Audience members at a community conversation in Mhluzi township, Mpumalanga
April 15, 2010 – Although socio-economic issues, such as poverty, gender violence and joblessness, burden many people across South Africa, proactive communities are finding ways to work together to alleviate their circumstances.
This was the broader feedback from Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) provincial co-ordinator, Motlatsi Lekhuleni, following the most recent series of community conversations held in March this year. It was also encouraging to note that community members were also engaging stakeholders, such as local councillors, to take accountability for addressing problems.
While primary issues of concern, such as poverty, crime, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy and unemployment came to the fore during the NMF-facilitated community conversations, the positive spinoff from facilities such as libraries, community halls and sports centres was acknowledged. The importance of working in conjunction with community policing forums to combat crime was also acknowledged.
Other topics pertinent to specific communities also came under discussion. Among these were gender inequality, corruption of young children by adults and, in some cases, a lack of support from important community stakeholders, such as municipal officials, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), home-based care organisations and the Department of Health.
Conversation in Lerome
Around 120 members of North West Province’s Lerome community gathered on March 24 to discuss “identification and exploration of the process of change”. During facilitation the focus turned to the issue of gender inequality, which then became the topic under discussion for the day.
As the community conversation progressed, it became apparent that the men of Lerome were using cultural beliefs as a justification for their continued suppression of local women. However, despite the prevalence of traditional beliefs around gender, it became apparent that a number of male participants realised the importance of gender equality within the community; this was an encouraging change.
A case in point was a licensed female would-be taxi driver, who expressed her continued frustration in trying to break into a male-dominated sphere. Despite having legitimate driver documentation, the woman said work was not sent her way due to gender stereotyping and the belief that driving was a male domain and something “not for women”.
Taking cognizance of the woman’s situation, community members decided that an invitation would be extended to the local taxi association to attend the next community conversation to present their views on the issue.
The next Lerome community conversation takes place on Wednesday, April 28, at the Lerome Community Hall.
Conversation in Thaba Nchu
Thaba Nchu was the chosen meeting place for the Free State conversation, which took place on March 26 in the area’s community hall. It was encouraging to see more than 120 participants at the venue, despite the inclement weather.
The main topic of the day was “the strengths and challenges of the individual and the community in general”.
Community strengths identified during the community conversation included infrastructural benefits such as the presence of a library and playing grounds and having running water and toilets. A healthy working relationship between the police and the community via a Community Policing Forum (CPF) was also seen as a positive force in Thaba Nchu.
Having identified the positives, some of the burning issues brought to the fore on the day included the high unemployment rate, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy and poverty.
Despite community officials being invited to participate in the dialogue, none were present on the day. The community proposed that the facilitators take on the responsibility of ensuring that municipal department officials were present at the next meeting, which is scheduled for Friday, April 30.
Conversation in Galeshewe
The Northern Cape, Galeshewe, community conversation was held in the new, centrally located community hall on Monday, March 29. Although 48 community members came out in support of the NMF initiative, all nominated representatives from the local municipality were conspicuous by their absence, which they attributed to bad weather.
Individual and community strengths and challenges were hot topics during the Galeshewe community conversation. Some of the strengths outlined in this community included sharing information among community members, having recreational facilities and having programmes in place to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Points of weakness identified by the people of Galeshewe included: lack of condom use as evidenced by a high teenage pregnancy rate; alcohol and drug abuse, which leads to crime and an increase in the prevalence of “sugar daddies” and “sugar mommies”, who corrupt young boys and girls in the community.
At the next community conversation to be held on Wednesday, April 28, facilitators agreed to ensure the participation of stakeholders.
Conversation in Giyani
The planned Limpopo Province community conversation to be held in Giyani was delayed by a week by Chief Ben Baloyi, head of Khakali village, due to tribal council commitments.
On Tuesday, March 30, the chief personally welcomed his people to the community conversation to discuss action implementation, on the issue of unemployment raised previously in Giyani.
Close to 200 participants and representatives from a range of community organisations arrived on the day. These included: Manganyi Baloyi, of the Greater Giyani Local Municipality, Chief Baloyi, head of the tribal council, elders from Khakhala Old Age Home, local church representatives, Rihanyu HBC and the Vuyerwani Society.
In this community it has become the norm ahead of a community conversations event to dispatch a man on a bicycle to whistle around the area to remind everyone to attend. This may be the reason for the excellent attendance and balanced representation at this event!
The facilitation team reminded the community of pending issues arising from last year’s community conversation. Issues of concern included voluntary counselling and testing and how peer pressure, unemployment, alcohol and substance abuse and poverty affected the quality of life of members of the community.
When unemployment came up for discussion, municipal representative, Manganyi Baloyi, offered employment to ten people, who were then asked to register formally at the municipal offices. This gesture was well received by the Khakhala community, which witnessed firsthand the benefits of attending community conversations.
Other issues debated by the community indicated the need for greater representation by stakeholders, such as the Department of Health, social services and the local clinic, which were considered vital to the broader decision-making process.