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The Emalahleni Informal Settlement Cluster (MASCOM) held its first physical meeting last week in Masakhane after a long break since declaration of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. The Cluster meeting was held on 08 October 2020 under strict adherence to lockdown alert level 1 restrictions, in the interest of safety for all participants.

Since the lockdown, cluster meetings have moved to Skype, a new way of communication necessitated by the need to stay at home and social distancing.

Residents reflected on the need for innovative interaction between Planact and the Cluster representatives which arose during the hard-lockdown (primarily level 5, 4 and 3). Residents assessed the effectiveness of communication mechanisms used in implementing advocacy plans. They also assessed the overall impact of the call for improved service delivery accountability conducted by the Cluster and Planact in Emalahleni in the past few years.

Areas of focus included, public participation, access to basic services such as water, sanitation and housing. Cluster members highlighted that they have gained better knowledge of how local government works, as well as available formal community participation channels. However, it was acknowledged that more needs to be done to ensure that public participation becomes meaningful for marginalised communities such as informal settlements.

There was general agreement that water access in communities has improved due to the strong monitoring by the Cluster, although there was room for improvement. While it was noted that nothing much has changed on access to housing, the Cluster took solace on the fact that the formalisation and subsequent upgrading of informal settlements was now in the municipal agenda.

The Cluster has resolved to intensify its campaign to advocate for tenure security and the realisation of houses. Residents felt that while the municipality has made an undertaking to provide pit-toilets draining services, this does not answer the overall sanitation challenge for informal settlement communities. The Cluster concluded that more work still lies ahead to improve living conditions in informal settlements.