Durban Peer Exchange Engages Practitioners on Informal Settlements

Key lessons from a recent peer exchange event hosted by the Municipal Institute of Learning, an initiative of eThekwini Municipality and Sustainable Cities International.
In recent years South Africa’s eThekwini Municipality has undertaken a number of initiatives to institutionalise knowledge within the organisation and share that knowledge with other cities in the region, including mentoring, exchanges, and knowledge management training.
Within that framework, the Municipal Institute of Learning, an initiative of eThekwini Municipality and Sustainable Cities International hosted a Peer Exchange event 21-24 February 2011 in Durban.
It brought together government practitioners from Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Porto Alegre, as well as representatives of NGOs, to share their experiences on improving the quality of life and sustainability in informal and unplanned settlements.
They focused on three main areas – urban design and planning, sustaining urban livelihoods, and waste management. Some of the key lessons learned in those three areas were:
  • Take a holistic approach to housing. Municipalities can’t provide housing independently but must think about the economic and social infrastructure that accompanies the houses. This was evident in the houses build in KwaMashu in Durban, which were of good quality but lacked the necessary infrastructure such as schools, shops and other social and public places.
  • Free handouts don’t ways create a sense of ownership. In Durban, informal settlement upgrading included the provision of sewerage, electricity and water free of charge. In the example of Dar es Salaam, only infrastructure was provided and residents were asked to pay a portion of the costs to receive those services.
  • Consult traders on location. It is vital for municipalities to consult traders to identify their needs in terms of location to avoid a situation where a new location is inaccessible to potential customers or does not drive enough foot traffic, as in the case of the Cato Manor example in Durban.
  • Provide skill development for entrepreneurs. Providing infrastructure for small business entrepreneurs in unplanned or informal areas isn’t enough. Skill development needs to be explored in more depth so that businesses succeed.
  •  One size does not fit all in waste management. Waste collection can be done differently in unplanned and informal settlements. In Durban, the Municipality takes responsibility for the contractors and waste collection. The experience in Dar es Salaam, which has a similar structure, showed that municipalities must be flexible if the system breaks down, and collaboration with NGOs can provide innovative solutions.
  • Waste should be looked at as an asset, not a problem. The informal collection of recycling materials provides economic opportunities for people living in informal/unplanned settlements.

For a complete overview of the lessons learned discussed at the Peer Exchange, please read the event’s Learning Note.