Awards 1996 Lawrie Group Award for Social Progress

Lawrie Group Award for Social Progress

The Winner: GIBB Africa

The Chiawelo area of Soweto, 25 miles from Central Johannesburg, was still a battle zone when engineers from GIBB ventured there in 1993 to plan a badly needed sewerage improvement. There was a lot of political and labour unrest, along with excitement and fear about the future.

People in the 400 to 500 houses in the scheme have outside flush toilets and also some communal washing blocks. The sewers serving these had for years been prone to overflow. Pipes, laid in the 1960s, were only 100 or 150 millimetres in diameter, half the size of those now laid. Strife during the struggle against apartheid prevented maintenance. Moreover, the population in the area had doubled with new people building shacks in the backyards. This added to the burden on the undersized pipes.

GIBB's project, financed by Greater Johannesburg Transitional Metropolitan Council, was to lay two miles of sewer pipes to relieve the old, and so improve living conditions as part of the South African Government's Reconstruction and Development Programme.

People were keen to have their sewers improved. But GIBB still had to tread carefully. Existing sewers ran right through the properties. Work would disrupt people's lives. Elsewhere, it would affect gardens and maize plots. Dissatisfied groups could de-rail the whole project.

So GIBB needed to get local people involved and to feel they owned the scheme. But who represented them? Local politics were polarised and divided rather than organised and accepted.

The GIBB team spoke to residents and to the Soweto Civic Association. They got a focus group formed representing ten organisations: the African National Congress, the ANC youth and women's leagues, the Pan-African Congress, the Azania People's Organisation and church and women's groups.

The focus group acted as a link between GIBB and local people until the 1994 elections. Afterwards, GIBB dealt with the Chiawelo Civics organisation. So local people provided firsthand information and also security. Hijacking of vehicles is a common local crime, and the project lost one vehicle and cell phone to hijackers (who let their victim keep his cheap watch). In the main, all went well.

Discussing people's needs took time but GIBB sees it as an investment in South Africa's future. GIBB was prepared to amend the design to meet residents' wishes.

Its team explained what to do if the old sewers gave problems again, what procedures to follow and who to contact within Soweto Council. Andre Human of GIBB comments: "Our being there to assist got the council to attend to blockages speedily. Usually it would be three to five days before blockages were cleared."

Another bonus for Chiawelo people lay in the agreement drawn up for the contractor, P & R Civil Construction. This envisaged an earn-and-learn programme. It stipulated that local people were to be employed to do the work and would be trained in bricklaying and pipelaying. Chiawelo Civics and the workers themselves decided that the full minimum wage rate should be paid and what the terms of employment should be, which reduced disputes.

Much of the money spent thus flowed into the Chiawelo community whose members got new opportunities beyond the pick-and-shovel level. This was achieved without additional cost to the council.

GIBB is now embarking on a water scheme in 24,000 houses at Tembisa in the East Rand. Maintenance had not been possible, and two-thirds of the supply is running to waste. Andre Human says: "We are repairing leaks inside people's properties and educating people on water use and especially saving water."

GIBB Africa, PO Box 3965, Cape Town, South Africa
Fax: 00 27 21 24 5571