Dag history


On the 5th of May 1986, in the aftermath of the destruction of the Crossroads informal settlement, a petition appeared in some of Cape Town’s newspapers. This petition called for development professionals to refuse to participate in replanning Crossroads, unless the community, as it had existed before the violence, was fully involved. Soon after the petition appeared, a meeting was called to gauge support for the idea of ‘establishing a planning aid group to assist community and worker organisations wanting to develop strategies to improve or transform the conditions of the places in which they live and work’. Such a group, it was hoped, could contribute to a growing resistance to the undemocratic planning methods being used by the state to achieve its political objectives. After extensive consultation with progressive community organisations, the Development Action Group was born.


In 1988, DAG became a founding member of the national Urban Sector Network (USN), with the organisation playing a central role in the urban development sector, most notably on issues relating to access to well-located land, housing, urban development and local government – both through local community demonstration projects and national level advocacy. The organisation’s facilitation role resulted in the implementation of a number of housing and informal settlement projects in the Western Cape. Additionally, by the mid-1990s, DAG’s policy and research activities were well established, which led to the involvement of DAG in the formation and development of the 1994 Housing Policy through the National Housing Forum. This early work was fundamental in shaping our current housing policies and programmes.


By the early 1990s, DAG’s work had shifted from tenure struggles to advocacy around the right of marginalised communities to participate in planning and development processes. During this period, DAG established itself as a development facilitator, and DAG’s work grew to include a variety of training programmes, partnerships with communities and several housing projects as well as with informal settlement upgrading projects in the Western Cape Province. Since then, DAG has worked with over 2 000 civil society members, community activists, and community leaders from across Cape Town to collectively develop practical solutions to urban land and housing issues at a neighbourhood, city and national level. This has translated into direct support towards the unlocking and development of approximately 8000 new low-cost housing opportunities.


In 1999, DAG successfully established the Kuyasa Fund, a microfinance organisation, to promote savings and provide micro-loans to the poor to support incremental housing processes through home improvements. The Kuyasa Fund provided loans to more than 51,900 people between 2000 and 2021.


In the 2000s DAG started to play a role in the development of participatory housing strategies and policies, most notably the Western Cape Sustainable Human Settlements Strategy, 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 DAG was represented on the task team to develop the enhanced People’s Housing Process (PHP) policy with the National Department of Housing.


In 2005 with the Breaking New Ground Housing policy, DAG introduced a dedicated programme for informal settlement upgrading. Since then DAG has worked directly in a significant number of informal settlement upgrading projects. In the last 10 years alone, DAG has worked in 172 informal settlements to provide support to these communities to improve basic service delivery, enhance local livelihoods and develop participatory upgrading plans.


In 2008, DAG paused to reflect upon its focus, direction and achievements to date. This moment of pause and reflection led to a strategic organisational shift that moved DAG beyond the largely project-based housing focus that it had held since 1994, and towards a new urban agenda based on notions of a “new urban order” and a theme that focused on a “Re-imagined City”. A key milestone was the co-hosting of the “Re-imagining the City: Towards a New Urban Order” Conference in October 2010. This set the agenda for the social value of land and called for the state to critically re-think the way in which urban land is used and managed. This coincided with the first Land Value Capture Course in South Africa hosted by DAG and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 


In 2013, DAG was a awarded a contract by the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements to undertake a large PHP Unblocking Project across a range of targeted areas in Khayelitsha. The scale and three-year timeframe for this housing project offered DAG a unique opportunity to demonstrate a housing construction and delivery approach as well as an emerging model that integrates a range of social investment strategies into a traditional PHP housing construction project.


This innovative PHP Unblocking Project informed the establishment of DAG’s Contractor & Developer Academy in 2017. The CDA is a social enterprise development programme embedded within DAG, with the aim of capacitating and providing socio-technical support to small-scale developers and emerging contractors. The CDA provides advisory services, targeted training, and direct support to emerging contractors and small-scale developers in order to support them as they work towards the provision of affordable, well-managed housing.

Alongside this DAG has also conducted extensive research and capacity development work with local and national government to mainstream innovative land and housing strategies, which complements and supports our advocacy work. This has included research work on Sustainable Medium Density Housing, Land Value Capture, Inclusionary Housing, Incentives for small-scale rental housing and Municipal Land Release.


In 2020, DAG’s work on Land Value Capture was scaled up into a national programme in partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and National Treasury’s Cities Support Programme. This followed 15 years of sustained advocacy to mainstream LVC in South Africa as a tool for spatial transformation.

Historic Timeline

Development professionals unite against apartheid.

In reaction to the forced removal in Crossroads, a number of built environment practitioners incubate the Development Action Group. It forms part of a larger struggle to resist and oppose Apartheid spatial planning and forced evictions.

DAG starts supporting communities in their struggle for land.

To improve the coordination between built environment Non-Profit organisations, DAG becomes a founding member of the Urban Sector Network, with Planact and the Built Environment Support Group.

DAG advances democratic housing policy

DAG plays a strong role in policy formation and advising civics, ultimately gearing up for the implementation of housing programmes in the new dispensation.

South Africa’s first Democratic Election

DAG starts housing construction in projects like Marconi Beam.

Kuyasa Fund launched

DAG incubates the formulation of the Kuyasa Fund, a micro-finance institution providing affordable lending.

2002 - 2007

DAG helps to realise land and housing rights in over 20 communities across the Western Cape.

DAG’s PHP work wins awards

DAG's work on PHP implementation is selected as a best practice case study in the prestigious UN-Habitat and Dubai Municipality Best Practice Awards.

DAG is selected by the Department of Trade and Industry as one of the top 300 SA companies in its sector.

2008 - 2012
Re-imagine the City is launched

DAG develops and launches 'Re-imagine the City' as a core strategy with community based partners to present a much more city-wide focus.


DAG creates the strategy for a pioneering unblocking of 2,173 PHP projects in Cape Town.

DAG begins its capacity building work

DAG continues to strengthen its focus on affordable rental housing, both within the inner-city and historically disadvantaged areas, by building the capacity of emerging contractors and developers and advocating for measures to regulate land through land value sharing. The City of Cape Town announces the release of 11 parcels of inner-city land for social housing. DAG launches the Active Citizens Training Programme (ACTC).

DAG incubates the Contractor and Developer Academy

Capacitating 355+ emerging contractors & developers.


Facilitated the relocation of Pine Road informal settlement residents to Pickwick Transitional Housing Facility.

2019 - 2021
DAG leads ISSP work

DAG is appointed by the Western Cape DoHS to co-deliver the Informal Settlement Support Programme (ISSP) in Mossel Bay, Knysna and Witzenberg.

DAG launches the National Land Value Capture Programme.
Asivikelane WC is rolled out

DAG launches Asivikelane Western Cape in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements and the International Budgetary Partnership South Africa.