EMG works to build responses to climate change in the water sector that are just, human-scale, ecologically sensitive, empowering and effective.
The responses are both to build resilience (adaptation) and to reduce water’s contribution to global warming (mitigation).
We work with people on the margins of our unsustainable society, challenge power relationships, create unique spaces to meet and connect, and help people re-imagine their relationships with each other and nature.
We do this through research, facilitation, policy analysis, solidarity building and creativity.
In 2015 - 2016, members of the South African Water Caucus embarked on 'The Changing Practice' course, offered by the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University. The project was coordinated by EMG, with funding from the WRC, and the course was intended to boost SAWC member's capacity to monitor the NWRS2. The participants were grouped according to provincial water caucuses, in three provinces - Mpumalanga, Western Cape and Gauteng (the Vaal). Each group worked on a collaborative change project which they wrote up as a case study. Below are the participants final case study booklets.
In October 2016 EMG, in partnership with the South African Water Caucus, the Water Research Commission, UBC's Program on Water Governance and Rhodes University's ELRC, hosted a multi-stakeholder symposium on water governance. This was an opportunity to share lessons from the 'Citizen Monitoring of the NWRS2' project, and to talk about what water governance should truly look like in a participatory democracy.
You can read the proceedings HERE.
This is an update on policy processes and other recent developments in the water sector - available HERE.
Discussed in this policy brief are the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) draft norms and standards, the DWS draft national pricing strategy, citizen monitoring of the National Water Resources Strategy 2 (NWRS2), Catchment Management Forums, the Minister's Budget Speech, amongst other things.
PRESS RELEASE: South African Water Caucus Response to Minister of Water and Sanitation’s budget speech, 25 May 2016
On 11 May 2016, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Minister Mokonyane, delivered a speech to Parliament announcing the proposed budget for water and sanitation in the 2016/17 financial year. Following her speech and debate on her proposed budget, a budget roughly 3.2% smaller than the budget for the 2015/16, was approved by a majority of the members of Parliament in attendance.
The South African Water Caucus (SAWC), a national network of community based and non-governmental organisations, is concerned about the budget cut for water and sanitation at a time when South Africa is experiencing a crippling drought and the water and sanitation infrastructure country-wide is in a bad state of repair. We feel that a greater budget is necessary for drought mitigation, urgent interventions in municipalities facing water and sanitation problems and the appointment of staff to enforce water laws in South Africa.
The Minister listed some achievements of the government over the past two decades relating particularly to the broadening of access to water and the provision of sanitation services. The SAWC recognises those achievements and welcomes the Minister’s pledge to ensure that these achievements are built on in the current financial year.
However, the Minister failed to specify any of the challenges faced by the Department of Water and Sanitation (hereafter ‘the Department’) in performing its mandate. We believe that being forthright about the Department’s challenges during a budget speech will not only assist to justify the allocation of funds to the Department’s various programmes, it will also create a platform for constructive engagement with civil society.
EMG water and climate change seminar series, 2014
Our popular seminar series is still going strong, and is a vibrant space to share what we're learning, hear different perspectives, and strategise with others from civil society, academia, government and communities around the best ways to respond to water and climate change issues.
In 2014, our first seminar was a small gathering focussed on Gender and Water, a theme that most people agree is important and yet which is poorly understood, by ourselves and most others we meet in the sector. Leila Harris from the University of British Columbia was our guest speaker; she presented case studies to illustrate the gendered impacts of various large scale water and development projects, and shared some helpful, nuanced methodologies we can use to explore gender in our work.
In May, EMG supported the Kuils River Catchment Forum to host a seminar, which brought together voluntary citizen's groups actively involved with cleaning the Kuils River, officials from local government, DWS (Department of Water and Sanitation), and academics from CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology). This seminar was an opportunity to share all the work that has been done by the forum to date, to hear from government officials about the state of the river and wetlands, and government's vision and challenges for this catchment. Finally, we started a process of exploring how to get this loose, fairly informal forum registered and recognised as an official Catchment Management Forum (CMF). Proceedings from this seminar are available here.
In June we co-hosted a seminar with the Phillippi Horticultural Area (PHA) for Food and Farming, looking at the relationship between the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA) and the PHA. This seminar attracted a large number of concerned citizens, government officials and academics, and proved to be a fascinating gathering with important outcomes. The main messages coming out of the seminar were that the CFA and the PHA are both critically important for food security in Cape Town; that the CFA is in urgent need of a proper management plan to prevent its further pollution; but that its pollution levels at present are not high enough to result in dangerous toxicity levels in vegetables grown in the PHA. We hope that this relationship between EMG and the PHA for Food and Farming will continue into the future. The press release from this seminar is available here.
Finally, our November seminar looked at Water and Wetland Offsets, a growing trend in South Africa and around the world. Water and Wetland Offsets are still very poorly defined. Although carbon offsets and biodiversity offsets have been implemented and researched fairly thoroughly, water and wetland offsets are a fairly new concept, with very different variables, considerations and implications. This seminar was an attempt to open up a conversation about what is really understood and intended by those who are pursuing these kinds of mechanisms, and to start to formulate our own opinions and responses - should we be worried, should we be resisting these trends outright, or is there a pragmatic middle ground? Watch this space for a report coming out of this seminar - and you will hear more from us on this topic next year, as we prepare to respond to DEA's proposed environmental offset policy.
Social audit of the Kuils River - the story of an urban river
The Kuils River Catchment Management Forum is a loose yet thriving network of people who meet regularly to talk about the protection and rehabilitation of the Kuils River, with a particular focus on the area around the Khayelitsha Wetland Park. Earlier this year we commissioned researcher Liane Greeff to conduct a preliminary social audit of the Kuils River, looking at the state of the river, who is using it, and what different people's perceptions are about the river. You can find the report here: Kuils River Social Audit
Civil society guide to the NWRS2
South Africa’s second National Water Resources Strategy is a potentially powerful document, laying out the strategic direction for water resource management in this country for the next 20 years. However, most people do not know it exists, or if they do, it remains very abstract and inaccessible. The South African Water Caucus (SAWC) submitted extensive comments, some of which we were happy to see reflected in the final version published in June 2013, but many of which were ignored. Despite our reservations about aspects of the strategy, we also see opportunities, on paper at least, for civil society to play a meaningful role in monitoring the implementation of this strategy. As a first step, EMG has developed this civil society guide to the NWRS2, which presents the SAWC comments and positions, highlights our particular areas of concern, and identifies ways in which civil society can use the NWRS2 to support and enhance our work. We hope it is useful, and we encourage you to share it and use it as you see fit – and please let us know if you have any comments or ideas to share.
You can access the guide here: Civil society guide to the NWRS2
South African Water Caucus comments on the National Water Policy Review, October 2013
Access the comments by the SAWC on the Department of Water Affairs draft National Water Policy Review (notice 888 of 2013) here: SAWC comments on the NWPR
Proceedings from EMG seminar on 'Unpacking the language of climate change', October 2013
Adaptation, mitigation, vulnerability, resilience, adaptive capacity, anticipatory capacity... the conceptual language of climate change is a mouthful, and is quite alienating and inaccesible for most people. At the same time, people are already 'adapting' or 'building their resilience' or 'becoming more vulnerable' - they just don't use those words to describe their experiences. In October, a group of us got together to try and get a better understanding of this language, and to relate it to practical lived realities. The proceedings from this interesting discussion are available here.
We have had a number of articles related to our work published recently.
An article by Jessica Wilson about the inequitable water tariffs in Cape Town, which appeared in the Mail and Guardian on the 24th of May - view HERE
EMG comments on City of Cape Town's proposed water tariff increases
Read HERE about the inequitable water tariffs in Cape Town, and for more analysis see Jessica's article in the Mail and Guardian, above.
Proceedings from EMG seminar on the NWRS 2, March 2013
In March 2013 we hosted a vibrant seminar looking at lessons learnt from civil society engagement with the second National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS2). Importantly, we also considered how we as civil society can monitor the progress and appropriateness of such a policy throughout its implementation. Read the full proceedings HERE.
Video - Leaks, Debt and Devices: a community seeks alternatives
Watch this beautifully filmed video about a group of women in Makhaza who, in partnership with EMG and CEJ, are looking for positive, empowering alternatives for addressing leaks and debt where they live. Watch the video HERE.
EMG has been an active member of South African environmental civil society for 20 years, and we have picked up some useful skills and information along the way - and we would like to start sharing these! We are in the process of developing training materials in the following areas:
Networking and movement building is an important component of our work at EMG.
The South African Water Caucus (SAWC), provincial water caucuses, Climate Justice Now! (CJN), Coalition for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and African Rivers Network (ARN) are among the networks we have helped to build and actively participate in as an organisation.
They provide a space for collective thinking, information sharing, joint actions and campaigns on water and climate change issues.
Through them, NGOs, CBOs, trade unions, communities and individuals collectively challenge injustices and environmental degradation at both local and policy levels.
When most people think about water and climate change, they think about droughts and empty dams. While these are real threats, most urban people will experience climate change indirectly, via their water bills, water restrictions, or other methods of water demand management carried out by municipalities.
EMG has been active in pointing out the links between climate change and water services, exposing unjust practices in water demand management, questioning new supply-side measures and proposing alternative approaches that are more people- and environment -friendly.
Much of this work is captured in our book: water and climate change: an exploration for the concerned and curious and in our research reports.
There are exciting things happening in the communities close to the Khayelitsha Wetlands Park in Makhaza.
These wetlands, and the Kuils River which flows into them, are severely polluted due to discharge from industries and wastewater treatment works upstream, as well as waste from the high numbers of people living in the poorly serviced areas adjacent to them. In spite of these pressures, there is still a lot of life in these waters, and a lot of cultural practices dependent upon the wetland ecosystem.
Now, members of the Makhaza community, with the support of organisations like CEJ (Coalition for Environmental Justice) and EMG, are working with the City of Cape Town Parks Department, regional DWA and others to protect the local wetlands. This kind of initiative is an important step towards adapting to climate change, because it builds the confidence and capacity of citizens to take responsibility and action for their environment, and builds relationships between local people and municipalities.
The Eastern Cape Water Caucus, with support and facilitation by EMG, has been carrying out action research on water and climate change with small-scale farmers of the Ngqushwa Municipality, Eastern Cape.
Multi-stakeholder engagement is at the heart of the process, with involvement from the Pedi Local Municipality, Amathole District Municipality and the Department of Water Affairs regional office; as well local NGOs and researchers from Rhodes University.
Key issues that emerged from the research, and which the Ngqushwa farmers have taken responsibility for include:
The authorities, NGOs and community groups continue to meet to follow-up and monitor actions arising from the research.
The southern Cape recently experienced its most severe drought in recorded history. In 2009 it had the lowest rainfall since record-keeping began, 132 years ago.
While it is not possible to attribute the drought directly to climate change, climate models nevertheless predict that droughts like this will become more frequent and more severe. Understanding the dynamics of water supply and demand under such severe stress may yield useful lessons for the future.
Over the course of 2010 and 2011 we interviewed officials, managers, and community leaders in various southern Cape towns to understand how the affected municipalities responded. Download the full report here (985Kb PDF).
As a water activist, you can:
Project: Understanding water supply issues and looking for solutions to disposable nappies and other domestic waste in Ga-Mampuru, Greater Tubatse Municipality, by Kedibone Ntobeng, Christine Mothupi and Tshepo Sibaya.
Itumeleng Youth Project formed under the most tragic of circumstances. In Christine Mothupi’s words:
“When mining started, the population increased and the community started to grow. New sections were formed and water demand was now high while we only had one purification plant that supplied clean water. Everyone was looking for clean water from the water purification plant and then illegal connections started to occur. Some pipes started to leak, then water waste became high. The water purification plant stopped supplying the community with water because it couldn’t manage the whole village alone. The community started to look for a way to survive. Some people were forced to fetch water from the irrigation canal and some were fetching water from the Tubatse river which is too far away”.
Tshepo Sibaya continues the story:
“Since 1995 the community was drinking water from the canal which was built mainly for irrigation but due to lack of water nearby people were forced to drink that water. In 2009 one morning tragedy hit the community. People died after drinking water from the canal which they had been drinking from for many years. Thirteen people died while hundreds more were hospitalized. The health department said it was cholera. We are not sure if it was cholera or poison …After that incident the community were mobilized under one theme: This cannot happen again”.
Under huge pressure from the community, the Greater Tubatse municipality built storage dams and drilled boreholes, so that people were no longer forced to drink from the canal. However, there are currently insufficient taps and low water pressure, meaning that some sections get more water than others, leading to conflict between the sections. In two of the sections, people are once again relying on water from the canals and from the Tubatse River.
At the same time, the river that people are relying on is full of domestic waste. IYP has been investigating the reasons for this waste landing up in the river, with a particular focus on the huge number of disposable nappies in the landscape and in the river.
Kedibone Ntobeng describes the history of disposable nappies and other domestic waste in her community:
"In 1973 the Mampuru clan and the community members were forced to move from Brakfontain (Magagamatala) to Steelpoort (Boschkloof). At that time the population was less and they did not think about the future and how they are going to manage their domestic waste - at that time they did not have too much domestic waste. They were using traditional customs. It was the introduction of modern customs that caused more waste. For example, women were using cloth nappies for children and they were washing them… In the 90s mining started and the population began to increase and job opportunities became available for more people. Some people could now afford to buy those disposable nappies, but you still never ever saw disposable nappies on the street or in dongas… When disposable nappies decreased in price, many more people started to buy them. That’s when people started to realize that disposable nappies do not decay. Most parents decided to throw them far away from people. In 2006 the Lion smelter phase one started and the population increased again. People from different places came in. Business started to increase. A tavern and renting rooms were built while we still didn’t have a dumping site. The tavern started to stay open 24/7, and waste from bottles and cans increased in large numbers. Then waste started to be unmanageable as sections continued to develop and grow, and there was no space for people to dump. This is when people started to see the river banks as a dumping site and the river as a waste transporter.”
As part of their changing practice project, IYP has done a door to door awareness campaign and cleaning campaign. They have cleared disposable nappies from dongas and river banks, and requested the municipality to collect the nappies for removal to a landfill, but they have not yet had a response.
Itumeleng Youth Project is doing important and challenging work in a community that has suffered terribly as a result of a lack of safe secure water. The issue of disposable nappy waste is a critical one that many communities are grappling with around the country. Keep up the fantastic work IYP.
Come-ACT (Communities in Mining and Environmental Activism) is based in Burgersfort.
Change Project: Rules for good guests - how host communities can hold mines accountable, by Elton Thobejane and Provia Sekome.
Description: Twickenham mine is a large open pit platinum mine owned by Anglo American Platinum, about 40 km away from Burgersfort in the Greater Tubatse Municipality, Limpopo. It falls within the middle catchment of the Olifants River. The village of Morapaneng, which is situated between the Twickenham and Hackney shafts of the Twickenham mine, is deeply affected by the mining activities nearby, through the mines impact on water, air, roads, social cohesion and more . Come-ACT has decided to focus on the issue of corporate compliance - to what extent is the mine keeping to its obligations in terms of the Social and Labour Plans and other commitments it has made to the community? Another way of asking this question is: is the mine being a good guest, and treating its hosts, in this case the Morapaneng community, with respect and care? And if not - how can the hosts hold their guest accountable for their bad behaviour?
Extract from Come-Act's Assignment 1:
"The entire community relies on one borehole and the nearby Motse river as sources of water, almost all the bore holes in the village have dried up...The access roads to the village are also dusty and un-driveable making it very difficult for the communities to access services such as health care and many others. The only tarred road which is linking the two shafts is also heavily potholed and no one seem to care about its impact on road users and the nearby communities, especially young people who endanger their lives on a daily basis trying to fill in the potholes with sands because they see it as an economic opportunity... there is little to show for this community’ portion of benefit for the mining activities happening in their land.
As we walked around the neighbouring villages we realised that the houses are cracked in almost every household, people are trying to grow vegetables such as spinach, sweet potatoes and tomatoes but the products are not of good quality and we suspect that it is because of the poor water quality. The relocated graves and tombstones are falling apart, people were forcefully relocated to areas where the land is not suitable for human habitation. One could feel the heartbeat of a community that is betrayed, divided, impotent but angry towards the mining company.
We then decided to request access to information pertaining to the operation (Social and Labour Plans and its Annual reports, the Water Use Licence and Environmental Impact Assessment reports) through the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 from the relevant departments, so that we are more able to monitor, assess, hold the mine to account and enforce compliance"
4 September 2017: COMMUNITY ORGANISATION TAKING INITIATIVE AGAINST THE MINE"The two community based organisations Come Act and SCMAC are collaborating to challenge the Twickenham mine regarding the disposal of the reserves as it continues even today.The two organisations have submitted a PAIA application to the DMR to request the maintenance plan and the agreement with the DMR. We also requested their new Mine Works programme because Care and Maintenance is actually a part of the Mine Works programme .Legal Resources Center has also written a letter on our behalf to the mine to request clarity and supporting documents."
Keep up the great work Come-Act. Your findings about how the host community of Morapaneng can hold their guests - the Twickenham mine - accountable, will be extremely useful for many other host communities.
Jane Burt and Jessica Wilson wrote a paper for the ALARA (Action Learning, Action Research Association) congress in 2015, based on lessons from the first Changing Practice course for SAWC activists. That paper has just been published in the ALARA congress proceedings, and the full text is available HERE.
Here is an excerpt from the paper:
The social learning approach adopted in this project brought about change – and in some instances profound transformation – at multiple levels. Through a careful process of observation and reflection, the project provides insights into what changed within individuals, between people, at the level of structure and between people and the natural world. For example, when an activist researcher’s confidence was built through gaining a sense of identity based on the deep wisdom inherent in his African ancestry, he discovered agency within himself and was able to articulate concerns to government officials on the importance of including spiritual water users in Catchment Management Forums. This insight has catalysed ongoing conversation in his organisation and shifted their worldview to include a healing relationship between people and rivers.
...Finally, the course, like all courses based on an action learning ethos, is not expert driven but a dialogic space to introduce ideas of how to read the world which includes context, history and the importance of place (some of which are generated by researchers and other knowledge producers and shared with participants). This was a new experience for many of the participants. One participant, when interviewed about the course, commented, “Other courses like the “X” course someone stands in front of you and tells you what to do. Here we are asked to pull something out and up. It is challenging but it comes from in ourselves.” This sense of ownership of knowledge produced and used is the core vision of the course. The knowing that is generated (where generation of knowledge also means being able to draw on many knowledge systems in a meaningful way) belongs with the people who generate it and infiltrates their actions in the places and spaces within which they move. It is hoped that that by the end of this course, the learning and knowledge that is gained by the individuals and the collective will be an authentic expression of the people and landscapes out of which this learning and knowing emerged.
Changing practice: A course to support water activists in South Africa (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319250623_Changing_practice_A_course_to_support_water_activists_in_South_Africa
SEJN is based in Burgersfort, Greater Tubatse Municipality, Limpopo, in the middle Olifants catchment. They have been organising under the name SEJN for 6 months, but their members have been active community monitors associated with Benchmark Foundation for 5 years, as part of a network of Southern African communities living near mines.
Change Project: Water pollution in the Motse River, by Eustine Matsepane, Mmathapelo Thobejane and Tokelo Mahlakwana
Description: For their changing practice project, SEJN are investigating the sources and impacts of mining pollution in the rivers close to where they live - in particular, the impact on livestock, who frequently die after drinking from the mine streams. They have spoken to herders, farmers and elders in their communities, and have recently started working with a student from the University of Venda to help them take water samples and tissue samples from the dead cattle. They have also lobbied Department of Water and Sanitation to come and take water samples and report back to them on the state of the water in the streams and boreholes, and are doing an excellent job of holding DWS to account.
Below are some excerpts from the changing practice Whatsapp group
Mmathapelo (26 June):
Good morning comrades, I received a call this morning from Limpopo Dept of Water and Sanitation. We made an appointment and they will do water testing next week... SEJN and other organisations around our area are welcome to come and witness the process, we will also have a team of livestock owners. Patience pays at last.
Tokelo (5 July):
Today we were meeting with this guy from DWS. The purpose of the meeting was to make relationships between DWS, the communities, ward committees, ward counselors, water committees, CDWs ( Community Development Workers) and SDM( Sekhukhune District Municipality). The communities were reporting on how they suffer to get water especially from bore holes, and dams that are made by the municipality. This is when I started to see that our DWS don't do their jobs because they don't know where the problems are. We started to ask him whether he remembers the time they tested the bore holes and dams, and this showed him that we do know that the water we drink is very contaminated. The meeting was great because they said they will come back after two weeks with responsible people.
Mmathapelo (18 August):
Today the [University of Venda] student and SEJN members started the day by collecting water samples from the upper catchment of the Motse river next to Lolo mountain (Mmatadi) where we collected fresh water. We proceeded to a mine stream, where Motse River meets with the mine stream and the Olifants River. We are hoping to get the results by the end of the month.💪💪💪..........
You can read more about SEJN's fantastic work on their community monitors blog.
One of the intentions of this blog is to profile the work of the organisations and participants taking part in the Olifants Catchment Changing Practice course. This week, we will focus on Action Voices, from Emalahleni in the Upper Olifants catchment.
Change Project: 'Being a voice for the Bragspruit wetland' by Susan Boledi, Lorraine Kakaza & Colen Jojobe.
Description: Action Voices have been involved, for a long time, in monitoring the streams and wetlands around the Emalahleni communities as Benchmark environmental monitors. They have chosen the Bragspruit wetland as the area they would like to work on, in more depth, for their Change Project. The wetland is situated near the KG Mall, near the N4, between Vosman location Extension 3 & 5 and the Emsagweni location. When speaking to them about their Change Project they report how ‘it is hopeless’. People have given up that anything will change and are no longer interested in engaging. The wetland is much worse than it was. In their pre-course assignment they report on how the wetland is filled with animal skulls, dead animals, sewerage and waste that is thrown away, in the informal community, is washed into the wetland. Spiritual practitioners used to practice here but they don’t do so anymore. People that live next to the wetland and have small gardens complain that when they use the water from the wetland their crops die. As it is an informal settlement houses are often flooded in the Summer months when the rain comes and gardens are flooded and die. Community members report that when the rains come the water smells. The communities often don’t have any tap water and so they are forced to use water from the wetland. Action Voices thinks that the water is contaminated by the abandoned mine in the area which affects the communities living near it.
Whatsapp updates: Throughout the month of June, the changing practice course participants have been sharing updates on their work via Whatsapp. The following are excerpts from Action Voices' whatsapp reports:
"Today I was going to town when I was about to approach Standard Bank I smelt a bad smell, it was a terrible smell. I was wondering what could it be. Guess what, it was a sewer. I couldn’t believe what I saw with my eyes. I went straight to the municipality and reported it. They told me that they are going to attend it tomorrow. I’m not happy at all because next to it there are shops that sell food and potato chips. Customers are no longer buying. They ran away and again there are no signs of danger and I’m 100% sure that when children are passing there they will be in danger. I have reported many unattended sewer but none of them are being fixed. Two weeks ago there was someone who lost their life in a sewer."
Communities living next to the mines suffer for the rest of their lives. It’s was so painful to hear people complaining about the mines that operate next to them. All these mines are open cast. They just operate without the community concerns. Instead they create more problems like teenage pregnancy, drugs and unemployment. They don’t hire local people and this affects the youth. So this creates division. One woman says “we had a challenge of water. We don’t have water but when you pass the mine you will see at the washing plant they do have water. We breath black air from the coal dust everyday. We don’t have water and sanitation but mines got everything on their side".On the 8th June I was at Grooivlei farm doing the survey. The more I get to a household I felt like crying. It’s really difficult to see people living in bad situation at the same time they are surrounded by mines ..the community they are always happy to see me because they share their stories with me".
Module 2 coming up: Next week, all the participants and course facilitators will be gathering in Burgersfort for Module 2, where we will be sharing progress, delving deeper into our histories to understand how we got to this point, and how we know what we know. It will also be an opportunity to offer support and solidarity to one another, and to 'refuel' with new inspiration and energy.
This post includes excerpts from Jane Burt's June project report - read the full report here.
In late May 2017 the first module of the Olifants Catchment ‘Changing Practice’ course was held in Witbank. The theme of the first module was Investigating context and practice.
As with all the previous Changing practice courses, the learning approach and pedagogy is transparent and the course begins with a dialogue about learning, knowledge and education. We shared how the course has been designed as a transformative and even transgressive learning process within an emancipatory pedagogy. Some of the learning experiences that participants shared were painful and demeaning and the conversation soon progressed to considering how learning is not a neutral process but can be designed to be emancipatory or to perpetuate power imbalances and inequality. If you are interested in learning more about transgressive learning, head over to the T-learning network website here.
From the previous course we realised that participants have often experienced trauma because of the nature of South African society, or specifically in their work as activists. For this course we wanted to consciously acknowledge this and introduce simple processes that could be healing and are, at least, relaxing and centering. We introduced what are known as healing relaxation exercises where participants are encouraged to centre themselves in their bodies and learn to bring themselves back to the present moment. These exercises were very helpful ways to start each day, and to centre ourselves after particularly challenging sessions. The participants were wonderfully open to these exercises, and shared that they found them hugely beneficial.
One such challenging session was a fieldtrip which CULISA and Action Voices organised, called the ‘toxic tour’. This was a shocking experience for all involved. Although extremely difficult to witness, everyone expressed how important it was to have experienced it as it showed them the top of the catchment and the horror of what happens here which should be of deep concern to everyone in the Olifants catchment. We ran a healing relaxation session after the tour as many of us felt overwhelmed by what we had witnessed.
The toxic tour
We also ran a gender dialogue, where the question posed was: how does gender impact on your change project? The participants quickly went to the core of how gender inequalities were experienced in their own lives and in their communities as well as how culture and religion exacerbate gender inequalities. The implicit violence that sits within the relations between men and women emerged through the dialogues, leaving us all shaken. To move the dialogues out of speech and into our bodies we ended off the session by each one of us making an image of how we felt right now. These images were powerful, painful and challenging, which some people expressed as being ‘louder than words’.
Course coordinator and lead facilitator Jane Burt shared these reflections following Module One:
Running this course is a privilege, a painful and joyful privilege because to fully engage in and immerse oneself in a pedagogy for the oppressed means owning up to the oppressor and oppressed internally and externally. This does not only mean the individual oppressor and oppressed but the way in which inequity and injustice is structured into the institutions and organisations of which we are a part, the cultures out of which we emerge and the relationships we engage in and form. It also emerges out of the experience of the non-human and the slow violence that is being inflicted upon the earth and so ourselves. Running this course continually teaches us this and forces us to be constantly alert, to continually read the world and, more importantly, engage in the muddling through that is the journey towards social and environmental justice. One of our co-facilitators sent a thank you note after Module One, in which she shared with us how her mother had met Paulo Freire at a conference once and asked him for some advice on her work. He said he can’t give advice, he could only talk in parables, and one parable that came to mind was that as educators we have to enter the mud together and only once we are all fully covered, can a teacher stand up.
This post is adapted from Jane Burt's monthly report - read the full version here.
Following a successful two year 'Changing Practice' course with participants from the South African Water Caucus, this year EMG's water and climate change programme, in partnership with Rhodes University's ELRC and AWARD, are running a 'Changing Practice' course with water activists from throughout the Olifants catchment, in Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
The first module went ahead successfully from the 22nd to the 25th of May, in Emalahleni. What really makes this course exciting is that it brings together activists from throughout a single catchment - the Olifants catchment - and although all of the organisations represented focus on a diverse range of issues, they are deeply connected through the shared river they are all striving to protect. Jane Burt, the course facilitator, describes the group as 'deeply passionate, committed and doing incredible work already'. They have all already been participating in the CSO indabas hosted by AWARD - you can learn more about this initiative on the 'Our Olifants' website.
The organisations represented by participants on the course are Action Voices, Come-Act, CULISA, Itumeleng Youth Project, Khulumani Support Group, Mpumalanga Water Caucus, Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network and South African Young Water Professionals.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be profiling the different participants and organisations, and the important work they are doing - watch this space!
The Changing Practice course in the Olifants catchment is facilitated by EMG, accredited by the Environmental Learning Research Centre, Rhodes University
and funded by AWARD through the USAID RESILIM O programme.