Learning Space: Lessons from the ISN on building a strong social movement

by Ava Rose Hoffman (on behalf of CORC)

In 2016, the SA SDI Alliance began a new series of participatory learning spaces intended for FEDUP and ISN community leaders and CORC staff to collaboratively strengthen understandings of government structures, processes, laws, and principles. These sessions serve to equip professionals and community leaders alike with information applicable to government partnership meetings. Furthermore, the sessions prepare community leaders to better report back on project preparation processes to their respective communities.

How do learning spaces function?

Each session is facilitated by an individual, but the sessions are guided with the intention for SA SDI Alliance professionals and community leaders to learn from one another, particularly through the experiential lens that community leaders bring to the table.

The first learning space of the year took place on 22 January 2016 and focused on “how government works.” This session worked through the roles and responsibilities of government, the structure of government on national, provincial, and local levels, and the division of powers between legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The second learning space took place on 29 January 2016 and explored “how laws and policies are made.” During this session, participants examined the difference between laws and policies, Green Papers, White Papers, Bills, and Acts, in addition to becoming familiar with the Draft White Paper on Human Settlements—which was the primary topic of the third session, held on 5 February 2016.

The fourth learning space of the 2016 series, held on 15 April 2016 at the community hall in Khayelitsha Site B, focused on the key principles of building a strong social movement composed of informal settlement dwellers.

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Learning Space in Khayelitsha Site B on 22 April 2016

Facilitated by Nkokhleli Ncambele, Informal Settlement Network (ISN) Coordinator of the Western Cape, the session focused on the organisational structure of the ISN, ensuring that the community leaders present grasp a clear understanding of their responsibilities as participants and leaders in the ISN as a social movement.

Nkokheli Ncambele, ISN Coordinator of the Western Cape, facilitating the learning space

Guiding Principles of the ISN
 
The most recent session kicked off with Nkokheli’s description of the fundamental pillars of the ISN:

  • Accountability & Transparency

To enhance efficiency and transparency, the organisational structure of the ISN is divided into community, subregional, regional, provincial, and national levels. As Nkokheli stated:

“The community leadership is accountable to their community because wherever they go—like when they go to meet with the City of Cape Town—they have to come back and report to the community. If you don’t do that, you’re not accountable. Every leader has to go back and report to his community.”
Furthermore, to ensure transparency and accountability, community leaders are driven by what Nkokheli calls a “community mandate”—the specific needs, goals, and interests that the community leader advances on behalf of the community:
“If you don’t have a community mandate that is going to drive you, when someone doesn’t have a mandate, who is going to hold you accountable? But if you have a mandate, this is very important to you.”
  • Availability and Commitment
When projects are initiated, Nkokheli recounted that communities often first ask:
“‘When is this project going to start? The second question: how many people are going to be employed? Then the community says, ‘Please, leadership, make sure that our people are benefiting from the project.’”

When communities ask questions of their leaders, leaders must ensure that their actions align with the collective interest of the community.

  • Love 

Nkokheli emphasised the necessity of love and compassion in the ISN: “Whatever we do, we do it with love. Without love, you can’t build an organization.”

  • Trust

Finally, Nkokheli spoke of the trust that communities vest in their leaders to advocate on their behalf: “We trust you [leaders] that you’re going to deliver.”

Understanding the Roles and Responsibilities of ISN Leaders

Next, Nkokheli proceeded to delve into the organisational structure of the ISN, detailing the roles and responsibilities of leaders on each of the five levels composing the movement.

  • Community level

On a community level, a minimum of fifteen leaders are elected to represent the community. If a community is large, it will be divided into a number of sections. The participation of community leaders is indispensable for the planning and implementation of a project in a community.

  • Subregional level

Nkokheli described:

“The subregion is where all the community mandates go. From there, the community mandates go to the regions. For example, here in Khayelitsha we’ve got 5 subregions: Site C, Site B, Enkanini, Endloveni and Strand. When they come together they form a region. If you are leading on a regional level or a subregional level, you’re not only focusing on your community, you’re focusing on Site B—you are a leader of Site B, not a leader of your community.”

When a community seeks to advocate its needs, it must first express them to local community leaders, who then conveys the community’s interests to the subregional leaders. In turn, subregional leaders “have the duty to go and put pressure on the regional leadership.”

  • Regional level
Similarly, on a regional level, Nkokheli emphasised that leaders must be accountable not only to their own communities but to the entire region:
“I want us to think about our communities, but once you are serving on the subregional or regional level, you are not thinking about your community alone… On a regional level, your focus is on all of Khayelitsha.”

Regional leaders, in turn, report to the provincial leadership.

  • Provincial level
Currently, the Western Cape provincial leadership is composed of eight active members (including Nkokheli himself). When provincial leaders are elected, representatives from all regions must be present. Once again, Nkokheli emphasised the misperception that an individual from a certain community serving in the provincial leadership represents their respective community—which is not the case. While a leader might be inclined to serve the interests of their own community, like subregional and regional leaders, provincial leaders mustn’t focus on the needs of their home community alone:
“Look at me: my community has many problems. But my focus is not on my own community, but on the Western Cape at large.”
  • National level

While a national leadership structure does exist, the ISN largely operates more locally, spearheaded by the provincial leadership. Nkokheli articulated: “You have to have a strategy to be in or lead this movement.” Integral to this strategy, according to Nkokheli, is understanding the dynamics between community movements (like the ISN) and politics. Nkokheli stated:

“It’s important for us as a social movement to be just a social movement, not to be a political movement. You don’t talk politics, you talk community development.”

Project Development Step-by-Step: From community mandate to project realisation

1. “You can’t do anything in any particular community without consulting its leaders”.The active engagement and participation of community leaders is the cornerstone of initiating and implementing an upgrading project. Furthermore, communities must demonstrate readiness and commitment by developing savings schemes. Nkokheli emphasised: “You can’t just want a project without community savings. How can we approve that project without community savings?”

2. Next, on a subregional level, decision making must involve representation from each affected community. The subregional level is highly important, as the subregional leaders are responsible for reporting back to their communities. In turn, the communities must articulate their needs and interests:

“The community has the responsibility of giving a mandate to these people. If a community says, we want a project, they tell the leadership, ‘We want re-blocking,’ and then the leadership should come here in the subregion and say ‘Our community wants a project.’”
3. Next, the subregional coordinator is responsible for approaching the regional leadership. For example, the subregional coordinator might say:
“‘In our subregion, we’ve got 6 communities that are requesting a project. They’ve done profiling, enumerations, and they’ve started their community savings.’ The duty of regional leaders is to come to the provincial level and say, ‘In our region, we’ve got 15 community that want projects.’”
At this point, a decision must be made: how many settlements can be supported. Based on that evaluation of community preparedness, technical feasibility and local government engagement, CORC becomes involved in the project planning process, advancing towards the next steps of project implementation. After Nkokheli explained these steps, he opened up the forum for questions, conversation and debate. Concluding the session, Nkokheli remarked on the power of collaboration in leadership structures: “When you bring different leaders together, you find something and you learn something.”

Implemented project: re-blocking in a section of Khayelitsha Site B

Project in action: Khayelitsha Site B’s nearly complete new community hall

Community leaders in Khayelitsha Site B at the learning space

 

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