Livelihoods Archives - SASDI Alliance

Together We Can Achieve More: Solidarity as a Key to Community Building

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, News No Comments

The following narrative is part of a broader and in-depth documentation of the Ruo Emoh project. This documentation includes a video and booklet and is the result of collaborative efforts between the SA SDI Alliance, People’s Environmental Planning, UCT & University of Basel Master students (part of the City Research Studios hosted by African Centre for Cities), and the community of Ruo Emoh. A more detailed description of the Ruo Emoh project can be found here.

Interviewee: Farida Gester
Interviewers and Text: Majaha Dlamini & Janine Eberle


 “Not waiting for others to help you out, but working together for a common goal, that is the key to Ruo Emoh’s success.”

Farida Gester grew up in Wynberg where her parents rented a place. She was happily living with her happy big family. Farida chuckles when thinking back of that time staying with her parents, four brothers and three sisters.

In about 1980 – Farida was around 21 years old – her family was pushed to live further outside the city. “The owners of the house in Wynberg claimed it for themselves. My parents only rented it and that time it was still apartheid.” Farida explains. The whole family moved to Lentegeur in Mitchells Plain, where they lived together for 30 years. When Farida talks about that time, she speaks of her father as a very sociable person, who welcomed all people into their home, regardless of their skin colour. There would always be visitors around the house, especially when her brothers scouted teammates to play football with them. When Farida’s two sons were old enough, they would also play football in her father’s team, with people from different townships. Her mother used to cook for all the people and everybody would have a good time.

Her parents also supported her after she had a bad accident on her way to work. That is now 20 years ago, her children were still little. Farida was working as a machinist in a factory at that time, but after the accident she was forced to live off a disability grant from the state. It was very difficult for her to get by without her regular income, but her parents always supported her, like they did with all their children. With the years, her parents got ill and after her mother’s death, Farida did the cooking for everyone who visited their house or came by to play football. When also her father died, Farida decided to move out. The house in Lentegeur had only 3 rooms and was very crowded. With her siblings, nieces, nephews and in-laws living there all together, she had wanted to find a more spacious place for a long time, but she stayed for the sake of her parents, whom she cared for and looked after. It was important to them that the family stayed together. So after they passed away, Farida’s oldest son who was living in a two-room house in Portland, asked her to move in with his family. That is now 8 years ago. In Portland, Farida shared a room with the 3 grandchildren, two girls and one boy. Meanwhile, her younger son and his family were staying in the backyard of other people in Lentegeur.

A community that might become a family

In December 2017, when Farida could finally move into her house in Ruo Emoh, she decided to take her younger son and his family with her. Farida is very happy to finally have her own house and her family is excited to live there. It will still take a while for her to see how this move will change her life in the long run, she says. For her, the move from Portland to Ruo Emoh was not such a big change, since she was already living in a house before. Also, they’re sharing a room with her other grandchildren. The living situation did not significantly change her everyday life. For her younger son’s family it is different because their former place in Lentegeur was not as spacious and they had to pay a high rent to be able to stay. Their move from the backyard to Ruo Emoh marked a significant shift in their lives. Certainly, everyone is more comfortable here than where we lived before, Farida says.

It was 6 or 7 years ago when Farida joined the Ruo Emoh community. She heard about the project from the beginning when her neighbours in Lentegeur were talking about it. But since she was still living in her parent’s house with her whole family, she preferred to stay there. She cared for her parents when they were not longer fit and needed someone to look after them. It was only when she moved to Portland with her oldest son, she decided to join the community. It wasn’t easy, but her family supported her so that she could contribute to the saving scheme. When there were functions or meetings, she would always be there and help to push forward the project. She appreciates all the hard work everyone in the community has put into its success. The biggest obstacle in the process, in her view, was the city not cooperating with them. It is hard to see why the city didn’t let them build their own houses; why they had to make it such a long and hard struggle. The neighbourhood ratepayers also added to the problem; they did not want Ruo Emoh to be built. Farida says that they thought the new houses would be low-class houses and this would be bad for the area. Their resentment was nothing personal and Farida is positive that the relationship will improve over time, now that they can get to know each other. “It has to.” she chuckles.

Farida has visions for her house, but it will take time to really decide on what to build. For now, she is very happy with how everything look. At some point she would like to extend a veranda, build another wall outside the house and add another room. It is even possible that they will add a second floor at some point. Time will show- for now, they like it as it is. She hopes that this project will spread so that more places like Ruo Emoh will exist in the future.

Social cohesion and the feeling of solidarity are very important for Farida. This is how she grew up living with her family and also how she explains the success of Ruo Emoh. Everyone is like family here and looks after one another. This is how Ruo Emoh has been able to achieve so much. “Not waiting for others to help you out, but working together for a common goal, that is the key to Ruo Emoh’s success,” Farida says.

Seeing from the South: an international exchange with South African shelter activists

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, Learning Exchanges, SDI No Comments

By Dan Silver, Diana Mitlin and Sophie King (crossposted from the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester)

“We are poor, but we are not hopeless. We know what we are doing”.

This is Alinah Mofokeng, one of three activists from the South African alliance of community organizations and support NGOs affiliated to Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) who came to visit Manchester last month. The three came to explain their approaches and to exchange knowledge with local organisations through a combination of visits around Manchester and Salford, and a half-day workshop drawing together activists from around the country.

While South Africa and the UK might initially appear to be worlds apart, previous discussions between low-income communities in the global North and South had identified commonalities in their disadvantage. Potentially there are approaches that can be drawn upon and adapted in order to resist marginalisation and improve local communities, which can work across different places and contexts. This was the basis for Sophie King (UPRISE Research Fellow) and Professor Diana Mitlin (Global Development Institute, University of Manchester) inviting the South African Alliance to meet with UK community groups in March, drawing on a long history of community exchanges. This coincided with the Alliance participating in the Global Development Institute’s teaching programme with community leaders lecturing on their experiences and methods.

Alinah Mofokeng (Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor), Nkokheli Ncambele (Informal Settlements Network) and Charlton Ziervogel (CORC) all talked about their experiences of being part of the South African Alliance of SDI. This alliance has pioneered people-centered development initiatives by and of people in poverty since 1991. Their foundations are established in the grassroots, working on issues that emerge from the daily experiences of poverty, landlessness, and homelessness to bring immediate improvements and long-term inclusive citizenship within cities.

SDI’s approach to organizing is grounded in women’s led savings schemes, in which each member saves small amounts and does so with the support of their own collective savings group, so they are able to improve their own lives, and that of the wider community also. Solidarity is central to their approach and savings schemes are encouraged to federate to have stronger influence on city and state government. In the process of coming together they learn about their respective needs and challenges and respond collectively. If one member’s family does not have enough to eat, the group may decide that week’s savings will be spent on putting bread on their table. Once one savings scheme is formed, they share their learning with other marginalised people around them and support others to form schemes of their own that can join the network.

This extends beyond initial collectives to direct community-to-community learning exchange at city, national, and international levels. From here, they are able to show that they are together and are capable, which means they can influence the government from a more powerful basis – as Nkokheli said, they have been able to say to the politicians: “you are eating our money and not doing what we want. We say, enough is enough!” Nkokheli said that once the community shows that they are capable, for example through building their own toilets in the informal settlements and developing savings, politicians are more likely to listen.

The exchange of different ways of doing things between the South African Alliance and UK organisations certainly had an impact – showing us that the exchange of ideas about solidarity, a self-reliant ethos, and having a long-term vision for more inclusive cities is powerful enough to make sense across continents. One of the participants in the meeting was Ann from a group called Five Mummies Make, which is a self-help group in Scotland who have come together to sell handmade crafts, put on events and contribute to local charities; through meeting every week, the women have improved their own well-being in the process.

After the workshop, Ann was inspired to make a bigger difference than they were already achieving, saying that:

“If we bring together a bigger group, a federation, we can make such a bigger difference within the community, so not just small differences for individuals…I want to go back now and make the changes in the community, without having to go cap in hand asking for help constantly, but saying – this is what we want…”

Alinah, Nkokheli, and Charlton visited the United Estates of Wythenshawe for an extended lunch to meet people involved in Mums’ Mart. Mums’ Mart was started by a group of parents who came together after speaking to each other in the playground at their children’s school in Wythenshawe. Through chatting, they realised that they shared experiences of feeling isolated, and that their kids weren’t getting to take part in everyday activities. To address these problems the mums now meet every other week to have a meal while their children play, and they organise ‘market days’ to bring people from the estate together and raise money to take their families away somewhere fun for a day or a week.

After the exchange, members of Mum’s Mart have begun to emulate the SDI savings model and are holding weekly savings meetings, alongside their income-generating activities and monthly committee meetings to review progress; they also have ambitions about how over the long-term they can bring practical social change beyond their immediate group.  Sharon Davies, the group’s treasurer, told us that since the visit Mums’ Mart have set up their own savings scheme and it is going well, and that they “have loads of really good ideas as to where we are going to go with Mums’ Mart from now on”.

This was certainly not just a one-way street of learning from the SDI approach. Nkokheli, who was initially surprised that poverty existed in the UK after visiting a homeless group in Manchester, told us that: “The exchanges are very important to us, because it mobilises the community…and also [helps] to train communities to do things, [to see] what other people are doing for themselves. Here in Manchester, I learnt a lot…The systems are not the same, but the look of things are the same – there are things we can learn from Manchester, and there are things Manchester can learn from us”.

Through this exchange then, there have been concrete changes that have already taken place. It also shows the value of bringing together groups who might be marginalised from politics and from economic opportunities, to share ideas, tactics and strategies. There is most certainly scope in the UK to build on the approach that SDI take: developing a more self-reliant social action approach; coming together, initially in close supportive relationships between neighbours, but with a view to wider solidarity across groups and between areas; and showing the government through practical activities the capabilities of people living in low-income areas and the direction that poverty reduction strategies should take.

As Alinah said, “we are not hopeless. We know what we are doing”.


Why we save: A photo story by FEDUP Mpumalanga

By FEDUP, Savings One Comment

By Ntombikayise Promise and Emgard Msibi (on behalf of FEDUP)

This photo story (text and images) was compiled by members of a FEDUP savings scheme in Mpumalanga with the purpose of introducing how urban poor women organise themselves through savings activities. 

It all starts with our ambitious citizens uniting to form one strategic society.

FEDUP members gather for a savings meeting in Kwa-Ndebele.

FEDUP members gather for a savings meeting in Kwa-Ndebele, Mpumalanga

When we stand together, we shall conquer. We create sustainable development through people-led development. Knowledge is power! We are one!

More impressions of KwaNdebele savings meeting

More impressions of KwaNdebele savings meeting

Securing our beautiful land for the poor. Umhlaba Wethu, Izwe Lethu. Our Land, Our Country. These women together with Walter Monyela [from CORC] gathered to ask the Chief of Kwa-Ndebele permission to buy the land of KwaMhlanga-Mountain View where they aim to build one hundred houses for the poor.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.14.04 PM

As long as we are in motion, we will get there. Our vision is SMARTSustainable, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound.


Mama Madonsela speaks about being a FEDUP members in Leandra, Mpumalanga:

“It is a good experience to work with the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) because it has brought us dignity and happiness. We were able to get together as a unique group to gather information and then explore our talents. Hence we showcase our skills through the great work of art”

The vision of these FEDUP members is to develop their own initiatives by using their skills and drawing on the support of FEDUP. Not only do these members have skills for art but they also have their own garden where they plant mushrooms and strawberries. They are still in search of a market to sell these.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.33.08 PM

Saving for the near future 

Initially the community of FEDUP did not see the value of saving, up until it was introduced to FEDUP. FEDUP in Bethal continued to grow from a small number of collectives. These women gather every Sunday afternoon to save money. Saving money makes them happy and wise enough to make good financial decisions with their lives.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.36.47 PM

The coordinators in our savings groups play different roles. In the picture below our loan facilitator is Sbongile, our treasurer is Neliswe, Thembi organises transportation, Mainah is our secretary and Nomvula Nkosi is our programme director.


Our savings groups in Bethal, Mpumalanga:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.45.50 PM

Expanding Informal Settlement Upgrading through Khayalethu Livelihood Initiatives

By FEDUP, ISN One Comment

By Thandeka Tshabalala (on behalf of CORC)

As the last quarter of the year comes to an end, we take time to give an overview of the Alliance’s Khayalethu livelihoods initiatives that have been supported by the Alliance’s City Fund.

The Khayalethu Initiative supported by UK funder Comic Relief is a collaborative platform between three urban sector NGOs including CORC, on behalf of the SA SDI Alliance. CORC’s work centers on the creation of a City Fund that would act as a citywide finance facility for community identified upgrading and livelihood projects in Cape Town. The aim is to leverage partnership and financial contributions by municipal counterparts. (Read more here.)

IMG-20150418-WA0003 (1)

The Khayalethu livelihoods initiatives aim to demonstrate the linkage between informal settlement upgrading and sustainable livelihoods. The SA SDI Alliance has recognized that there is critical need to move beyond informal settlement upgrading, with a focus on infrastructure and basic services provision to improved livelihoods and income generating initiatives within informal settlement communities. In-situ upgrading with minimum relocations adds value to strengthening livelihood opportunities because community governance is strengthened and community vulnerabilities such as basic infrastructural services (e.g. water, sanitation, electricity), shelter, social services (e.g. education, health care, Early Childhood Development) and skills development is dealt with during these upgrades.

Consequently, community socio-economic vulnerabilities such as crime, unemployment and access to education or health care are usually identified during the profiling and enumeration exercise. With all the challenges facing low-income households in informal settlements the Alliance, together with communities, aims to find strategies to strengthen and enhance livelihoods in informal settlements. The focus on improving people’s livelihoods is about improving their living conditions, quality of life and prospects for the future. The emphasis is on creating sustainability and resilience within the community with little reliance on external sources. This is reflected in a phrase often used by Alliance members: we use what we have, where we are. The Khayalethu livelihoods programs highlighted here, respond to unemployment, food security, lack of access to early childhood development and strengthening livelihood through skills development.

Community Bakeries

The project was initiated in October 2014 as a social enterprise and livelihood opportunity for the ISN and FEDUP members. Ten groups consisting of 5 members were selected from several communities within Cape Town namely Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, Gugulethu and Philipi. The members’ trust among each other and eagerness to start the business was the driver for the project. Members were selected from the existing savings schemes and community members who had the will to start a business. Saving was emphasized as the main driver of a successful collective based business. Savings as the backbone of the alliance brought several benefits to the groups such as building trust among members and providing resources for the business. A baker-to-baker exchange was used to strengthen and transfer knowledge among members. The exchange assisted the groups’ improvement in product quality and solidarity among group members. Bakers from well performing groups visited bakers from non-performing groups and visa versa. They all spent the day baking and marketing the product.

The challenges of setting up the community bakeries were building solidarity among members through a well-kept financial record and constitution. Due to the lack of basic numeracy and business management skills setting up a collective enterprise takes up a lot of mentorship. However, participants with existing or previously owned businesses proved to be successful because they understood the basic principles of operating a business. Other challenges such as crime and lack of access to trading spaces take a toll in the growth of such small businesses. As spaces in informal settlements are highly regulated by the local municipality, community members needed to get permission from the local municipality to put up trading stalls. They were therefore forced to bake from their homes.

Training and skills development

In partnership with The Business Place and The Tourism Business Institute of South Africa (TTBISA), community members with existing businesses were given skills development training. TTBISA with the support from Food and Beverage Seta offered a baking and hospitality learnership for 14 youth members from the community bakeries. The learnership equipped the bakers with business management and baking skills. With the stipends received from the learnership the students contributed towards the growth of their businesses. They were placed in various retail shops in the city so that they can learn more about customer relations and management of their businesses.

The Business Place offered short training courses on market research, business banking, costing and pricing of products to small business owners in the communities. The courses were offered to people who wanted to start, improve or expand their business. This opportunity was expanded to members of the Federation Income Generation Program (FIGP), who, after accessing loans they were mentored on how to start a small sustainable business.

20141128_102532 (1)

Food security and nutrition through Gardening

Due to high unemployment rates and distant location of certain settlements from economic opportunities, food gardens become an important vehicle to address food security and nutrition among low-income groups and informal settlements. In partnership with Soil for Life the Alliance trained community members in organic farming. For three months the community-farming group is trained in building the soil (most of the soil in Khayelitsha is sandy and becomes difficult to grow food), transplanting and developing the vegetables. Sustainability of the gardens is vital hence the groups are taught how to build their own compost and harvest seeds for the next crop. Due to lack of space in informal settlements, Soil for Life places emphasis on growing vegetables in limited spaces, containers and bags.


Livelihoods through recycling

The Solid Waste Network (SWN) is a network of approximately 1500 informal waste pickers in informal settlements. The recycling program is a social enterprise program with the aim of delivering a unique and value adding collection and payment service to informal waste pickers across Cape Town. The goal of this initiative is to create access to livelihoods and income generating opportunities for informal settlement residents through the recycling of glass, plastic and paper waste.

Despite being targeted by criminals during collections and experiencing product pricing fluctuations, the SWN managed to sustain its operations. In order to strengthen the network cluster meetings, recycling workshops were used to create awareness about recycling. Therefore, the strength of the program lies in the collective: collectively waste pickers removed 50 tons of waste.

20151112_114603 (1)

Early Childhood Development

Early childhood development is important for the growth and education of all children. While planning a multi-purpose centre, the community of K2 in Site B, Khayelitsha decided to start an informal space-based crèche. The analysis of the enumeration showed that there was a high number of children not attending crèche. This was partly due to the high unemployment rate in the settlement and the parents’ inability to afford crèche fees. The residents used the results from the enumeration to improve access to early childhood development for their children. In partnership with Sikhula Sonke, the community has started an informal learning space, which will be integrated into the multi-purpose centre once completed.

Urban Livelihoods in Cape Town

By CORC, ISN, SDI, Youth No Comments

By Ariana K. MacPherson (cross posted from SDI blog)

A different approach to livelihoods 

A national industry which offers public-sector employment to 50,000 economically disadvantaged beneficiaries should have a profound impact on the livelihoods of poor informal settlement dwellers. The Department of Environmental Affairs Working for Water Program (WfW) is therefore a primary target for Community Organisation Resource Centre’s (CORC) engagement of the state. In 2002, CORC managed 25 teams in all nine provinces to work at a staffing model which sustainably supports employees. However, due to the under-budgeted nature of the program, the majority of these teams disintegrated. The only remaining teams were privately led rather than collective in structure, with profits directed primarily to the supervisory contractor, rather than the labourers. Currently, most WfW teams operate under this model, under which the vast majority of beneficiaries earn minimal wages and secondary benefits of social development and training opportunities.

Nandipha & Noziphiwo team up to expand the community garden at the Masiphumelele Soup Kitchen

Nandipha & Noziphiwo team up to expand the community garden at the Masiphumelele Soup Kitchen

This year, CORC assembled a new team in the Western Cape based on an ambitious project: to clear neglected private areas on demanding terrain bordering the Province’s most-visited nature reserve. This effort in collaboration with nearby private landowners attracted the attention of WfW once more. Affected communities near the reserve have limited employment opportunities due to their isolation and have minimal collaboration with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP).

With the help of existing contacts at Non-Profit organisations in the settlements of Masiphumelele, team leaders were drawn from youth SDI-employees from Phillipi. Young women from Masiphumelele in the South Cape Peninsula were hired as general workers with the potential for promotion conditional with training. This report follows their story.

Meet the team: youth from Masiphumelele and Philippi 

Ayanda The seeds of this project started when Ayanda Magqaza was a sprightly fifteen-year-old. He would leave his home in Phillipi to stay and work in the South Peninsula for the weekend. Agile and flexible, Ayanda quickly learned to clamber over the boulders and climb the gum trees at Castle Rock. Local landowners would hire him, first to help in the garden, and eventually to man a chainsaw alone in the depths of the forest all day long. As a CORC employee, Ayanda was the first person the project leaders called to begin working on the mountain, with the hopes that he would soon be able to lead an entire team to assist him. Within a few months the imagined team materialized, largely due to his illustrative, personal and persuasive communication abilities. When project management was absent for two months in mid-winter, Ayanda took the helm and continued to recruit new team members, coordinate logistics for certified training sessions, and lead the team to clear vegetation on the mountain slopes.

Anela All roads in Masiphumelele lead past the Pink House, a community services center managed by Catholic Welfare Development (CWD). While CORC was recruiting for the team, CWD opened their doors and provided a number of applicants. Most were men, with some construction experience; the women seemed to be looking for a desk or service job, something with a roof. But Anela Dlulane stood out, highly recommended by CWD as a lead volunteer there. During the first trial on the mountain, when the slackers stayed back to chat and move slowly, Anela kept pace with the young guys as they stacked body-length branches along the hillside. It was hard work compared to her previous job as a typist at the Department of Transport, but Anela stuck with it, with the hopes of one day fulfilling an administrative role for the CORC team.

Anela was an unpaid volunteer at the Masiphumelele Pink House when she started with CORC in June. Now she earns a wage on the CORC team, partly to help restore the Pink House community garden.

Anela was an unpaid volunteer at the Masiphumelele Pink House when she started with CORC in June. Now she earns a wage on the CORC team, partly to help restore the Pink House community garden.


















Roger Prior to joining the team, most of Roger Janse’s days were indoors at the Slum Dweller International (SDI) offices. The office valued his polyglot fluency in Cape Town’s three main languages, but his studies were at a standstill and he was not sure how to advance his career. He aspired to obtain his Driver’s License and begin work as a driver for SDI, but despite repeated courses, he did not pass the test. Roger had helped Ayanda in the South Peninsula before and decided to try it again. The mountain revealed itself to be an exciting place, satisfying his interest in wildlife like puff adders and cape cobras. Roger began work as a stacker, but by the end of winter had attained his Chainaw Operator’s certificate, and qualified for three other courses. Just two months later he held his long-awaited Driver’s License in his hands, then doggedly pursued an additional commercial license. Due to his determination, the team now depends on Roger in his role of back-up driver to transport them and their equipment from home to work.

Determined to expand his skill set, Roger exceeded available WfW courses and attained his commercial Driving License

Determined to expand his skill set, Roger exceeded available WfW courses and attained his commercial Driving License

Sinjuvo She came prepared. She brought with her a record of several years of herbicide applicator experience, a list of contacts from her old team, and even wore here official yellow WfW shirt to work. At some point she had left her previous WfW team and her skills and training were left idle until she crossed paths with the SA SDI Alliance in Masiphumelele. Gudiswa Mathu may be older than the average worker, but her experience helps her know how best to contribute. When the team was still in its early stages, struggling to find women who were prepared to do labour-intensive tasks day in and day out, Gudiswa knew who to call. Within two weeks, the team ratio was balanced in favor of the better gender, 7 to 4, surpassing WfW national standards for female-to-male hiring ratios.

Sakhe With only his secondary school certificate in hand, he set out for Cape Town from the Eastern Cape. After growing up there and doing his schooling there, Sakhekile Nkohli contacted the few family members and friends he had in Cape Town and moved into Masiphumelele. He found infrequent work, mostly occasional construction jobs. But as a young worker his resume and contacts were not competitive. When given the chance on the mountain, Sakhe demonstrated what made him stand out. His fearlessness and drive earned him the position as the only team member without a previous relationship with SDI to receive and qualify for chainsaw training. With Siya or Ayanda present, Sakhe is a dependable assistant and when a more experienced manager is unavailable, he takes the helm.

Bracing himself on the steep slopes, Sakhe clears an area for the Chainsaw Operator to work, a role for which he now is also qualified as a result of training on the team

Bracing himself on the steep slopes, Sakhe clears an area for the Chainsaw Operator to work, a role for which he now is also qualified as a result of training on the team

Liso She may have the smallest shoe size, but in many ways she makes the biggest contribution. After 6 years of working on alien clearing teams, Liso Jentile offers the most insight and thoughtfulness of any team member. Her years of experience include training as chainsaw operator, which offsets the gender balance of mostly men leading with chainsaws and women following while stacking branches. Most of the time, she is quiet, and does not participate in the teatime chatter. But when the team reaches a new situation and is uncertain how to proceed, people turn to Liso for well-seasoned advice. Her thinking abilities make her a role model for other women on the team and a prime candidate for promotion to a leadership role.

Siya Initially, he was busy in the office and didn’t take the offer. Afterall, his family was in Philippi, including his newborn son. Weekdays in isolated Castle Rock sounded lonesome. And after more than a decade of chainsaw work without any career prospects, the idea of working on the mountain did not excite him. But when the opportunity to join Ayanda at a chainsaw operator training arose, Siyasanga Hermanus got involved. Within three weeks he had a team working to help him stack – a luxury after the years of working on the mountain alone. With his firm manner and steadfast approach, Siya earned his team’s trust. Now he, like Ayanda, is building up skills to eventually contract his own team. But while most WfW contractors supervise from the sidelines, Siya will remain right where he is. The only way to make sure the work gets done, he says, is to be part of the team. He won’t be letting go of his chainsaw anytime soon.

Workers are tasked with removing dense alien forest from steep mountain slopes

Workers are tasked with removing dense alien forest from steep mountain slopes

Outlook: Transitioning from labourers to leaders 

It is a fragile system, but it holds together – a web of life that benefits from its interdependent nature as much as it is defrayed by internal competition. Like the risk of wildfire on the mountain, our team confronts challenges to their health and safety every day. Competition is no stranger, and they confront one another when they disagree on an approach to an issue. Like the heat of summer, they feel it on their table at home when funding dries up and bonuses are no longer available. And when in need of assistance, if it is not offered with personal consideration, some team members may be flooded with advantages while others fail to gain ground.

Despite these challenges, the team is resilient. They depend on one another because they know that they can fell more trees working together than alone. A communicator like Ayanda can help advocate for more contracts together than the others could do alone. A veteran like Liso can help plan savings for their future together better than the others could do alone. And with perseverance, they can build a collective company with the full contribution of each team member.

While one person cleans a chainsaw, another takes inventory of the day’s supplies. A Health and Safety Officer takes note of the appearance of the deforested slopes after a day’s work while a First Aid Officer records that day’s participation of each individual. One person measures herbicide concentrations, while another speaks publicly about the value to biodiversity of their work. Each worker has their role and is valued as an essential member of the team. 

Over 35,000 South Africans are funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs to clear invasive alien vegetation in South Africa. The vast majority of them work under a private contractor. While project funds should be directed to workers, this system incentivizes the contractor to increase staff productivity to their own benefit. CORC’s team structure provides a new model, one that serves the poor populations that it is meant to support. Through this program, CORC has the opportunity to affect livelihoods across the country. It begins with the collective.

This collective has a new opportunity. In the South Cape Peninsula, a few mountain slopes dipping into the sea appear too difficult, too costly to clear. Without professional training for mountain slopes, this team has confronted Castle Rock. In doing so, they have proven their worth as recipients of intermediate training required to clear such lands safely. As an intermediate team in high demand, they may prove financially sustainable while maintaining the collective structure that can help negotiate the team members into more established careers. As a self-sustaining collective they may be able to operate independently throughout the Western Cape, and can train other teams in other provinces. A handful of youth from the South Peninsula has the chance to transition from labourers to leaders, not only in their industry, but in their communities.

Alliance youth generate income through clearing alien vegetation

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, Youth No Comments

By Joel Kramer (on behalf of SA SDI Alliance)

The garden is in its element, the peak of spring. Tomatoes as plump as a baby’s cheek, carrots bright as the dawn sky, and enough cabbages to fill a toddler’s wagon; the community garden overflows with produce for the holiday season. Several months ago the team of women and youth from around Masiphumelele had taken a day away from their trying efforts on the mountainside to plant vegetables for the Masiphumelele Soup Kitchen. It took half a year to reach this special day, but the time for harvest has come.

In holiday spirit, Umpheki Noks celebrates with the SA SDI Alliance and Masi Pink House staff at the Masi Soup Kitchen after the harvest of vegetables for christmas dishes of imifino (greens), seshebo (stew) and umngqusho (mash)

In holiday spirit, Umpheki Noks celebrates with the SA SDI Alliance and Masi Pink House staff at the Masi Soup Kitchen after the harvest of vegetables for christmas dishes of imifino (greens), seshebo (stew) and umngqusho (mash)

The team’s history follows much the same story of planting, care and growth. In July, to address the issue of livelihoods, reliable pay and career employment, the SA SDI Alliance assembled a team to clear alien vegetation in a steep mountain slope in the South Peninsula. With the support of local landowners and the Department of Environmental Affairs, the project employed, trained and provided leadership to 11 young residents of Masiphumelele. Over the course of the last six months, this hard-working team has transformed a fire-prone alien-ridden mountainside into a seed bed for indigenous fynbos regeneration. In a couple of years, the slopes will be blooming with wildflowers where a gum tree wasteland once cast its shadow.

The Embacwini Wetlands are a far cry from the mountainside. Flat, full of water and ruckus, a myriad of shacks and streets at the edge of the cattails make the neighborhood a busy place. With this density of homes and physical limits on new growth, Masiphumelele residents have trouble finding locations to grow vegetables for traditional dishes. The isolated location in the South Peninsula also makes it difficult for residents, especially youth, to find permanent employment.

The Alliance livelihood project sought to address shared community issues in addition to individual financial stability. The majority of the month, the team devotes itself to the clearing of alien vegetation from steep mountain slopes. However, one day each month, the team would revitalize the community garden at the Masiphumelele Soup Kitchen in partnership with Catholic Welfare Development. The revitalization began this winter and on Monday it produced roughly 20 kilos of vegetables. Lead cook Nokwakwa (Noks) was overjoyed at the baskets of lettuce, bags of beans and tomatoes and bunches of carrots. The vegetable will become seshebo (stew), umngqusho (mash) and imifino (greens) for the needy in this holiday season.

Close to the earth, Nonzukiso and Nono weed garden beds at the Masi Soup Kitchen community garden to make room for a Christmas harvest

Close to the earth, Nonzukiso and Nono weed garden beds at the Masi Soup Kitchen community garden to make room for a Christmas harvest

In the meantime, the Alliance team continues to push forward on the mountain, harvesting a completely different product: braaiwood. While removing alien invasive vegetation, rooikrans is a dominant species, and is able to be sold on the market for a profit. These profits go directly to the team members, providing an additional incentive for the hard work that they do.

Team members approach this effort with years of experience. Several women are career professionals in the wildland management industry, with multiple years of experience as an herbicide applicator or chainsaw operator. SDI’s veteran staff have more than two decades of combined mountainside chainsaw experience from working on private properties. But this new location at Castle Rock Conservancy poses new challenges. The mountainside at Castle Rock is steeper than most locations in the Western Cape, and requires intermediate training to safely clear certain areas. Severe cliffs necessitate rope access, during which time a chainsaw operator may have to brave falling branches at the edge of sea cliffs. And when all are resting for lunch after a demanding morning, workers must fend off baboon, mongoose or pigeons before they enjoy their meal. Few teams in the Western Cape are equipped and trained to this type of work, and the skill set is in high demand. Even public properties have a long waiting list for treatment, which tarries into 2016.

 After a tough day clearing the mountain slopes, Sakhe raises his chainsaw triumphantly

After a tough day clearing the mountain slopes, Sakhe raises his chainsaw triumphantly

With the  vision of the Alliance and national governmental support, this small team might stand the chance of receiving that higher training and gaining contracts to those difficult, more lucrative areas. Further, the team members could set a national precedent for funding and management by presenting the collective model.

Inside and outside of the workplace, the opportunity for collaboration and shared effort remains. After this week’s harvest, the garden at the Pink House will continue to provide lettuce and onions, cabbage and strawberries for the holidays. And when the harvest is complete, new seeds donated from a partner in Mitchell’s Plain will begin the next growing cycle. As each tree falls and each veggie grows, the density of Masi’s Embacwini may morph from trouble to triumph.

Anela and Nozi enjoy their hard-earned sunshine after clearing away the dense undergrowth in the back alleyway to clear space for vegetable beds.

Anela and Nozi enjoy their hard-earned sunshine after clearing away the dense undergrowth in the back alleyway to clear space for vegetable beds.