Why it’s time to scale up South Africa’s good civic ideas

November 16, 2022

Watch Season 2 of Good Hood Stories here

For urbanists in the urbanism and  built environment sectors, it is widely believed that applying cookie-cutter strategies to various neighbourhoods is a big no-no and should be avoided at all costs. However, the 2022 selection of Good Hood Stories, which led us from KwaMashu to Hatfield; Gugulethu to Hillbrow, and beyond, each have seeds of brilliance and the kind of influence that even the most pessimistic urbanist would want to fast duplicate throughout South Africa.

To increase the success and their benefits to people, while also growing these "Good" ideas and initiatives to become even more sustainable and viable, scaling these projects and adapting them to different places may be a better course of action when faced with such a wide range of contexts, communities, and cultures.

We learned that a self-funded initiative (which still has no government funding) was able to navigate the harsh realities of the flooding disaster in Durban, and develop a map as a tool to help all parts of society. Headed by Nkululeko Mthembu, a self-described disruptor at  PISTA Ventures, and Callum Oberholzer of Black Box, their goal is to create a Community Care Map, where anyone in a city may seek support, assistance, and resources from their larger community, and those who can help can do so on a regular basis. This will allow them to advance the Durban Crisis Map and enable it to function outside of emergencies.

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A poster for the Park Activation Coordinators programme.

One could imagine these innovators expanding on the lessons learned from their original map, and launching comparable tools in South African neighbourhoods and cities, possibly speaking to the priorities and needs, but building on the same platforms and expertise. The team could quickly get involved with a number of concerns or obstacles facing the country, such as increased safety for women and girls, networks of feeding programs, food security initiatives, and several others. They could design, construct, and manage a "map" where it was required.

In Cape Town, the Masakhe housing stokvel was founded by the larger-than-life personality Ntombekhaya Nyama-Plati, fondly known as "Ntosh. In a short amount of time, again with little to no backing from official institutions, the group has saved and built homes or made home improvements for nearly 30 women. Ntosh and the Stokvel’s co-founders have ambitions to expand their initiative nationally; they have already started in the Eastern Cape. In addition to their community work and self-organised feeding program, they also have other ideas, such as a brickmaking factory, and initiatives to include marginalised women in outreach and construction.

Urbanists are aware that the sustainable density our cities require to address their spatial fragmentation does not lie with medium to high rise buildings in city centres, but rather with a massive transition of numerous micro developers homeowners expanding existing homes with second and third dwellings — reducing carbon emissions, fostering integration, and creating new income streams for the homeowners. One could envision the Masakhe Stokvel and its unique strategy: combining efficient management, an attention to detail, and a friendly demeanour, among other things; landing in various urban and semi-urban contexts; starting with smaller groups of women as catalysts; and growing a national movement for women's financial and social empowerment.

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Ntosh and the founding members of the Masakhe Ladies's Stokvel outside her home in Gugulethu.

And over in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, in Pullinger-Kop park, local school children may be seen during lunchtime enjoying all that it has to offer: using play equipment, kicking a soccer ball, etc. With all of its social and economic complexity, Hillbrow is possibly the ultimate urban experiment. Can this program succeed elsewhere if it succeeds here? I believe so, and it has already spurred action in Durban's KwaMashu, where the program is currently being tested with both young and elderly populations, with music and sports, and even potential Olympic BMX competitors.

Every Park Activation Coordinator we encountered was local, connected, and enthusiastic. They all went above and beyond the call of duty. In the words of Ayanda Roji, one of the project's champions acting as community touchpoints” with parks acting like a welcoming office door for residents, where PACs provide information and resources. The PAC program's long-term advantages are clear to see. Despite obstacles, parks have evolved into places where PACs operate as orchestra conductors, bringing together a diverse group of social partners, NGOs, and students who are now essential to the parks and communities where they work. One such instance is the Thobza Bike Centre in KwaMashu where, with the use of simple facilities like miniature BMX tracks, a shipping container used as an office, and the enthusiasm of its staff, the park becomes a vibrant hub in the late afternoon.

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A group of elderly people enjoy a fitness programme at Freedom Park in Kwamashu.

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Children enjoy the BMX cycling tracks at Thobza Bike Centre in Kwamashu.

Despite the difficulties the PAC program is facing, expanding it to South African parks facing various challenges is more than feasible, especially since the EPWP program has previously been tried and tested as a means of introducing PACs to parks. And, Roji is already thinking of a few more parks in more suburban sections of Johannesburg with various options that might be advantageous.

The City of Tshwane's historic COSUP program in Tshwane has seven years of experience, and its harm-reduction concept has already had an impact, lately gaining hold in Durban at the Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre. The reasons for scaling and replicating here come from those working daily as part of the programme - it is evidence backed and embedded in a human response to the healthcare of the marginalised and vulnerable.

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A view of the hall at the COSUP centre, Reliable House in Hatfield, Tshwane.

The City of Tshwane should be commended for enabling this evolution because the diversity of the COSUP centres and drop-in sites' locations, structures, and communities has already tested the ideas of scalability and replication.

In its own special way, the COSUP model has created environments that are caring, serene, and peaceful. The model has lowered barriers to care, services, skill development, and provided a warm meal for those who are frequently shunned and discriminated against for seeking care, whether in more urban or more rural settings, churches, or inner city buildings.

Now that the post-pandemic phase has mostly passed, it is imperative that these "Good" and excellent civic ideas receive the funding they need to develop, scale and take root throughout South Africa. We may all strive to live in a South Africa with vibrant parks, improved access to healthcare, digital tools to help in and out of crises, and where are women leading the delivery of shelter across the nation. These 4 projects - both combined and individually - give creative expression to the ideals of more inclusive, sustainable, and thriving cities.

About Good Hood Stories

Good Hood Stories is an initiative of the South African Cities Network, using film and visuals to share stories of creativity, collaboration and innovation from across South African cities. Watch Season 1 of Good Hood Stories here.

Rashiq Fataar
Rouen Smit
37 Parliament Street
Church Square
Cape Town City Centre
Cape Town, 8000
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