The shape of a community: Creating Structure through Kinship
Adam Thalenfeld
20 August 2015
To better understand how the residents use their space, both public and private, and create infrastructure for themselves, in-depth conversational interviews were conducted with 10 members of the community, including three community leaders

Illustration by Gaelen Pinnock

The lived reality of the people who live in informal settlements is not well understood. Daily tasks that most take as granted, such as clean water, using the toilet, and washing clothes are not built in structures that exist formally. Communities are forced to improvise and create their own infrastructure around limited state interventions. These social infrastructures are often what hold communities together, and provide key insights into understanding both the lived reality of the individual and the larger community. 

Over several weeks, we got to know residents of BT section, in Khayelitsha. The area houses around 80 families, and is in the early stages of an NGO-led reblocking and shack upgrading process that is expected to take around 2 years to complete. 

To better understand how the residents use their space—both public and private—and create infrastructure for themselves, in-depth conversational interviews were conducted with 10 members of the community, including three community leaders. 

The conversation was guided by key questions, focusing on the themes of: Memories and meaning of home; Neighborhood and city; Hope for the future; Personal strategies; Infrastructure development; Strategies, expectations, and context for upgrading

Questions that were asked included:
- What is an ideal home to you? What is a home to you? To your family?
- What were activities you and your siblings used to do together?
- What are fond memories you have about growing up? What do you miss the most about life there?
- What are improvements here compared to your childhood home? Why would  you want to return?
- Can you walk us through your daily routine?
- Why did you decide to live in this neighborhood? What do you like/dislike about it?
- Can you draw a map of the neighborhood for us, indicating where your friends live, and where you go to do specific activities (laundry, socialize, etc.)?
- What improvements have you seen in the neighborhood since you’ve lived here?
- How much involvement do you feel the community had in the decision making process, and is there a disconnect between you and the improvements? (i.e. is there a limitation to their usage, such as a lack of lighting to use toilets at night)?
- Where is the community building their own infrastructure?

The primary goal of this map is to highlight the unseen processes that most people experience in their lives on a daily basis, and how in informal settlements, these processes become arduous tasks that require extra time and planning.

Bottom Layer:
This layer is comprised of soft data that was gathered during the interview process that reveals unseen realities of daily life. Specifically, this layer is comprised of time spent moving around, accessing toilets, washing laundry, and other activities of daily life that are a struggle for this population. 

Middle Layer:
The second layer is composed of stories we received during the interview process. They highlight the challenges of uncomplete infrastructure, and the systems that are invisible to most, but must be created in the settlements. 

Top Layer:
The third layer superimposed over the entire project is data gathered from an extensive mapping project done of the community last year. To ensure that the reblocking project creates utilized spaces and community cohesion, residents were asked to choose their top three preferences for neighbors. 


Problem: Inadequate shelter/heating
Solution: Paraffin heating
Corrugated zinc and wood shelters do not protect residents from the elements, and wind gusts in the winter can bring the temperatures at night down to 7C inside the home. Because electricity is so expensive and sometimes unavailable, the preferred method of heating in paraffin wax heaters. Unfortunately, paraffin wax is very dangerous, and is the primary cause behind shack fires. Nearly everyone in a settlement has lost a loved one this way. To mitigate the cost of the wax, which costs 7R/L (5L last two weeks), people use it to bake bread, heat water for bathing, and other purposes. 

Problem: Crime
Solution: Stay at home after dark
Crime is a huge issue in informal settlements; Khayelitsha is the most dangerous area in the country. Due to a byzantine funding structure, it also receives the fewest police officers. On top of that, settlements often lack lighting and go completely dark at night, save for the main arterial roads. Many of the people we spoke with do not leave their homes after dark. Because of this, people plan out bathroom trips in advance, and those who work ask to be escorted or pay large fees for taxis home. One woman moved specifically for this reason; her shack was on the back side of the highway, and was very dangerous at night. She has relocated onto the main road; it’s very noisy, but her husband can come home from work at night without worrying about his safety as much. 

Problem: Sanitation
Solution: In-home temporary solutions
In part due to the danger of leaving the house at night, residents have difficulty accessing the neighborhoods only set of public toilets. One of the few formal infrastructure projects the city has provided, the toilets are often dirty and broken, and the city refuses to create enough keys for residents; typically there are 3 keys/toilet, which services 5-8 households (typically ~5 people/home). Toilet trips must be planned in advance; some women I spoke with go on their way to and from work; others use buckets in the home during the night, which they then must take to the water tap to rinse out. This also illustrates that public infrastructure sits unused for half of the day. 

Problem: Emergency vehicular access
Solution: None; hired cars to hospital
As the story illustrated earlier, emergency vehicles do not come to BT section. They consider it too dangerous. EMT members only arrive on scene with police escorts. Otherwise, residents will have to hire a car service (typically 300R+) to drive them one way to the hospital, if the driver even agrees to pick them up to begin with. Fire services can be much more heart breaking, destroying entire neighborhoods. 

By Adam Thalenfeld | Illustration by Gaelen Pinnock

Common Ground: Exploring where the stories of four activists/organizers living in Cape Town connect?
In Response to Your Request: A Map of Institutional Circumnavigation