The Bertrams Community Engagement Project (CEP) is funded by the National Research foundation (NRF). 2021 is the last year of funding in the three year project. On the 26th of May we met with the organizations who are involved in a partnership with the NRF CEP, these being: the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) SARChI Chair in Spatial Transformation team, 1to1 Agency of Engagement (1to1), and Inner-City Resource Centre (ICRC). We discussed possible approaches for the next stage of the project and how to engage with the social issues that present themselves in the context of Bertrams. It was acknowledged that all partners have different roles to play and need to explore how to support each other for the benefit of the community.

A brief background of the project is as follows; The NRF CEP operates in Bertrams, Johannesburg and it was started as an initiative of the multi-year, multi-institution research project titled “Housing and Urban Environments (HUE)”. The protect explores the idea of alleviating poverty through promoting community participation by empowering the immediate dwellers of the urban block with skills to build and unite in the decision making of improving their physical environment. The focus on one building quickly became a focus on the urban context and the block because we found that any successful intervention would have to consider the surrounding structures and communities. What we are learning from the project as facilitators is that when people participate, they tend to take accountability and seeing themselves as part of a broader leadership organisation which brings a sense of urgent responsiveness to emergent conditions.

On Saturday morning, 5th of June, we visited the site for an introductory session with the community leaders that have been voted for and elected by community members of the area. Through this session it was established that there are several issues regarding the health and safety conditions of five informally-occupied buildings and the surrounding landscape. Then there was a walkabout with a community member who pointed out the exact issues that were unpacked in the introductory session; these are as follows:

  •  broken stack-pipe that leaks when solids are being flushed out from toilets which caused a very unpleasant smell.
  • A waterproofing related issue on a portion of a roof slab on one of the buildings.
  • A broken staircase and balustrade that collapsed which is very dangerous.
  • A lack of enough toilets in two of the buildings which seems to be causing traffic and is unsafe for females.

The community raised another issue which they are concerned about, that is what they have identified as a crucial need for a security fence to create a boundary along the perimeter of an identified communal space and buildings.

To conclude the session:

When concluding the session, it was established that the focus area would be the development of the open space in-between buildings to be an economic and social activity space with recreational equipment that would benefit the community as a whole. However, judging from our conversations, the biggest issue was that the community generally believe in the concept of “Charity Begins at Home” which means that they would only participate in the open space development plan once their immediate issues have been addressed. As a way forward, we have agreed with all the stakeholders including the members of the community that we would work together to address first their immediate spatial needs urgently and responsibly. 

– Setshaba Raseroka