Uncovering Hout Bay’s resilience

Gareth Morgan explains the process to delegates.

Just how resilient is Hout Bay? That was the question posed at the Hout Bay library, when Cape Town directors of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative sought to gather data on challenges facing the village and how residents respond to them.

Cape Town is a member of 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2013, with the growing effects of urbanisation, the foundation decided to focus on helping cities of the world become more resilient to physical, social and economic challenges.

The initiative supports the adoption and incorporation of a view of resilience that includes not just the shocks – earthquakes, fires or floods, for example – but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city over time.

Cape Town formed part of the third batch of 100 cities, and directors are developing a pre-resilience assessment of various parts of the city to develop a strategy to guide future policy-making here.

A number of community groups attended the resilience workshop, including Hout Bay Neighbourhood Watch, Community Cohesion, Hout Bay Health Forum, Domestic Animal Rescue Group and Hout Bay Ratepayers Association.

Resilience director Gareth Morgan asked them what they understood by the word “resilience”.

“People always associate resilience with big shocks, such as natural disasters. However, they tend to overlook the everyday stresses and how these are managed,” Mr Morgan said.

Attendees were given a selection of shocks and stresses they deemed applicable to Hout Bay. These included natural “shocks” such as fires or drought, as well as broader socio-econimic issues like unemployment and political instability.

A chart was divided into sections, and people were asked whether they believed the shocks and stresses they had identified fell into the “extreme” category or a “periodic stress” category.

It soon became clear that the group representatives regarded many issues as “extreme” in Hout Bay.

Given the numerous upheavals in Hout Bay last year, this stood to reason. The fire that tore through Imizamo Yethu and its knock-on effects, the protest action across the village, and the constant battle with unemployment and drugs and by extension gangsterism were just some of the issues identified.

Mr Morgan also suggested that delegates consider the threat posed by heat waves to Hout Bay and the city.

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas pointed out that Portugal had experienced such heat, with citizens even perishing as a result.

Since the Portuguese lived in formal housing, one could only imagine the impact heat waves would have on those living in informal dwellings, he said.

“Entrenched victimhood”, or blaming systems for one’s circumstances, was identified as another huge challenge facing Hout Bay, and something that needed to be addressed urgently.

Once the data had been gathered, Mr Morgan and colleague Cayley Green asked delegates to place stickers of red, orange or yellow on a “perceptions map”.

Each colour indicated how well or badly residents thought Hout Bay was doing in specific areas, with red being “bad” and yellow being “good”.

Significant problem areas included “fostering economic prosperity”, “fostering long-term and integrated planning”, “promoting cohesive and engaged communities” and “ensuring social stability, security and justice”.

The delegates believed Hout Bay was “doing okay” in empowering a broad range of stakeholders, meeting basic needs, ensuring public health services and ensuring continuity of critical services.

However, in no category did they think Hout Bay was doing particularly well.

Hout Bay residents were found to be quick to rally around one another in times of crisis or shock, as was the case during last year’s fires. It was during protracted stress periods that the community did not fare as well.

Mr Morgan was impressed that while delegates did not always agree with each other they demonstrated mutual respect. He was also taken by the level of community participation in Hout Bay.