Rue Emoh: Our Home, Our Story

A.Adelowo, J.Clacherty, J.Eberle, E.Escamilla, L. Nienhoff, F. Siegenthaler, S.Steiner, B.Studer
Urbanism from the South Seminar Paper, 2018

From housing struggles to hope in new homes - A research project by Critical Urbanisms and Southern Urbanisms classes at the University of Cape Town

Living in a backyard, an overcrowded home, or making do in an informal settlement is a reality for many families in South Africa. Unstable and insufficient housing leaves everyday life a challenge. Access to essential basic services such as water and sanitation and electricity is difficult. Alternative, secure forms of housing are costly and insecure. Families often face the threat of evictions, finding themselves on the street or looking for another place to stay. Government efforts at improving living standards and attempts to provide basic services have fallen short. Living in such vulnerable situations marks the struggle of many families for a life of dignity. In these hard contexts, families and communities across South Africa have to organise to access and build housing, mobilising to improve living conditions. This booklet shares the story of Ruo Emoh (Our Home, spelt backwards) a housing project through which 49 families have moved into homes on a well-located piece of infill land in Colorado Park in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. Community organising and planning for Ruo Emoh started in 1997 and continued over twenty years. Ad- ministrative and political regulations and obstacles, as well as neighbouring rate- payers’ interventions repeatedly delayed the project. Nevertheless, the community’s persistence paid off. The housing project was completed and Ruo Emoh’s 49 families moved into their new homes on December 22nd, 2017. This booklet documents the project’s long history. It shares the housing histo- ries and experiences of nineteen of the forty-nine families who self organised to change their living conditions and to become homeowners in Ruo Emoh. It narrates their stories and experiences, the hardships of their housing struggles, the challenges of organising to access secure housing, and the emotions and experiences of moving into new homes in this development. These stories are the heart of this booklet, narrating the hardships of living without decent and secure housing and the hopes that accompany the move to home ownership in Ruo Emoh. On the one hand, this booklet is a reminder of the challenges and achieve- ments of a struggle spanning more than 20-years. On the other hand, in this project and in the residents' stories are lessons that highlight persistence and dedication, the commitment developed in the collaboration required to bring the Ruo Emoh housing project to fruition. In particular, PEP and uTshani Fund (part of the South African SDI Alliance1) as well as the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (formerly known as the South African Homeless People’s Federation) have walked alongside Ruo Emoh community since they first started organising in 1997. This research project on Ruo Emoh has brought together residents with masters-level urban studies students in the Masters of Southern Urbanism based at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town and the Masters of Critical Urbanisms based at the University of Cape Town and at the University of Basel. A product of the research project this booklet records Ruo Emoh’s history. The Ruo Emoh story sheds light on broader struggles in South African cities for shelter and homemaking. In producing this booklet we hope that the (hi)stories and lessons recorded here can be an inspiration and a tool for other commu- nities, who find themselves in similarly harsh living conditions and housing struggles. Through sharing the challenges and strategic breakthroughs, the everyday experiences of struggle and hope, Ruo Emoh's stories might encourage and assist other communities to seek alternatives to or identify upgra- ding opportunities in backyards, informal settlements, and overcrowded housing. At the heart of the booklet are stories of what is possible when a group of people are willing and able to organise, to build strategic alliances and to negotiate pragmatically over the long term. At the heart of the booklet are family hopes and visions for the future as they continue to build their lives as homeowners in Ruo Emoh. This booklet celebrates Ruo Emoh families who know best the realities of housing struggle and the hopes of home ownership.

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