Major Research Project

Enkanini Informal Settlement

Theme(s):
Project Leader(s): Dr John van Breda

It is not possible to provide a detailed historical account of everything that happened in the Enkanini settlement during the research period (2011-2014); instead, the case study focuses on key turning points in that community that influenced the transdisciplinary case study research process (TDCSR) and project. As well, instead of recounting the entire case study in this section (see Appendix 1), a succinct overview is provided designed to reflect the character and flavour of the case in sufficient detail to substantiate this paper’s claim that an ETD was evident in the case and the research experience.

Enkanini (which means ‘taken by force’) is an informal (slum) settlement that was formed in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2006 when 47 families, who were renting in the existing Kayamandi settlement, broke through a fence and invaded the adjacent land, owned by the Stellenbosch Municipality. Motivated by their inability or unwillingness to pay rent in Kayamandi, the first group of families erected 12 shacks on the recently cleared area. Stellenbosch Municipality served an eviction notice on the families for their illegal occupation of the land and instructed them to move to Klapmuts, a settlement located about 15km north. Within three months the number of families living in this illegal and informal slum settlement had increased to about 500 and the number of shacks to about 125, making it impossible for municipal officials to implement the eviction order.

From 2006 onward, the settlement quickly spread up the side of the Papegaaiberg Mountain, a steep slope. By 2011, when the TDR projects reported in this paper began, about 1 500 people occupied the settlement in about 400 shacks. Despite new shacks being torn down by armed guards, people continued to build their shacks, mostly at night and very quietly. Once the shack is built, the occupant is protected by her/his constitutional right to a fair trial prior to eviction. By 2015, about 8 000 people, moving from both the rural areas and other urban settlements, lived in Enkanini in about 2 000 shacks. The average age of residents is between 25 and 29 years of age, and nearly half of them are women.

In 2012 (six years after it was settled), the municipality was forced to install blocks of toilets and taps, but their numbers and locations were insufficient and waste collection was inadequate, if non-existent. The crux of the Enkanini case is the inadequate government services to this informal settlement. There is inadequate electricity, water, and waste and sanitation management. The problems that have arisen due to the lack of services include high levels of theft and assault, indoor air pollution due to paraffin and candle use, frequent fires (111 fires) and flash floods (840 since inception), and increased health risks. It could take up to eight years for the municipality to rezone the land and formalise the settlement. Only once this process was complete would the municipality begin to consider installing formal services for all residents, and then only if it had the financial and human capital to do so as the topography is steep making it difficult and expensive to build service-delivery infrastructure.

In the meantime, Enkanini residents began to organise themselves into informal structures to deal with the challenges of living in an informal and radically underserviced settlement. Enkanini, however, cannot be defined as an organised or mobilised community with a history of working together, shared practices, rituals, actions and institutional co-operative arrangements. It is better understood as a spatial or administrative unit with key stakeholders being the residents (although not a unified group). No one group had a mandate to speak for all residents of Enkanini. In fact, Enkanini has what are called unlegitimated stakeholders compared to the legitimate stakeholders recognized by government.

In 2011, the Stellenbosch University-based transdisciplinary research group approached the community with the idea of working with residents to come up with solutions to poor living conditions and a lack of energy provision. After months of immersion in the community, the residents welcomed them in and, through continuous discussion, the central issues affecting quality of life began to emerge, the most primary of which was the lack of energy provision (electricity). Their provisional research question was “What could be done between now and the arrival of the [electricity] grids to improve quality of life?” In other words, what can be done while we wait?” Then, additional issues surfaced through this immersive process including the unsafe living conditions that put personal health and safety at risk, and a lack of waste disposal infrastructure (sanitation and garbage). The lack of basic service infrastructure compounded the reality of living in badly constructed shacks. The resultant negative quality of life was apparent to researchers when visiting residents in their home.

Over the course of the next three years, the TD research team, in collaboration with Enkanini residents, designed and implemented three small-scale social experiment pilot studies pursuant to services: electricity (the iShack project), waste treatment (the Bokashi project), and sanitation (the gravity-fed system project). The iShack project, started in 2011, involved the design of a radically new shack, which used solar energy panels to generate enough power for three lights, an outside motion sensor, and a cell phone charger. In 2012, the Gates Foundation funded the roll out of the system to 100 households. There are now about 870 subscribers (out of 2000 shacks); they rent the system for R 150 a month. In fact, the municipality was so impressed that they amended their policy so now they pay the subsidy for non-grid connected informal households. And, local residents are being trained to install and manage the iShack system, meaning it morphed into job creation. Also, Specialised Solar Systems, the company responsible for the technical design of the DC-electricity solar units, were able to modify the design to enable the switch over in the future, if necessary or desired, to AC-electricity systems.

The success of the iShack project inspired the initiation of other small-scale socio-technological experiments, which were guided by the same principles. One of those was the ‘Bokashi’ waste-treatment system project. One of the TDR team members made contact with a wide range of disciplinary experts from the growing field of organic waste treatment who in turn co-designed a context-relevant organic waste treatment system for small groups of Enkanini residents (up to 20 participating households). Households collected their organic household waste in buckets to which effective microorganisms were added and then dropped the buckets off at the local church. From there, the decomposed waste was used in local food gardens or sold to the Agriprotein project to produce animal and soil feed.

The TD researchers noted that it was easier to implement this project than the iShack project because the Enkanini residents had, by this time, become accustomed to TDR team being in the settlement, and the residents had a better understanding of what the TDR team was trying to achieve; i.e. that the research team was not there to provide municipal services, but rather to find off-grid sustainable solutions to problems. And, the head of the Waste Treatment Department at Stellenbosch Municipality was so interested in this project that he funded the waste characterization study which prompted this ‘Bokashi’ waste-treatment system project.

The third small-scale social experiment focused on sanitation. The 8 000-odd Enkanini residents have to share 80 communal toilets between them. Besides the obvious implications, such as blocked sewage lines, long walks to and from the blocks for some residents, and long queues to use the facilities, the lack of adequate facilities contributes to incidences of rape and assault. Many women are scared to go to the toilet blocks at night for this reason. This immediate situation (i.e., complex environment of immediacy) provoked the initiation of a dignified sustainable toilet system to manage solid waste. Two different TDR team members responded to this need, implementing a gravity-fed flush toilet sanitation project in 20 households, which were divided into groups of five; each group was connected to an anaerobic biogas digester that produced gas for cooking purposes. Each household paid a small fee to cover the maintenance, repair and operating costs of the biogas digester.

As well, a visible example of the sanitation system was installed at the Enkanini Research Centre where the gas was used for cooking in the kitchen that served a small restaurant and supported a catering business, run by an Enkanini co-researcher. Regarding the Centre, as time went by, the need to build a dedicated TD research space in the Enkanini community emerged and was constructed in 2013 (replacing a temporary shack used as a church). In effect, the mental TD research site has been grounded in physical reality at the Enkanini Research Centre. Stellenbosch University donated R70 000 to cover construction costs and the legal fees for drafting the Centre’s constitution.

Over the course of the project (2011-2014), the TDR team had to learn how to deal with the emergence of unforeseen stakeholder alliances, both outside and within Enkanini. Outside the community, Stellenbosch Municipality initiated the Kayamandi Development Forum (KDF) as a multi-stakeholder platform for discussing the developmental issues facing the formal Kayamandi settlement and the new informal Enkanini settlement. Inside the community, a group of disgruntled shack-dwellers, an Enkanini informal settlement network, was advocating to stop the roll-out of the iShack project because they feared it would stall the installation of the power grid by the government. In this context, the Enkanini Research Group became a third stakeholder formation – with both inside and outside connections. Nurturing existing relationships, the research group formed the Transitions Collective. This was the coming of age of a true transdisciplinary working group comprising researchers from different disciplines and community co-researchers. The responsiveness of the TD research team to the situation, to prove that they were working on interim solutions, as opposed to imposing their own agenda on the settlement, gave further legitimation to the TD research process in the eyes of the community and, in turn, enabled the further roll-out of the TD research project.

On a final note, as the project was an unfolding one, with decisions taken in the moment, based on the contextual happenings in the settlement, it was not possible to know upfront how and what would need to be funded. The challenge of this type of research is therefore not restricted to matters of theory or navigating complex social and environmental contexts, but to a large degree is dependent on being able to fund interventions, change tack quickly, and scale up or damp down the small-scale experiments. It became increasingly necessary to develop a practical and strategic intuition as to when to apply for funding and who to apply to. This sensing of when to act upon converging moments, and turn these into opportunities to attract funders, has been fruitful to date and most have become invested in the project and its unfolding process in more than financial terms.

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