Ikhayalami is non-profit organization whose primary aim is to develop and implement affordable technical solutions for Informal Settlement Upgrading. These are designed to be imbedded into a community-driven process and scaled up with the support of the State. I had the opportunity to listen to who I believe to be the founder of the organization, Andy Bolnick. Her lecture described a little bit of background into the population density in informal settlements and the problems in Cape Town that they present. For example it is estimated that 50% of the population of South Africa lives in some type of informal housing (although these numbers are hard to confirm). There is a huge number of people living in this type of housing and the numbers seem to be growing rather than diminishing.
Most government RDP housing in the past has been structured around a top to bottom approach and moving residents to newly built housing on secured land. The problem with this method is that most residents are forced to move from their current homes, wait for housing to be built, and then move into housing that is usually beyond their current economic means. There has been a shift in thinking in many organizations that realize that there are many problems that correlate to this type of thinking. Instead of having a top to bottom approach, many organizations like Ikhayalami, have started using a bottom to top method were the residents and community lead the developmental changes needed to take place.
Another huge shift in thinking has been the move towards incremental development and planning. Instead of entirely shifting and building new communities Ikhayalami aims to build from what is already standing. First the organization pulls the community together and asks them to help collaborate on a new layout for their shacks. The shacks are then re-blocked to allow for future infrastructure including; roads, electricity, and piping. The re-blocking also allows for public space, courtyards, and areas for people to feel safe to mingle and interact. Next the shacks themselves are upgraded. This type of incremental planning doesn’t displace people, can be quickly implemented, and gives the owners of the shacks the ability to slowly improve their homes and move toward ownership of the land.
Andy gave us a small tour of one of the largest and fastest growing townships in Cape Town, Khayelitsha. While in the bus, she pointed out the other projects that have included the idea of incremental development without utilizing the idea of re-blocking. The shacks were lined up in military barrack style. People were not given any room to hang laundry, relax outside, or areas for the children to play. The atmosphere in these communities seemed stark and devoid of interaction compared to the outside areas and the Ikhayalami developed community. The community that Andy showed us that Ikhayalami was involved in building included improved shacks but also a planned layout determined with collaboration from the community.
The planned Ikhayalami community had a different feeling to it than the other shacks I’ve seen so far in Khayelitsha. The first thing I noticed was the amount of public space now available to the residents. The shacks were set up in blocks or nodes with their own courtyard with a central road leading through the center of the community. The doors to almost all the shacks were open welcoming people to flow in and out. The blocks also allowed room for people to hang their clothing in more centralized areas. The courtyards in front of the blocks of shacks were full of children running and playing. The entire atmosphere seemed much more relaxed, safe, and inviting.
I like the idea of giving residents a feeling of pride and safety in the place they live. Allowing the residents the opportunity to help improve their own home, instead of the government handing out free housing, seems to give the residents a better sense of dignity. Handing a person living in poverty a free house doesn’t solve the problem of poverty. Free housing simply tries to fix one of the symptoms of poverty instead of thinking about solving the actual problem and its causes. Apartheid ended over 20 years ago, yet Cape Town is still dealing with some of its side effects. If this teaches us anything, it tells us that changes happen slowly and incrementally. It makes sense that the idea of shelter should be treated in the same way.
I would describe the day I spent touring one memorial site from township to township as Township Tourism. Although I appreciated hearing from Lizo and others from the Direct Action Center, I felt it lacked true interaction with the community. On the other hand I was deeply moved by some of the stories told and memorials visited. Our visit to a community formed and built by a group of mostly single mothers was especially inspiring. I do wish that I could have spent more time in each place and learned more about each event in a more personal setting. But I can imagine that in four weeks I can’t expect to get much more than just a taste of some of the changes happening here.
Our tour started with a visit and meditation in District 6. Since I’ve been in Cape Town I’ve been hearing stories about District 6. The forced eviction of an entire community and network of culture that was entirely eradicated from history. When we were standing in the road amongst all the empty fields our group leader asked us to close our eyes and think about what a community means to us. As I stood thinking about my home, my group of friends, the place that I work, and all the people I say hello to on the street, I got a clear image of how much my community means to me. Then we were asked to image having all of that taken away from us. I finally got a clear feeling of what it must have been like to the people of District 6 and yet I still can’t even imagine the pain they must have gone through.
After District 6 we moved on to visiting the different townships, places that a lot of people from District 6 might have been forced to relocate to. We visited quite a few townships including, Langa, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, and a few others. Every time we stopped in a township, we would load out of the bus, talk and then load back into the bus. Which is why I felt a little uncomfortable at times. I disliked feeling like a tourist in an area that people are living and going about their daily routines. I know I would personally dislike feeling like I was being looked at like the inside of a fishbowl. The nice thing about the stops we made, was that every time we stopped it was in front of a significant piece of history, specifically places memorizing those who were willing to fight for their human rights during Apartheid.
The most memorable stop for me was the memorial for Amy Biehl. The monument itself was almost inconsequential. It was only a small plaque and cross sitting in front of a busy gas station. As the story of Amy was told however, I was completely moved. Amy was a young American graduate from Stanford living in South Africa during the early 90’s, a tense political time. Our guide described how she was driving out of the township after dropping some friends off when a group of protestors saw her. When the protestors saw Amy, a white woman, they immediately associated her with their past oppression. They subsequently dragged her out of the car and proceeded to stab and stone her to death. Right before she died Amy managed to drag herself to the spot I was standing. During this moment in the story I was almost brought to tears. It was astonishing and saddening to hear of a young girl being stoned to death because of an idea of what a white person represented. The same and worse can be said of the atrocities that happened to the entire black, colored, Indian and other groups of South Africa because of a preconceived notion of inferiority.
Our last stop during the day was in Victoria Mxenge, a community named after the wife of a human rights activist and friend of Nelson Mandela. The community was started by a group of mostly single mothers from the informal settlements and backyard shacks. What is inspiring about this community of women is how they banded together to not only form a community but that they learned to build it for themselves. They worked to find a plot of land for themselves, raise the money to build their own houses, and provide their children with developmental programs. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to walk on the streets with these woman and see the houses they were living in. One of the woman during our visit told the story of a leader in the community waiting for over 6 years to build her house. She was picking up small loose bricks whenever she saw them so that she could complete her home. These women’s determination and tenacity is remarkable. It is rare to hear stories about the community and people initiating their own change. It’s far more common to hear about NGO’s or the government being the catalyst for change. I think this is why the community of Victoria Mxenge sticks out to me the most out of all the housing projects I’ve seen so far in Cape Town.
I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Nelson Mandela. Reading his book Long Walk to Freedom increased a lot of that admiration. I’m glad I was able to read it before coming to South Africa because it gave me such a good insight into some of the struggles and political background that I was previously unaware of. Mandela set aside all personal goals in life and completely dedicated his life to becoming a freedom fighter. His efforts and hardships only seemed to resolve his conviction to the development of democracy in South Africa. I was really interested in visiting Robben Island and seeing with my own eyes where Mandela spent so much of his life behind bars.
Our group of students were privileged enough to get a private tour of the Island. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and forthcoming with information. Some of it was a repeat of things I had learned from reading Long Walk to Freedom, but walking and driving around the island brought the story to life for me. As I was walking around the compound, images of moments in Mandela’s memoir started coming to life before my eyes. I started imagining spending all day in the stone quarry with the sun and sand in my eyes. And imaging what it must have been like to sleep on a tiny mat on the concrete floor for so many years. Even now it’s still hard to imagine the physical and mental strain living on Robben Island must have put on the prisoners.
Having the opportunity to listen to a man who spent time incarcerated on the island was the most insightful part of the whole experience. After we said goodbye to our first tour guide, he introduced us to a man who would continue to show us around the island and inside Mandela’s cell. He led us to a group cell that used to house 16 men, similar to the one he spent 5 years in, and we all sat down to hear his story. It was a unique perspective, most of us know the story of Nelson Mandela but we can easily forget that he was not the only person to spend time on Robben Island.
I was very captivated by his words. It was interesting to note that by the time he was incarcerated many changes had been made to the prison structure and routine. Things like mail, the number blankets and other allowances were increased or improved. Many of the men before our guide arrived in prison, including Mandela, had worked hard to make living conditions more dignified for political prisoners. Even with the improvements, life on the island was hard. Hearing the stories made me appreciate my own freedoms and privilege. We take so much for granted. It’s not until we have our rights relinquished do we sometimes realize how valuable they are to our entire being.
Seeing the conditions on Robben Island introduced me to the intense fortitude and dedication the freedom fighters showed toward their struggle. These men and women were willing to put their entire lives aside to make the lives of those who came after them free. It makes me wonder if I was put in the same situation how I would react. Our guide made the point that South Africa is now a democracy but the struggles are hardly over. Cape Town specifically has a lot of problems to continue to work out, including issues around shelter. But because of the path the freedom fighters have paved, things can slowly start to improve. Without their efforts a majority of people living in South Africa would still be denied their basic human rights.
I’ve learned more from walking around the city, taking in all the sensory stimuli and people around me than all the amount of time I’ve spent in the classroom. Hearing someone talk about the problems and dysfunctions happening in a Cape Town isn’t quite real till you see it for yourself. Getting a tour with Andrew around the East End of the city and what used to be District 6 gave me a new feel for the city. He has such a vibrant love and knowledge of the city he grew up in that it becomes contagious. You can’t help but to start to understand why; the diversity, the food, the shopping, the art, you are constantly confronted with the amazing culture that is Cape Town.
At the same time that you are admiring the beauty and life of Cape Town you start to see reminders that at the heart of this city lies some deep dysfunctions and you can see glimpses of the past all around you. You cannot forget the past here, it is a constant reminder. When Andrew was walking us around the Government buildings, you could really get a hard look at the legacy that Apartheid has left behind. The buildings themselves loom over the city as a reminder of what was once there. The architecture is stark, dominating and cut off from the rest of the city. While the rest of Cape Town is bustling and constantly interacting, you get the sense that these buildings were created to segregate that part of the city. The courtyard area behind the buildings we were visiting was completely devoid of all human interaction. Apartheid had left its mark of separation among individuals for total control and it stills looms as a reminder.
Interestingly enough, juxtaposed below these building lies a completely different feel to the city. You start to see more and more people and they are interacting and selling anything you could imagine. The informal and temporary aspect of these people’s livelihood is very apparent. The stands are easily broken down and usually filled with cardboard displays and other small items. The people who run these stands and informal trade are from such a diverse group of backgrounds. You have the Somalians, the Zimbabwean’s, and the boat people from Tanzania. I found these last group of people to be the most fascinating. Their main goal is to explore the world by sea and are willing to stow away on any cargo ship only to land and see where it has brought them. They dress in ship workers hats and clothes so that they can be ready at any moment and easily confused with the other workers on the dock. Although you may not be able to pick them out right away, the evidence of them is everywhere. The graffiti they leave is tagged throughout the city with sayings like ‘hop2c’ which loosely means ‘hope to sea’. The images they leave of boats are probably the most intriguing and detailed.
Learning to read the graffiti and writing on the streets gave me such a different perspective of the city and the people in it. Andrew, our tour guide for the day, had such an interesting knowledge into the gangs and little symbols you see written on the walls and streets of the city. He pointed out different numbers written like 26, 27, and 28 and explained that the numbers indicated different gangs associated with the city. Apparently each number gang specializes in a different area of crime; 26 for example could be a gang involved in prostitution while 28 could be associated with being involved in drugs. Along with the gang tags other people have just chosen to leave their mark with a simple poem, story, or name. It was as if they were leaving a little piece of themselves in a city that is impermanent.
As we were analyzing graffiti left on the walls we were also inching our way closer and closer to what used to be district 6. Perhaps the biggest reminder in the city of the legacy of Apartheid and the damage it left behind. As you move away from the busy East section of the city you walk directly into an empty expanse of land that used to house an entire community of people that were forcibly removed from their homes and moved to different parts of the city while their homes were demolished. Visiting the District 6 Museum was a big eye opener on the scar that apartheid left on this particular group of people. An entire culture and community was lost from history without any hope of ever reclaiming what it once was.
Cape Town is slowly picking up the pieces that were left behind from Apartheid and building up from the past. Much of what is happening in communities and neighborhoods is framed by what has been and was before. Building on an area like District 6 needs special care because of the history and attachment to the area. You can’t just walk away from the past, because the past is helping frame what is happening today. Cape Town is an interesting city to be able to explore shelter because apartheid and the past has formed such a unique layout and dynamic in the city.
South Africans are carnivores! I’ve never eaten so much meat in my life. Not a single part of the animal here goes to waste. Since I’ve been in Cape Town I have eaten: smiley (sheep’s head), sheep tripe, pap (similar to southern grits), fat cakes and pretty much every edible part of a chicken imaginable. I had the lovely experience of gutting a freshly killed chicken and then eating the cleaned and cooked guts.
So far my favorite meals in the township have been fish and chips, chicken hearts and pap, chicken liver covered fat cakes, and crispy chicken feet. I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my sisi Nosipho. She spent time teaching me how to fry fat cakes and how to properly eat chicken feet (you have to bite off the nails before you start eating). The kitchen is surely the best way to make friends.
I was a little nervous about staying in Langa at first, but it has proved to be my favorite part of my experience in South Africa. Langa is the oldest black township in Cape Town and has such a rich history. The people here are so warm and cheerful. They wave and say hello to me wherever I go. My sisi is around my age and her friends and my family have made me feel so welcome. I was even invited to join my homestay family for Church last Sunday.
My mama here attends the oldest Baptist church in Langa. She walked me around and introduced me to everyone as her new daughter and I got hugs from everyone. The service itself was filled with the most beautiful gospel music and people clapping and dancing. It was probably a good thing most of the service was music because the actual sermon was given in a mixture of English, Xhosa, and Zulu.
The houses people are living in and the conditions people are forced to endure in informal settlements here is horrifying. I’ve visited shacks that are held together with just scrap pieces of metal and wood. People have to share a public bathroom with sometimes 9 other households. I’ve also visited homes that are made from shipping containers that have only one room and a kitchen area, others are so small they barely have room for a bed. Even some of the more proper ‘houses’ are nothing that I could imagine living in.
Human dignity is lacking for millions of people here. The largest informal settlement in Cape Town has over a million people living in it. It is estimated that there are around 200 informal settlements in Cape Town alone. After visiting multiple settlements and townships, I have no words to describe how discouraged I feel. It’s empowering to see so many people making changes and positive strides toward development. But even with all these changes it will be a long time before all of these people have a dignified place to live and that’s what disheartens me the most.
It’s difficult to take pictures of many of the places I’ve been to and it also feels uncomfortable to take pictures of other people’s homes without permission. You are welcome to google image search any of the following places that I have visited so far: Khayelitsha, Enkanini, Guguletho, and Langa (where I am currently staying).
Diversity seems to be the word I constantly use to describe South Africa. It seems fitting for a place with 11 official languages. But not only does South Africa have an overwhelming amount of cultural diversity, but also an abundant amount of biodiversity.
Although the plants are amazing, the wildlife is a little bit more exciting to talk about. I’ve seen zebra, wildebeest, and flamingos just by driving through the different areas of Cape Town. But I really had a chance to get up close and personal to some of the wildlife when I visited Cape Point.
While walking up a trail to the lighthouse on Cape Point, I ran into a bunch of baboons. They are definitely not scared of humans. Which is needless to say a little unnerving, but I escaped unharmed! They were actually pretty fascinating to watch and see them interact with each other.
There were also these interesting little creatures called Rock Hydrax’s. They kinda resembled a mix between rabbits and weird rodents. And they were everywhere! I almost stepped on a few multiple times. I also spotted a few ostriches and Eland (a large type of antelope).
I not only had the incredible opportunity to stay in Cape Town, but I got to stay in the Bo Kaap neighborhood during the month of Ramadan. This area of Cape Town is also referred to as the Malay Quarter and is famous for it’s vibrant and interesting history. The residents here are for the most part Muslim. Every morning I wake up to hear the calls from one of the ten mosques in the area.
Because I’m here during Ramadan, all of the residents are fasting during the day. Right before the sun sets neighbors scurry to each other’s houses to share sweets with one another. I have eaten so much food….not only does my family constantly want to feed me, but the sweets are so delicious!
I’ve also been learning so much about the culture here and the Islamic faith. My host family consists of a mother and daughter named Faldeela and Fadlar. The daughter plays touch Rugby and not unlike most teenagers is never home. Faldeela and I spend the mornings talking and eating. The more she tells me, the more similarities I find rather than differences.
During the last couple of days of my stay here Faldeela’s granddaughter Rahmah has come to stay with us while her school is on holiday. She is a sassy little eight year old that has been attached at my hip since she’s been here. We spent all night drawing, playing games and learning yoga and gymnastics. She keeps asking me when I will come visit again and I’m not sure I have the heart tell her I don’t know when that will happen.
I feel like I have been having so many amazing experiences that it has been hard keeping track of it all.
My Saturday was filled with every opportunity to become a tourist for the day. I started my day by visiting the Old Biscuit Mill. It is basically a farmer’s market, shopping district, and the best food you could possibly imagine.
You walk around and try all sorts of different kinds of craft beer, exotic food, and local stables. My favorites were the Biltong (a type of South African jerky), honey liqueur, and the milk and chocolate tarts.
Next on our agenda was taking the lift all the way to the top of Table Mountain. As you ride up the lift it rotates you 360 degrees around…which I must say made me a little dizzy, but the view is unbelievable.
Yesterday was the most transformative day to date. I had the opportunity to visit the Sustainability Institute and the informal settlement of Enkanini.
Informal settlements are basically areas that South Africans have started building makeshift homes on land available to them. During apartheid entire neighborhoods were forcibly removed out of the city and into an area outside of the city into an area referred to as the Cape Flats.
The Cape Flats stretch for miles and are probably the most inhospitable place a person in this area could live. These shacks and settlements stretch for what looks like as far as the eye can see. Around 5 million people live in Cape Town, it is estimated that around half reside in these types of homes and areas.
I had the privilege to tour one of these settlements outside of Stellenbosch. Enkanini houses around 4500 people. There are 32 water taps, 80 toilets, and 7 waste ships to serve all of these people.
I was able to talk to researchers about some of the solutions and innovations that are being done in Enkanini to help alleviate some of these heavy problems. But it is an ever-going process.
Seeing the way these people were forced to live was hard to fathom. But the hardest thing to grasp was the fact that most of these people are not living in poverty according to economic definitions. Most have the financial means to afford a better lifestyle, but the city’s structure, real estate and construction costs force people to continue to live in these makeshift homes.
Learning to love this city more and more every day!
Today I had the opportunity to hike to the top of Lions Head, which is a peak located near the more famous Table Mountain.
Getting a chance to look over the entire city was truly awe inspiring. The amount of urban sprawl and diversity is remarkable. I don’t know how else I could possibly describe it. Walking up and gradually seeing more of the city was incredible.
Getting to explore the city has been so fun, but seeing it all from above put it in such a different perspective. You can even pick out the distinctive neighborhoods from the top of the peak.
Tomorrow is my first night with my homestay family in Bo Kaap. Wish me luck on this new adventure! I will hopefully start learning more about the people and the amazing culture here.
I made it to South Africa!! It only took 18 plus hours to get here, but it has already been well worth it.
Everything about this place is bursting with life and energy. The people here are some of the most diverse group of people I have ever seen.
Even the environment is invigorating. Look one way and you see the beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain, look the other way and you are welcomed by the sight of the ocean.
For the next three nights I’ll be staying in a local hotspot for the creative, trendy youth of South Africa. This place is a hub for people who put hipsters to shame. I spent tonight eating and drinking on the patio listening to live music taking everything in.
Today has been so amazing, jet lag and all! I feel like it fit in with the people here so perfectly. Can’t wait to see what the rest of my trip has to offer.
Shelter – Cape Town
Summer Innovation Lab
For those of you who don’t know already; I’m going to be studying in South Africa this summer. This will be the last thing I do as an undergraduate student before I officially graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Science studying sustainable product design and innovation.
I’m looking forward to all the adventures and life experiences traveling across the world has to offer. I can only imagine this being a positive experience enabling me to grow as a person. And I want to thank everyone who has encouraged, supported, or motivated me toward this incredible opportunity. While I’m away I thought it would be interesting to keep an updated travel journal of all my experiences that I could share with my friends and family.
So many people have expressed an interest in keeping up with my travels. I found it only fitting that I provide them with an easy way to see how and what I’m doing in South Africa. This blog hopefully becomes something that connects and inspires all of my friends together.
SUMMER INNOVATION LAB
Examine Cape Town’s built environment, where apartheid’s legacies and burgeoning inequalities have combined to create acute housing challenges and innovative approaches in urban architecture and design.
Study in Cape Town, a World Design Capital and site of contrasts and contestations focusing on housing and urban design.
Develop a collaborative project with community members focused on a practical hands-on aspect of shelter and urban design.
Engage with Capetonians who are passionate about design and its role in creating livable, just cities.
Analyze the “right to the city” through an examination of identity, access, belonging, and urban space.
Learn from the everyday experiences of Cape Town’s residents through contrasting homestays in a township and the city center.
Working with local community members, urban planners, and architectural practitioners, you and your fellow students will collaborate on a design project focused on an aspect of shelter. The collaborative project — the topic of which emerges from classes, discussions, and educational excursions — is based in Cape Town.