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working with winnie

As some of you might know,  I moved to Cape Town to start a job. That job is as a "research & documentation officer" with an organization called Shack/Slum Dwellers International, a global network of organized urban poor communities working to improve their quality of living through savings, enumerations, mapping, upgrading and partnerships. So, my daily routine can include anything from writing blog posts for our blog, to last minute trips to Africa, Asia and Latin America, to minute-taking at a marathon week of meetings with donors and government ministers, to visiting with community members in the various informal settlements across Cape Town, to rearranging our entire website, to... site visits with Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Yesterday was one of the latter. One of the South African community leaders, Patrick Magebhula Hunsley, serves on a Ministerial Task Team headed by Ms. Mandela. The Team came into being in response to the Makhaza toilet scandal a while back, and was tasked with addressing the issue of open-air, incomplete and dilapidated toilets in poor communities across South Africa. By January 2012, the team is meant to report back to the Department of Human Settlements' Minister Sexwale on the scale and geographic spread of the problem, as well as any "irregularities or malpractices," of which I for one am quite sure there are many.

Yesterday, Ms. Mandela was in Cape Town to meet with members of the South African SDI alliance around their approach to upgrading of urban informal settlements, particularly as it relates to the provision of basic services such as water and sanitation. After hearing about the alliance's successes in re-blocking and upgrading at Sheffield Road, Ms. Mandela was eager to visit the community. She spent nearly two hours there, meeting with women who have mobilized to turn what was not long ago a maze of dark alleyways with few safe or functioning toilets nearby into a vibrant community working together to bring about permanent change.

Needless to say, it's quite something to have the privilege of witnessing these kinds of exchanges, and be paid to document them. All against the backdrop of Table Mountain, the roaring Atlantic and the African sun.


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