Building a self-sustaining community

A few weeks ago, I attended a wedding in South Africa, at which world leader and Nobel peace prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was presiding. He has recently celebrated his 80th birthday and although he is taking it ‘easier’, he still has the energy of many 60 year olds. He remains a person of great international influence, who uses his clout to defend human rights, to campaign for the oppressed and fight the war against HIV AIDS, etc.

While in South Africa, I took the time to visit a project supported by Cordaid Urban Matters, which is a Dutch NGO with satellite offices in San Salvador, Kisumu and Cape Town. Cordaid Urban Matters works with local government and chooses areas that need to be totally (re)developed. Think along the lines of water, electricity, cable, sewerage, housing, schools, shops, etc. Since I’m really pragmatic, I wanted to see for myself exactly what needs to be done.

Amor Strauss, the programme manager for Cordaid Urban Matters in Cape Town took me to Hazeldene, which is part of Philippi, a sprawling slum area around Cape Town. I visit Cape Town regularly and I drive passed this area all the time. But, nothing really prepares you for what you’re going to see, when you drive into the area. A wake-up call and a definite reality check as to how good many of us, myself included, have it.

The plan is to create a self-sustaining village, for a group of about 350 very low income families. These families were promised homes over 10 years ago by the South African government but to date nothing has been built. Cordaid Urban Matters plans to do more. Homes will be built, a water purification plant will be installed, greenhouses will be erected to grow goods for export and fruit and vegetables will be grown on site. A bakery will be built, not only to bake bread for the community that is cheaper than the local supermarkets, but it will also act as a source of training. The bakery will educate people in and around the community as bakers, who can then offer their services to other local bakeries or supermarkets. The homes will be rented by the families and the creation of jobs in the village will ensure that the families can pay for rent, utilities and any other additional goods and services.

I’m obviously excited about the project but, I’m also cautiously optimistic as the last thing anyone wants to create is a bubble. We’re far happier developing a self sustaining village which will also help people on the outskirts of the community.

Only time will tell if we’ll succeed; which influential people we may or may not need to call for help along the way; and how engaged the people from this self-sustaining community will be in the future. But let’s face it, ‘it is far better to have tried and failed than to have failed to try…”  Wish us luck.

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