The Development Action Group (DAG) has been in existence since 1986, when a small group of built environment professionals and development practitioners came together to establish an organisation that could offer bare-foot technical advice to communities threatened with forced removal. In the years between then and now, DAG has developed into a well-known and respected urban development organisation in South Africa (SA) with capacity to impact at a range of levels.
In alignment with its overarching vision of creating ‘sustainable human settlements through development processes enhancing human rights, dignity and equity,’ DAG’s current programmes promote and uphold community-centred and driven development, which it views as essential to safeguard ordinary urban dwellers’ participation and decision making in matters affecting the quality of their lives and human settlements.
Through its Community-Driven Housing Programme, DAG has developed an approach to housing development in which the beneficiaries and directly affected communities control the process and are key decision-makers at every stage of the development. Communities are understood to be groups of people in defined geographic areas or a group of citizens who share common interests. One of DAG’s major projects under this programme includes the the Khayelitsha People’s Housing Process (PHP) Construction, which involves the completion of 2173 ‘blocked’ houses across a number of settlements in Greater Khayelitsha. In addition to housing delivery, DAG has designed a Local Economic Development (LED) programme and job creation into the project. One of the higher objectives of this project is to generate the elements of a potentially replicable model for LED which maximises government investment in human settlements processes.
DAG’s second major programme is the Democratic Urban Governance Programme. DAG understands democratic urban governance as an approach that facilitates social inclusion and greater equity among all citizens through maintaining social control over government policies and spending. DAG considers this an appropriate approach to tackle the complex and mounting challenges faced by contemporary South African cities in the equitable use and management of land for human settlement purposes. Pursuing and deepening democratic governance has the possibility of shifting the nature of SA’s young democracy and to build the social contract that the government often speaks of but has to date failed to achieve.
Key outcomes for this programme include the development and implementation of strategies to influence urban development policy and practice in the interest of the poor through pursuing of development and facilitation of participatory urban forums, as well as developing pro-poor proposals for the utilisation of well-located urban land. The Community Leadership Project (CLP) is a key element linked to the outcomes of this programme. Consisting of four learning modules, the CLP currently provides community leaders from 25 geographical areas across the Cape Metropolitan area with the relevant information and skills needed to equip them to actively participate in participatory urban forums and, re-imagine human settlements across the city.
The participatory citywide programme aims to demonstrate how working in partnership with citizens who share a pro-poor agenda, can lead to sustainable solutions that re-dress socio-economic and spatial inequalities in Cape Town. The aim of developing pro-poor proposals, through a participatory process and, if adopted, could see the release of well-located land and buildings for the development of affordable and sustainable medium density human settlements.
On 9 June 2012, DAG had an opportunity to showcase the fruits of this programme and of the CLC at a recent public event it co-hosted with its community-based partners at the Good Hope Centre, under the banner ‘Let’s Re-imagine the City Together.’ Attended by more than 1 500 citizens from diverse geographical spaces across the city, the event endorsed the need for citizens to actively engage in re-imagining the shape and form of Cape Town in ways that address equity and spatial inequalities.
One of DAG’s fundamental principles is the belief that creative and sustainable solutions are the result of relevant strategic partnerships built around common areas of interest. In addition to its partnerships with local citizen groups, DAG is an active member of formal networks like the Good Governance Learning Network (GGLN) and Habitat International Coalition (HIC).
DAG’s reading of the current context is that it provides a number of new opportunities for civil society organisations, especially nonprofit organisations (NPOs), to enter into new spaces opening up for innovative community development solutions. Given the unfavourable global and domestic funding environment, the sector is challenged to explore new ways to financially sustain critical areas of NPO work in SA.
For more about the Development Action Group, refer to www.dag.org.za.