On 26 August 2013, the German Academy for International Cooperation (GIZ), together with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, hosted a conference that addressed the impacts and challenges of the Community Dialogues initiative.
Held at St Georges Hotel and Conference Venue in Irene, Pretoria, the event represents the culmination of the Centre of Memory and GIZ Community Dialogues 2007 – 2013 initiative, which saw hundreds of community conversations take place across the country in rural and peri-urban areas.
The dialogues, which were structured according to the Community Capacity Enhancement (CCE) methodology, promoted community discourse about pertinent social issues such as HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and gender-based violence, with a view to enhancing the communities’ capacity to deal with the issues facing them.
The conference, titled "Lessons Learned", was a broad-based conversation about what the series of community conversations has revealed to facilitators, moderators and community members.
Overview of the Community Conversations programme
“Nelson Mandela taught us the importance of bringing people who disagree with each other into a safe space to discuss issues and together find a common ground,” said Centre of Memory CEO Sello Hatang as he welcomed guests to the CCE Lessons Learned Conference.
“Madiba never deviated from his commitment to placing dialogue at the centre of problem-solving, and it is his recipe we have been taking to communities via the Community Conversations programme,” he explained.
The methodology, supported and facilitated by the GIZ, has been applied to a wide range of social issues, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, teenage pregnancy, crime, gender-based violence and substance abuse, and in 2008 was rolled out to communities across the country.
“We hope that by the end of this conference, we can hand over the Community Dialogues programme to other partners, so that they can continue to be held with Madiba’s spirit in mind,” he concluded.
Dr Eduard Westreicher, head of German Cooperation at the German embassy, spoke about the GIZ, a development corporation entity that provided ongoing support to the Community Dialogues project over the years.
“The GIZ invested some R60-million over the course of the project, which ran for five years of successful implementation. We have held over 400 dialogues and trained some 200 facilitators since 2008,” he said.
Since continuation of the dialogue project has been secured via local intervention, the GIZ and Centre of Memory will now hand over the dialogue project to the Department of Social Development.
Dr Sheila Tlou, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for East and Southern Africa, shared her insights regarding the value of dialogue in drafting a national AIDS response.
“For any one country or community to succeed on a developmental issue as intense and as controversial as HIV/AIDS, you need political commitment to a solution, zero tolerance for corruption, shared solidarity, great leadership and activism in civil society,” she said.
“It is the voices of communities that made our government sit up and take notice of the AIDS response,” she added.
Dr Tlou urged the Community Dialogues programme to continue to tackle social issues facing local communities. “Just as the water is about to boil, it is foolish to turn off the heat,” she said, quoting Nelson Mandela.
“We are seeing the HIV pot about to boil. We need to consolidate our efforts and accelerate progress towards 2015 and beyond and only then will we recognise our vision of zero AIDS-related deaths, zero new infections and zero percent transmission form mother to child,” she concluded.
Dr Mothomang Diaho of Diaho Social Technologies facilitated the first panel discussion, which looked at the philosophy of dialogue and the role of the CCE methodology in South Africa with regard to the national HIV/AIDS agenda.
The panel comprised Dr Peter Westoby, senior lecturer at the University of Queensland; Dr Bernd Appelt from the GIZ; Dr Kganakga from the Department of Social Development; and Imara Rolston, who is completing his doctorate on the use of Community Conversations as a preventative approach to the social and structural drivers of HIV/AIDS.
Tukisang Senne from Mindset facilitated the second panel discussion, where participants shared stories from the communities they had worked in.
The panel comprised Mr Motlatsi Lekuleni, Project Manager at Mindset, the organisation that runs community dialogues in Mpumalanga; Nozuko Majola from the Department of Social Development; Olebogeng Nkoliswa, a dialogue facilitator and CCE-trained moderator; and Mamatli Thakhuli–Nzuza and Herbert Bolotini from Drama for Life, which employs the dramatic arts to help facilitate dialogue about difficult social issues.
Sustainability and ownership
Dr Tshiwela Neluheni, Founder of the Institute of Health Programs and Systems, facilitated the third panel discussion, which looked at sustainability and ownership of the Community Conversations project.
“If the CCE methodology is working, how do we ensure ownership within communities and how do we ensure it is sustained? Ownership is not an afterthought; it needs to be a very real part of the methodology and process,” she said.
The panel shared its insights about driving sustainability and ownership within communities.
The panel comprised Advocate Ken Mutuma from the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Project Management Unit; Dr Warren Nebe, Founder and Director of Drama for Life; and Matome Kganakga, Executive Director of Azali Healthcare.
The final panel discussion assessed the means of measuring sustainability and the impact of the Community Conversations project. The panel was moderated by Soul City’s Matebogo Mapane and comprised Dr Connie Kganakga from the Department of Social Development; Dr Kathryn Sozi from UNAIDS; and Debra Ewing from development research and facilitation specialists, MXA.
Hatang then thanked all panellists and moderators and closed the conference by saying that while the Centre of Memory and GIZ are together handing over the Community Conversation project to the Department of Social Development, “dialogue will continue”.
“We need to continue to create dialogue spaces where the un-sayable can be said,” he concluded.