Story 3: Aided Self Development
Finally Pam, her family and other savings scheme members are now on the church land in Bongweni, in blocks, with basic services and tenure, and with access to opportunities beyond the neighbourhood. Their challenge now is to create a good home and neighbourhood for themselves.
Aided organisational development
When we were still back in Squatter Camp we had to deal with lots of other issues, like eviction threats, drunkenness, flooding, etc. and could not put all our attention into planning for the future we could only dream about. Once we were living on the land and in our self built temporary shelters we were able to organise ourselves much better.
We had achieved a lot through our organisation, and realised that if we were a bit more organised we could achieve even more.
We decided to keep the We Can Savings Scheme separate from the Twin Oaks Residents Group we had established (see section on aided local resource mobilisation for more on this).
When we moved onto the land, Twin Oaks was just a name we gave to the block of land that our savings scheme members moved onto. We decided to formalise this group a bit and create something like a Home Owners Association for Twin Oaks. The Development Support Organisation gave us a very simple example of a home owners association that we modified to suite our needs and created Twin Oaks Residents Association. This constitution did not cover every possible eventuality, so often we had to make up rules as we went along.
We tried to run our association using consensus decision making. This required some long meetings into the night where we discussed issues trying to reach a win-win situating for everyone. I can only recall a few occasions where we had to agree by consensus to use a secret ballot and majority vote to decide on an issue. One of these was were some people wanted to change the original rule that no one could build a solid boundary wall to a rule that would allow these walls to be built. (See the section on safety and security for more discussion on this)
One of the people from one of the other blocks attended a study circle leader’s course and encouraged us to set up our own study groups on topics that we identified. She was able to get access to study guides on topics like how to run your organisation. I was surprised at how much knowledge and ideas there were in our community. We learnt about things like conflict resolution skills and negotiation skills which helped us a lot in the development processes that were to follow.
The 5 blocks on the church land in the Bongweni community also participated in an upgrading steering committee with the church, Development Support Organisation and the municipality to discuss future development and upgrading of the neighbourhood. Initially the municipality was not very active in this committee, but over time, especially when they were making progress with planning for their neighbouring municipal land, their involvement in this committee become more active. It was usually the municipal upgrading officer who attended these meetings but other municipal departments like planning, engineering, agriculture, disaster management, finance, environmental health, etc. attended meetings as required.
Visit Organising for more information and discussion on this topic.
Aided local resource mobilisation
The savings schemes we started at the beginning continued to function after people moved onto the land. There were lots of other newer savings schemes that were still waiting for the municipality to arrange land for them and others that had not yet been able to identify any land.
As We Can Savings Scheme, with the support of Development Support Organisation, we have organised a few more financial products for our members.
Some of us are putting aside savings every month that we all can withdraw in December for Christmas and in January for back-to-school expenses. Most of us have also joined the ROSA (or ROtating SAvings) product which is like a stokvel, where 10 of us save every month (except December and January) and each month one of us gets the full lump sum deposited for that month. This is used to buy building material so each recipient can improve their house. Other ROSA members also help with labour and other things if they can.
The Development Support Organisation also managed the loan product that was set up with the funds from the local church gardening club that provided those who wanted with roof sheeting, poles, guttering, and a water tank. (see the section on basic services in phase 2 basic product). To receive this product households had to form groups of 3 households each. One household from the group was then provided with the building material package. The household then had to pay this money back over a number of months, after which the next household in the group could receive the material and pay back for the last group member to receive his/her material. The second and third person could only receive the material if the first one had paid back. Usually all members of the group helped pay back the loan so it could be paid back quicker.
The Development Support Organisation has also arranged a savings and loan product for members of all savings schemes. Savers are able to take out loans at a ratio of 1:3. Meaning that if you saved R200 you could get a loan for R600 and pay it back with interest. Once this is paid back you can get another loan at a ratio of 1:4 and the next at 1:5. A few people have made use of this loan to help them start their own businesses.
As savings schemes we negotiated with banks to see where we could get better interest rates and cheaper fees for our savings deposits.
Our savings schemes are now talking to the National Federation of Savings and Credit Cooperatives to set up a Savings and Credit Cooperative (also known as a Credit Union) for people in our town. This will help us a lot in being able to organise better savings and loan products, but I know that I will continue with our ROSA and Christmas savings as the peer pressure of savings each month ‘forces’ us to save consistently.
Most the households are also collecting building materials and getting ready for future home improvement. We sometimes find good, cheap, second-hand building equipment that we store at our houses. We all know who has collected what material so it’s very difficult for anyone to steal each other’s material.
We have also updated our records of who has got what skills. This includes relations and friends of households who do not necessarily live in the community. This has helped us a few times when we needed to maintain some of our property or negotiate with the banks.
Visit Organising for more information and discussion on this topic.
Aided local tenure administration
Each block or residents association (see aided organisational development section for more on this) was responsible for keeping a record of who has the right to which plot within the block, and administer any changes to these rights. The rights we had agreed on in the basic tenure stage were rights to occupy, bequeath and improve the land (see section on basic tenure in phase 2 on basic product). If people wanted to use the site for other, additional uses, they would have to obtain permission from the Twin Oaks Residents Association. The role of the municipality in this process of approving alternative land uses was never fully resolved.
The church agreed to keep an occupation register in its office (on behalf of the 5 residents committees in the Bongweni community), listing who had the right to occupy which plot. Members of Twin Oaks Residents Association (or of other residents associations for the other blocks) had to go to the church office if any changes were made to the register. A committee member of the Residents Association would make the changes with a representative of the church witnessing this change. We tried to get the municipality involved in this register updating process but they claimed that as it was church land they did not have be involved.
Households were given a letter from church when we settled on the land, which gave us permission to occupy it. This was important to us because it is like our title and it means that we have some proof of where we live.
After we had been living on the plots in the Bongweni community for a year, one of the households was transferred to a job in another city and his whole family moved with him. This forced us to revise our rules of occupation. I think I would have put in another family member to look after my place for me but they decided to leave permanently. At the start no one was allowed to sell their property, but we decided to change the rules so that the person could sell their right to occupy the plot to someone from one of the other savings schemes that had not yet been allocated land. They weren’t selling the land because the church owned it, but they were selling their housing structure as well as the claim they had to the future development of the area.
Offers were made and the outgoing household accepted the highest offer. Each party signed an affidavit, which was witnessed at the local police station, saying that they had agreed to sell/buy on these terms and at this price. The outgoing resident also handed over the letter consenting to occupation they had received from the church to the new person and the church representative changed the name and signed the change. We did mange in the few cases where plots were transferred to get the ward councillor to also witness this transfer to give the transfer more legitimacy for extra security.
One of the ideas that we considered in relation to transferring rights to occupy plots -that I liked but we did not implement- was that the residents’ association would determine a price for the improvements only (excluding the price of the land). They would then offer the plot to other savings scheme members at this price. Those new savers who were interested to buy this occupation right would put their name down and there would be an open raffle to identify who from the list would get the plot. The outgoing household would not be able to negotiate to get the highest price. The advantage of this is that a balance is found between keeping the price of well located land down for future inhabitants, while at the same time providing an incentive for households to make improvements and be compensated for money they invest in their property when they leave.
The evaluation exercise that occurred about 3 years after we moved onto this land identified this as an area needing more attention. This was so because there was confusion as to how to value the property, given that the person was not actually selling the land but just the right to occupy the land and the improvements. I think that people are in fact selling the land, even if we don’t say so because you can’t have a house without the land underneath it.
Each block or Residents Association also had to take responsibility for keeping the internal spaces in the block clean and maintained. They could also ‘control’ what happened in the block. I was worried that this would be a problem as there was always rubbish in the streets and open space back in Eden Ridge Township, and did not know how we would control rubbish in our new neighbourhood. So far we seem to be managing this quite well. What helps is the pressure we put on each other when one person is not participating. We also organise clean-ups every Sunday morning and most people participate. You have to provide a good excuse if you cannot be there.
Another area that has been difficult to deal with is monthly fees for water and maintenance of the internal paths etc. The water for the communal standpipes was obtained from a borehole on the church land. Each household from all the blocks was supposed to pay a fixed monthly fee to the block and this was supposed to be combined to pay for fuel and maintenance of the borehole pump and system. Some people in the blocks paid and some did not and over time most people stopped paying.
The borehole machine broke and there was no money to fix it. After much discussion and investigation it was decided to change the taps to a trickle tap system so that only a little water came out of the tap at a time making it difficult for people to waste water. This reduced the costs of fuel for the borehole pump and the amount that needed to be collected each month.
It was also decided that a list would be posted on a notice board at the multi-purpose community hall. The list would provide the names of those that were not up to date with their monthly financial contributions. This was very effective in embarrassing households and most of them did then pay their outstanding monthly fees. We call this naming and shaming and I think it works very well.
We did not want to switch the water off the blocks for not paying, as we knew that some of the people in the blocks were paying; we did not want them to suffer by not having water or pay extra for pay for those that were not paying. One of the other things we have done is to arrange with the savings schemes not to offer loans to any households that are not paying their monthly fees, but this is not a final solution as not all households are still members of savings schemes and taking out loans.
Visit Tenure for more information and discussion on this topic.
Aided self build
When the households first moved onto the land in the Bongweni community, all of them built a temporary structure with metal and timber.
A series of workshops were organised by Development Support Organisation where it was explained to us that if we wanted to build anything more permanent we needed to get permission from the municipality. It was also explained to us that if in future we wanted to use government subsidy money to add to the house we had already started this original house had to have a building plan approved.
During the house-building workshops it was also advised that we build our temporary house towards the front or back boundary so that a more permanent house could be build on the remainder of the plot.
It was also advised that we consider getting municipal building approval to build elemental houses. This idea of elemental houses was a new idea for us and the municipality but it looks like it has potential to be a house-building approach that can be replicated and improved in other areas.
What it involves is breaking up a house into pieces or elements, like foundations, floors, columns, facade walls, side walls, wet core (toilet, basin, shower, etc), roof, window/door fittings, etc. The municipality then agrees on this set of elements.
The household’s money then gets used to build an approved permanent structure made up of elements that they can afford. Temporary material like wood and corrugated iron is then used to add to this basic structure. As more money comes (either from savings or loan or from the housing subsidy) then the temporary parts of this elemental house get removed and replaced with more permanent features. For example the corrugated iron walls get removed and cement block walls get built, or the temporary roof sheeting gets removed and replaced with a cement tile and roof truss system.
Most of the households had taken out a loan to build a roof on poles with water harvesting at the start of the project, so these were treated as the start of their elemental house. A proper floor and foundation was then added as people had money, proper walls were then built between the poles, etc.
Some people also built a wet core, but because we had limited borehole water they could not connect into the main water system and had to rely on water from their roof runoff tanks.
My family has built a double-urine diverting compost toilet as part of our own wet core. This was linked to our house so we didn’t have to go outside to go to the toilet. We maintained it properly by throwing organic matter, like saw dust, into the chamber after each time we used it. We have had no problems with smell or anything like that. The municipality originally did not want to approve this wet core building plan but after the engineers working with us gave the municipality more information they were happy.
At the start most households worked alone to try and build their houses, but after a while people started to find ways to work together and help each other.
- The savings stokvel (or ROSA) described previously is one example, where people save for material.
- I joined a bulk buying club that arranged to get larger amounts of building material we all needed at discount from bulk material warehouses.
- This bulk buying club has also arranged a mutual building scheme where all club members agree to offer 6 hours of labour a week – the club decides what work will be done each week. One week the club members work on one of the members houses, and then the next week they all work on someone else’s house. We are considering expanding this and recognising child care, making meals, transport to collect material, etc all as labour that can form part of this labour stokvel.
It has been amazing to see the different things that people have been able to do for their houses. One household even built one of their walls with old bottles, creating what looks like a stained glass window.
Most of the money for this came from the households themselves. There was almost no additional money provided for people to build their own houses. The support from outside for this house construction was limited.
It was said that people should remove their shacks when they built more permanent houses, but this did not happen. It was very difficult to tell people to take down the temporary building they were using for other purposes. It was only at the upgrading phase that we managed to negotiate some form of arrangement with how to deal with temporary houses. (see phase 4: house upgrading section)
The incremental settlement project organised by the municipality on the neighbouring land came up with more support systems to help people build their own houses. This included:
- Providing households with examples of house plans and how they can be built in stages
- Arranging larger and more organised bulk buying clubs so people could negotiate discounts as a group with material suppliers.
- Having a more permanent building advisor in the community who households can go to for advice in how to build their own house
On the municipal land they arranged for a permanent upgrading office that included spaced for the building advisor (who also acted as a building inspector). Funding for this upgrading office was obtained as a result of conditions that the municipality attached to approval to build a new shopping centre in the area. The shopping centre had to pay each month into a housing upgrading fund and the municipality used this money to establish and staff the housing support centre.
Up to now I have described self building of houses on peoples’ plots. There is another element of self build that we also worked on, that is the self build of the services and facilities that are found off each person’s plot. These include amenities like water pipes, roads, storm water channels, etc. This ‘common’ self build only started towards the end of the aided self development phase. Basically government provided guaranteed work at below market rates, for 1 day a week for a fixed number of labourers who put their names on a list. This is called the ‘community works programme’. The community (in our case the blocks) could decide what type of work these people did. We used most of this money to build gravel roads within the blocks and create storm water channels.
We also arranged for the power utility company to come and put in some more street lights and to provide pre paid electrical connection to each house at a subsidised fee (see the upgrading of services section in phase 4 for more on this)
Visit Housing for more information and discussion on this topic.
Aided self growing
The gardening club, that is linked to the church, held a workshop towards the start of the project with some of the households on permaculture and homestead gardening. Permaculture is a way of gardening that is in harmony with nature.
My sister, who is also in our block (plus a few others), attended this course and she has encouraged me (and others) to really take gardening seriously.
My sister has a very good vegetable garden that produces more than enough to feed her family and our family with food to spare that she sells to others. I have planted a large banana circle and small orchard on my plot. A banana circle is where you dig a hole and fill it with branches and leaves and other garden and household scraps. Grey water from the sink and the shower etc is then also thrown into the hole. I planted bananas and pawpaws around this circle which get their nutrients and water from this hole. I also dug a swale (which is like a ditch running along the slope of the ground) and the fruit trees were planted on the down slope of this swale. Storm water collects in this ditch and seeps into the ground and roots of the trees.
My plot is now full of fruit trees, berries and nuts. We have more then we can eat and my sister has started to bottle, dry, and make fruit juice out of this excess. She is also doing the same from the excess food of other people in the block. Luckily, we have access to the common space or road space where my children can play, as there is nowhere to play on our plot anymore!
My sister has also set up a chicken coop in the common space. We all help look after it because we know that we can get cheap eggs and chickens from her. Her husband wanted to have pigs in the common space but we stopped that idea very quickly as we did not want the smell of pigs. We were able to help him negotiate with the church to use another piece of land that is set aside in the area for community gardens, for his pigs.
Visit Neighbourhood Development for more information and discussion on this topic.
Aided self work
When people moved to the church land, they knew that this was going to be their home for the foreseeable future and many began to look at ways that they could start their own businesses on their plots.
My mother-in-law moved in with us and we made a room for her where she could carry on with her sewing business. She was able to get a loan from the savings’ scheme to get more up to date equipment to help her expand her business a little.
If someone wants to start their own business on their site, the house (or block) rules of occupation state that you have to get permission from neighbours and the municipality. This approval is usually given but there have been a few times when this was rejected, like when one person wanted to open a panel beater business on their plot. The neighbours objected to the noise.
The following are some examples of other businesses that have been established: • spaza shops • a tavern (the tavern was only allowed if the person involved swopped his plot with someone who lived on the edge of the block, so that the people who visited it would be on the edge and not in the middle of the block. The block has also put strict rules on this, like closing at a reasonable time). • Hair dressing salon • Cell phone air time sales and mobile phone repairs • Crèche • Draftsperson (drawing plans for new houses)
One issue that was controversial was letting out parts of or the full plot to others to make money. At the start we said that this was not allowed as we were worried that it would create ugly back yard shacks and create a problem of overcrowding. However it has proven to be very difficult to stop people from trying to make a little bit of extra money by renting out a room or two.
It also put pressure on the communal water standpipes, but we got around this by stating that anyone that rented out a room or had more than a certain number of people living on their plot could only do so if they expanded their roofed area and put in another roof water tank.
The savings and local resource mobilisation initiatives that we have started have also helped more people start their own business (rather than wait for someone else to give them a job).
Building on the experience we gained in organising people to get training in construction businesses, we have also arranged for people to get training in other skills, like running a small business, electronics, bookkeeping, etc.
We also convinced the municipality to establish a small business support centre and incubator next to the new bus rapid transport interchange that was going to be built on the larger municipal land project.
The nearby Special Development Zone that the municipality has been working on for years is slowly starting to attract a few industries and provide a few jobs, but most of the people in our neighbourhood have realised that they can’t wait for some big business or the government to give them a job; they need to find ways to create their own jobs.
Visit Neighbourhood Development for more information and discussion on this topic.
Aided health and safety
Crime used to be a big problem for us when we used to live in Squatter Camp, but now that we are in Twin Oaks block in the Bongweni community we all feel much safer.
One of the reasons is that when we designed the blocks we made sure that the houses were all looking onto the common space. We originally banned people making solid walls around their houses and only allowed fences, but after some heated debates this was modified. I felt safer when I could see what was happening in the street and I knew others we looking after me when I was in the street. Luckily, there are usually enough houses without large walls and usually lots of people in the street so we are able to keep an eye out for each other. It’s very easy to see who we feel should not be in our block and neighbourhood as we all know each other. In this way it’s difficult for outsiders to get up to mischief in our block.
As we have been an organised group we have been able to set up our own neighbourhood watch. We all have whistles that we can blow if we feel vulnerable, and we know that others will come to our help. The solar lights we spent a bit more on at the start were a wonderful investment – it made us feel safer, more so at night when using the toilets.
The basic sanitation and water has improved the environmental health conditions and no one ever gets sicknesses caused by poor environmental conditions anymore.
One of the residents of our block has become a care giver to orphaned children, and the rest of us in the block all feel like an extended family for these children. They have become like part of our Twin Oaks ‘block’ family.
Visit Neighbourhood Development for more information and discussion on this topic.
Financing aided support
It was not easy to pay for this aided self development. The first set of challenges we faced revolved around households and small businesses trying to secure finances from their own savings or from banks, employers or others.
There were a few households that did not have the resources at the start to be able to build any significant structure, but after a month of us moving onto the land there were no plots that did not have some form of structure and presence on the plot. People found the resources to at least get onto the land.
The second set of challenges we faced with financing the aided self development was finding funds to pay for the services of the organisations that were offering the aided support. There were a few times during the process where Development Support Organisation nearly had to stop supporting us because they did not have funds to support us and we could not afford to pay them for all the support they gave us. Luckily for us, because it was a pilot project, and there were dedicated individuals in some of these support organisations, we were able to receive some good support.
Examples of aided support that were provided include the following:
- The church provided one level of support, in terms of motivation and advice.
- The Development Support organisation, as an NGO that was assisting us, was another important form of aided support. Development Support Organisation has said they would like to help more people develop their settlements, but they just don’t have the money and resources to help everyone that needs help. We were lucky that we were identified as a pilot project. The training organisations also provided aided support in the extra training they provided
- The garden club provided training in gardening and permaculture, etc.
- The community works programme provided a large element of support in terms of wages and organisational support for the upgrading work (see more discussion on this in the funding upgrade section)
Examples of other aided support that came later included:
- The housing advice and upgrading office that the municipality created as part of their incremental settlement project on the neighbouring municipal land.
- The housing support centre and incubator that was also established as part of the municipal managed project.
One of the lessons from the evaluation exercise is that this aspect of aided support needs far more attention from government and others. Government must not just plan to give everyone a house, rather they also need to provide us with support so that we can build our own houses. There may be a few cases where people can’t build their own houses. In these cases – let’s call them welfare cases – the government will need to just provide the full completed house.
Visit Financing for more information and discussion on this topic.
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