Civil Designer Showcase

A Peri-Urban Legend In His Own Time

"Working in the new South Africa as an engineer requires six things, what I call the 3L's - and the 3P's. Look, Listen, Learn, Process, Process and Process!" The quietly spoken words of Wiero Vogelzang of Arcus Gibb in Durban words carry the conviction of his own highly successful experience of growing a R24m project to R60m.

The Durban based Arcus Gibb director stepped into uncharted territory in 1994 and has created a pathway for others to follow in delivering engineering projects in our rapidly evolving South African communities. "I first got involved in 1994 with around 60 villages that are situated in a ring roughly 10 to 15km around Umtata. These villages was home to about 600 000 people, of which the peri-urban component is approximately 200 000," says Wiero.

"These tightly-structured villages had a serious problem. They had no formal support structures as they fell between the two existing supports of Urban and Rural local government bodies. One can almost say that they were in no-mans land; they had no access to water or sanitation, and seemingly no legal way of acquiring these rights that had previously been formally denied to them."

"They were not to be denied though. They galvanized themselves into action. A large steering committee comprising 2 members from each of the 25 villages was formed and tasked with acquiring water and sanitation services. You need to understand that they are not what one might term 'sophisticated' people, but they entered into and concluded a process with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and then proceeded to interview a series of consultants, that's when I first met them, says Wiero.

"The interview process was interesting. The technical part was easy; it was the relationship part that was important to them. It was a question of trust, them asking the question of whether a sustainable partnership could be established. I needed to understand what was required in order to deliver the engineering side to the satisfaction of all. Dealing with a committee of 52 people is never easy, and they were aware of that."

"Various structures within the committee were created to streamline the process. A smaller EXCO committee was formed and mandated to act on behalf of the entire community. These guys had to deliver, they were accountable to the broad committee, if their performance on EXCO was deemed to be unsatisfactory, they were replaced. Remember that each village wanted to be in control of their destiny, so the EXCO - and us as consultants - were having to deal with a macro project that was driven by micro criteria," says Wiero with a slight shake of his head as he recalls some of the incidents.
  "It's more than 7 years ago that we started down that rocky new road." A note of pride appears in his voice. "We worked through the problems. I've had major blowouts with them, but the process always got us through. Every Tuesday, a 2-hour session is held where we deal with the day-day issues of the project. Despite the size of the working committee, they do make decisions, because they attend to the rules of the process.

"In each village, a water management committee was established. "We pulled a social facilitator on board which helped a lot. In each of the villages, the process continued down to where each tap was placed on each stand," says Wiero.

"The attention to detail is illustrated by the fact that three workshops alone were held just to determine what village residents would be charged for water. The figure that was finally decided was R9-50 per kilolitre. That is way above what we pay in the cities, but this is incredibly cheap when you compare it to the previous tariff that was R5-00 per litre! The workshop here was invaluable as the tariff includes a charge for upgrading and future developments, and makes them independent. Each village has it's own trading account that uses a coupon system."

"The work we did at the beginning of the process with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry - who were then the only institutionalised structure available to the communities paid off handsomely. At that time we facilitated the construction of the business plan in minute detail. We had planned that at some stage local authorities would assume responsibility for the projects, and that process has now started," says Wiero.

"We had identified additional projects in those communities, so we prepared business plans and then took those to the CMIP. If it is identified as a Deserving Project, the community will often get additional funds to augment the original project."

"Looking back now, it has been an extremely satisfying experience. Being able to speak the language was a help, but it was really learning that the solution lies in the process, and the process is continuous learning. I remember a few occasions when I took comments personally. But they would always come back telling me not to, it's just part of the process."

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