have yielded fruitful and positive impacts amongst informal settlement communities [5]. One of their findings revealed that through the re-blocking project, the Informal Settlements Unit of the City began to work directly with communities and grassroots groups, and this consequently produced a deeper understanding of the complex social processes involved in informal settlement upgrading [6].

Re-blocking projects have also enabled community residents to articulate their needs and desires [7]. While this does not guarantee that their contributions will be embraced in settlement plans, it does strengthen their capacity to appropriately engage with the municipality. Ideally, the impact of this would be traced beyond the re-blocking project and into UISP defined upgrading processes.

Key lessons for municipalities to initiate partnerships

• The first step in pursuing partnerships is administrative and political; a municipality needs to establish a clear policy mandate to guide practice.
• It is important to identify a potential civil society organization partner and understand the skills and competencies that they bring to the table.
• Then, set out the roles and responsibilities of each actor and establish a comprehensive MOU.
• Maintain a focus on the objective of the partnership – to facilitate sustained and meaningful community participation – and the impact thereof.
• Partnerships can be established on a phase-by-phase basis, but the intention should be to sustain the momentum of community participation throughout a project.

[1] Vasconcellos, M. & Vasconcellos, A.M., 2011. State-Civil Society Partnership: Issues for Debate and New Researches, O&S – Salvador, 18(59):701-717.
[2] Fieuw, W. and Hendler, Y. 2014. How informal settlements are being transformed into dignified spaces, Future Cape Town,
[3] City of Cape Town, 2013. Proactive Re-Blocking of Informal Settlements (Policy Number 13282),
[4] Bolnick, J., Bradlow, B. 2010. “Rather a Better Shack now than Wait Twenty Years for a Formal House” – Shack Dwellers International and Informal Settlement Upgrading in South Africa, Trialog, 1: 35 – 41.
[5] Kiefer, K. & Ranganathan, M. 2018. The Politics of Participation in Cape Town’s Slum Upgrading: The Role of Productive Tension, Journal of Planning Education and Research 00(0):1-15.

Written by Rebecca Matsie, Isandla Institute

Slum upgrading remains the most financially and socially appropriate approach to addressing the challenge of existing slums. UN Habitat (A Practical Guide to Designing, Planning, and Executing Citywide Slum Upgrading Programmes 2015 (PDF), page 15)

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