Old Naledi: The Village Becomes a Town; An Outline of the Old Naledi Squatter Upgrading Project, Gaborone, Botswana


64 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-88862-650-9




Reviewed by Berkeley Fleming

Berkeley Fleming, Assistant Pfofessor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Mount Allison University, Sackville, N.B., was also Director of Canadian Parents for French, an advocacy group promoting French second-language learning opportunities.


The significance of urban squatting has been internationally recognized for some twenty years and, in the past ten or so, programmes aimed concurrently at squatter upgrading and sites-and-services development have been devised. This booklet is a brief, clear, and attractively produced account of a CIDA-funded project to upgrade a squatter settlement outside of Gaborone, which had undergone tremendous growth as the result of rapid social change in Botswana since 1966. Reflecting lessons learned from earlier projects attempted in neighbouring Zambia, the Old Naledi Upgrading Project was based on a growing recognition of the self-reliance and capacity for self-determination of people living in urban squatting communities. The traditional Botswanan aim of kagisano (“social harmony” or “constructed peace”) was articulated through four principles — democracy, development, self-reliance, and unity — in the National Development Plan. The policies which flowed from these principles seem to have resulted in a sensible, responsive, open-ended, and effective approach to development.

Van Nostrand shows how the upgrading of Old Naledi was co-ordinated by professionals, but with continual and meaningful consultation with residents and a resulting sensitivity to local conditions, customs, and preferences. Concretely, this involved, for example, using aerial photographs in an ingenious way to simplify plot rationalization, while respecting flexible land tenure practices, aligning roads to correspond to existing paths, developing a clear and uncomplicated building code, having plot holders build or renovate their own dwellings, encouraging residents to design their homes with the help of technical staff and three-dimensional modelling kits, and establishing a step-by-step process for determining the materials required and for arranging for loans when necessary. In addition to providing detail on the development of the “infrastructure” (roads, waterpipes, electrical supply lines, and so forth), van Nostrand attempts to clarify the relationship between national agencies, organized community groups, and families, endeavours to give a sense of what went on in the many meetings held with residents, and generally tries to outline the various stages of the project. Interspersed throughout the text are helpful maps, photographs, plans, illustrations, and biographies of selected individuals.

Van Nostrand pretty well limits himself to telling the story of Old Naledi, leaving it to readers to draw out the fuller and more analytical implications of what he describes so clearly and succinctly. As a sociologist, I would have appreciated more explicit consideration of the social organization of the community, the social dimension of the planning, consultation, revision, and implementation processes, and the social consequences of the upgrading accomplished. I would also have liked a more direct comparison of this successful project with the failed, formal, “top-down” one attempted in New Naledi, and an extension of that comparison to a general discussion of the problematic relationship between planners and people at the grassroots. As a teacher, I would say that although van Nostrand’s booklet is essentially descriptive, it does have considerable potential as a stimulus for classroom discussion, and it is likely to influence practice in both developed and underdeveloped countries.

Van Nostrand’s somewhat understated message is consistent with the arguments of advocates of informal, co-operative, grassroots, self-help housing activities, who assent that economically, socially, and psychologically it makes sense that housing should be, and should be viewed as, an activity in which the users are the principal actors. The booklet documents the ways in which Old Naledi residents were in fact significant participants in an upgrading project which was accomplished at a reasonable cost. It further shows concretely how such upgrading can have beneficial “spinoff” effects which contribute physically, economically, and socially to “constructed peace” or “social harmony.” The Old Naledi experience could well serve as a model for development elsewhere.


van Nostrand, John, “Old Naledi: The Village Becomes a Town; An Outline of the Old Naledi Squatter Upgrading Project, Gaborone, Botswana,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38921.