Putting Ubuntu in practice – the South-South cooperation between Brazil and South Africa


The cities of eThekwini (South Africa) and the regional government of Sao Paulo (Brazil) met together with UCLG, the South Africa Local Governments Association (SALGA) and with the National Department of Human Settlements in South Africa (DHS) in Johannesburg on the 18th of July 2013, in the framework of the Metropolis Annual Meeting. The aim of this meeting was to summarize the outputs of the inter-governmental partnership between the cities of Sao Paulo and eThekwini.


This partnership has followed the Ubuntu philosophy which, according to its creator, Nelson Mandela, sees one´s humanity through recognition of another’s. With more transparent and inclusive planning processes and urban qualities, it improved the life quality of the poor with more dignified housing. This partnership has also proved that learning from each other’s experience helps to increase the chances of more successful strategies.

The South-South cooperation between cities focused on exchanging good practice in providing quality housing for the poor and implementing social housing programmes. The project was initiated by UCLG at the “UCLG peer learning on integrating lessons on housing policies” session, hosted by the city and regional government of Sao Paulo in 2011. Since then, the work of the city officers and experts involved, with the support of the Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE), has made the exchange of knowledge more dynamic through three peer learning sessions and is proving groundbreaking evidence for improvement of social housing policies in South Africa.

The partnership has so far focused on the social housing project in Durban (South Africa), the Welbedacht East; replacing the former slum with around five thousand new housing units. However the municipal investment lacked certain social qualities, contrary to the focus of the Sao Paulo municipality projects. Despite the significant number of housing units provided, Welbedacht East lacks community infrastructure, services and quality design. For that reason a more inclusive and socially oriented design was seen as crucial to better address the needs of the citizens. In view of this, the input and good practices from Sao Paulo were key to improving the social impact of the investment and contribute to dignified life of the poor. In particular, the use of social data and interaction with NGOs was directional as was the partnership with the Social work Department at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

During the opening session of the roundtable meeting, Secretary General of UCLG, Josep Roig, underlined that quality housing is necessary for a dignified life. In reflecting on the Welbedacht East project, Soobs Moonsammy, Head of Developmental Planning at eThekwini Municipality, gave an overview of the Welbedacht East project and remarked that progress was positive with the help of knowledge exchanges between the two partners. She noted that eThekwini had won awards for developing settlements but whether these would all result in sustainable livelihoods is under review – “social assets and economic opportunities are important for all and need to be of equal significance with shelter” she said.

While eThekwini is a biodiversity hotspot, the city should not allow environment and human development to be in competition. As Mr Xolile George highlighted, South African cities are marked by housing projects too far from the centers, causing urban sprawl and segregated cities. This aspect is also addressed in Wellbedacht, where despite investment being located more than 30 kilometers far from center, improvements in the design will increase the city’s density, provide social equipment and facilities in consultation with community thus increasing the quality of life and sustainability.

Regardless of institutional constrains and historical context, progress is taking place in the urban development of both southern cities. In recognition of the legacy of Nelson Mandela’s philosophy and on the occasion of his 95th birthday, a new residential area developed to replace a slum in Sao Paulo will be named after him. Moreover, the Brazilian Ministry of Cities is taking this initiative forward in the new Indian-Brasilian-South African partnership initiative (read more here).

To view pictures taken at the Metropolis Annual Meeting click here.