MBABANE URBAN UPGRADING
AND FINANCE PROJECT
Objectives and Methodology
Upgrading Experience of Mbabane
In May 2005, the team conducted windshield surveys, walking tours, and informal/ unstructured interviews with local residents and leaders in the already upgraded areas, including Msunduza and Nkwalini. The objective was to identify what worked and what did not, to suggest areas for improvement in future upgrading efforts.
Both Nkwalini and Msunduza were covered to get the perspectives of beneficiaries over different timelines of upgrading: in Msunduza, upgrading (SUDP) was completed 2 years back, while in Nkwalini, the project is still underway.
Among the interviewees was a local Zone Leader of Msunduza, who is also a health worker, and shared with us some valuable information on the prevalence of HIV-AIDS in the settlement and in Mbabane.
Interaction with Potential Beneficiaries
In addition, the team conducted focus group discussions (FGDs) with the various communities being covered by the MUUSP upgrading initiative. The groups ranged from 10-20 persons and included a variable mix to represent socio-economic and gender differences in each settlement.
The following settlements were covered: Nkwalini Zone 3, Manzana, Sidwashini, Makholokholo, Bahai, Mangwaneni and Mvakwelitje. The only settlement where the FGD was not carried out was Fontyn, due to scheduling problems with the leadership. It is currently being rescheduled.
The primary objective of these FGDs was to convene a smaller group of people to facilitate an exchange that is difficult to do in a larger community meeting. The format of the discussion was informal and semi-structured: the team essentially introduced the project, and allowed the discussion to evolve on issues raised by the participants pertinent to the specific community.
For instance, in most settlements, people wanted to talk about the previous upgrading initiatives and/or problems with the on-going MOW roads project (in terms of resettlement and compensation etc.), expressing a high level of distrust with the government. In these settlements, the bulk of our effort was centered on clarifying issues, and getting the community’s buy-in for the MUUFP project. In addition, people raised issues and themes considered important for the success of the upgrading initiative.
The FGDs also served as a venue to briefly clarify concepts such as the 99-year lease (leasehold versus freehold), rates, importance of cost recovery and so on, that were unclear in the minds of many participants. This was all part of convincing them about the benefits of upgrading and getting their buy-in for the MUUFP project.
Several important preliminary findings came out of this field work, and should be borne in mind as upgrading proposals are developed. They provide a general context of the prevailing conditions, and highlight critical issues that will need to be addressed as we proceed on this project. These are discussed below. In addition, details of each of the FGDs are provided in a separate attachment.
1. Community Participation
Random interviews with residents in the two upgraded settlements—Msunduza and Nkwalini—reveal that there was inadequate community participation, input or agreement on the upgrading plans, particularly in the later stages of the project. In Msunduza, Project Outreach Facilitators were appointed, and upgrading plans presented and discussed with the beneficiaries. But due to unforeseen delays in project implementation, and increase in construction costs, what was delivered was not what was agreed upon by the community.
As a result, today, 2 years after project completion, the beneficiaries are not willing to pay rates (see photos). “Upgrading has not been completed,” they say. “We don’t have water, public toilets, proper roads, or adequate street lighting as we were promised.” Several people complained: “Instead of a road on the map that they showed us, there is a footpath…So, as far as we are concerned, the project is not yet complete. Why then should we pay rates?”
In Nkwalini, Project Outreach Facilitators were trained, but this effort never really took off. The standard of services here is higher than in Msunduza, but no one, not even the on-site project coordinator, has any idea on what the beneficiaries will end up having to pay. “The Council is yet to decide on those figures,” he said.
The link between standards and costs is unquestionable: the higher the standards, the higher the costs. In order to recover costs, however, it is absolutely critical to convey the aspect of affordability to the people upfront. This will minimize unreasonable demands on their part, and impractical suggestions that cannot recover costs on part of the technical experts.
While acknowledging the propensity of people to complain and exaggerate to avoid paying for services, we must also bear in mind that this is a reality not just limited to Swaziland. As evident from the FGDs, people demand, and rightfully deserve, to have a clear idea as to what they will get, and at what cost. Wary of the precedent set in Msunduza and Nkwalini, the people of other settlements have made very clear that they understand they will be required to pay, but they must be given a clear picture upfront.
Hence, a starting point for the project is to develop clear channels for communication and exchange. People must participate in the decision making, and take responsibility for their “own” upgrading plans as opposed to plans developed and imposed on them “by outsiders”. This participatory mechanism must be put in place not just for the remaining term of the project, but also during the implementation phase.
There should also be a level of flexibility built into the plans to accommodate changes in the plans resulting from unforeseen delays etc. This is a direct lesson from Msunduza. Most importantly, the channels for communication must be continuous, and the participatory process such that implementation is incumbent upon agreement from the beneficiaries at every stage of the project.
2. Mass Treatment Lacking Attention to Detail
Some families in Msunduza and Nkwalini complained that they are in fact now worse off in terms of access roads as a result of the new grades for the roads and drains adjacent to their plots (see photos). As the Project Coordinator in Nkwalini Zone 3 told us, “80 percent of the households are better off after the upgrading. The remaining 20 percent are probably worse off than they were before.”
A major problem with upgrading efforts in general is their tendency to ignore the details at the individual household level. Undoubtedly it is a tremendous undertaking to address every single problem of every single individual. However, the outcome would probably be much better if the emphasis is on getting agreement of each individual family rather than solving every infrastructure problem.
3. Sense of Distrust
In Manzana and several other settlements impacted by the national government’s (MOW) on-going roads project, people complained that they had not been consulted regarding potential resettlement.
The Manzana residents, for example, were told that a road was being built, and that 23 families would be resettled into new houses built for them as compensation. Allegedly, no feasibility study was done to study the impact on the displaced families, particularly the elderly vulnerable groups. They were not told what kind of units they would be moved into, or when, and what the cost would be, or if they were acceptable. Some houses were demolished partially to make way for the road, but compensation is still to be discussed. A factor of major concern is the prospect of displaced households being allocated single family units, with no compensation or potential to accommodate extended family members or to build rental units to generate income.
This government initiative has instilled a strong sense of distrust among the public which will pose an added challenge to the MUUFP. Rebuilding the trust among people who have suffered, or have got good reason to be mistrustful, is exponentially more difficult than mobilizing and organizing a “willing” community.
As evident from the FGDs, the people see government as a single entity: it is inconsequential that the national government (MOW) is implementing this project, and not the Mbabane City Council. To them, the simple fact is that “the government is responsible for their misfortunes.” It is highly recommended, therefore, that the City Council take this matter up with the MOW, and find means to suitably address the compensation issues, and ensure closer work with the communities to win back their support.
4. Opposition to “rates”: A misconception?
It is a fact that no one in these communities “likes” rates, making this an unpleasant and heated topic for discussion. It is also topic which is easily used by special interest groups to sway the support of the people away. However, public opposition to any issue cannot be removed by brushing away the topic or the people who oppose it. Instead, it is this process of open discussion alone—as we witnessed in Nkwalini Zone 3—that will help win the support of those who oppose it, and at the same time, earn more respect and trust of the others.
We witnessed this in most of our FGDs with people expressing strong resistance to rates: “The City Council only wants to upgrade the area so it can extract money from us. We are all destitute; we cannot pay rates,” and so on. But what became clear as we proceeded with the discussions was that it is a very critical topic that needs to be debated freely, however unpleasant it might be. Many people do not appreciate rates simply because they do not understand what they are. As some of this was clarified and explained in the FGDs, the participants were for most part in agreement with the idea.
Even in the case of Msunduza, the idea of rates was strongly opposed by most people we interviewed. This was expected. However, interestingly, the opposition was less to do with rates per se, and more a reaction against the alleged “false promises made by the government” compounded by the fact that the beneficiaries were “not told how much the services or the upgrading was going to cost them.”
Hence, contrary to popular belief, people in general are not really opposed to rates.
A proactive education/ outreach and information dissemination program must be designed, to answer any doubts and questions the people might have with respect to terminology or concepts proposed in the upgrading. This outreach program should extend beyond mere brochures and hand-outs to include face to face interactive meetings where people can ask personal questions. There is no short-cut to this, if community buy-in is a priority.
5. Vulnerability: HIV-AIDS Impact
We spoke to a few health workers in Msunduza, who highlighted the seriousness of HIV-AIDS, particularly among the poor. According to one health worker, also the AMICAALL coordinator of Ward 11 of Mbabane, the incidence of death has increased tremendously over the past few years. Showing us pages of her patient logbook, she added, “The situation is grim: those who were sick in 2003 are all either bed-ridden or dying now.” (see photos on right) “We coordinate with NGOs such as Salvation Army to provide material support--napkins, gloves, and other materials--needed by HIV patients. We also assign rural health workers and volunteers to tend to these families.”
A direct consequence of the AIDS pandemic is the increase in the number of orphans. While most of them are cared for by relatives, there are many households headed by children. As reported by a Municipal HIV-AIDS Team official, “Even though AMICAAL is extending support to these children—through recently initiated pilot feeding programs supported by Red Cross and SOS—shortcomings in inter-agency coordination, coupled with limited resources, have restricted the impact so far.”
We were accompanied by one health worker to some households affected by HIV (see photos on left). Notably, the stigma associated with the illness is still strong, and while people generally acknowledge the presence of orphans in the house, the cause of parental death is usually cited as TB or “unknown”.
The general impression is that many households with orphans are among the most vulnerable. With the working age members gone, these households are constituted by the retired elderly and the young school age population. Some children receive assistance for schooling from NGOs such as SOS, but admittedly, much remains to be done.
Also notable is the fact that with no source of employment, rental units are often the only source of income. The new upgrading projects must give due consideration to this. Demolition of rental units, as proposed recently by the Ministry of Works in reference to the roads project, is counterproductive to social and human development: it will exacerbate the vulnerability of this of this sub-group of people.