Creating uncomfortable spaces - speaking truth to power
in South Africa

(By Nobuntu Mazeka, Nelson Mandela Foundation, South Africa. TfT Graduate 2006 and TfT Facilitator (excerpt from “TfT in Practice”))

In February 2006, I enrolled for a Diploma course that was intensive, challenging us intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The experiences I had and the processes I underwent shaped my ideology and opened a window into the mysteries of life in our world. The most fundamental insight I have drawn from the TfT process is the awareness of myself as a spiritual being, connected with nature and with those I am called to serve. I understood the essence of what community development is, how it should be done, by whom, with whom. These attributes had ripple effects not only in my work but also in my community. I went back with a small mouth, big ears, open eyes and an open mind. I started listening to what makes people angry, what makes them happy and what are their main issues. Training for Transformation has since become a philosophy for me to create uncomfortable spaces in which people at any level can start to dialogue, in which ordinary people can learn to speak truth to power.

In our listening surveys, in rural areas of the Eastern Cape, two generative themes came through strongly:
1. The introduction of a massive food programme by government: Community members were up in arms as to who benefits in the scheme, whilst others felt sidelined. Some were suspicious as to why people were given packages of maize seeds along with ‘roundups’, fertilizers, lime for free, to use them in soil that is so rich in natural organic content. They see the massive food programme as a way of getting the soil addicted to inputs, thus destroying the livelihoods of people or putting them into a debt trap. They were given no answers as to how long these packages would be handed out for free. Growing up in an area where working and living on the land forms a major part of who we are, I decided to join the struggle as a small- scale farmer. The knowledge gained from the provincial workshops was sufficient for me to engage in this dialogue with the aim of promoting the rights of small-scale farmers to food security, and a clean and healthy environment. I tried to align the work that we do as an organization with the generative themes of the community.

2. The second generative theme from surveys was the issuing of a mining license for titanium on the sand dunes along the Wild Coast by government, without consulting the AmaDiba community, the owners of land. Again people were divided. Some wanted the mining as they were promised employment and shares, whereas others were totally against the mining due to its environmental impact on the lives of the people and their livelihoods. These are the two most powerful issues, and adapting the Freirean approach of popular education has constantly brought wonderful AHA moments to the communities with whom we work.


Working with and in divided communities takes courage especially if you are one of them (an insider). The big question is how do you do what you have to do without being subjective? The biggest challenge in both cases was to light a fire that would raise the levels of consciousness of the people without promoting violence. The animation process, adapting TFT methodology, became an indispensable, humanizing pedagogy to solve conflicting issues in my community. In community meetings held at Komkhulu (traditional imbizos) I would be given a slot of 3 to 4 hours to facilitate the outraged group of men, women and youth. I adapted the concept of Manfred Max-Neef of Fundamental Human Needs in relation to fundamental human rights. The codes would raise questions on what type of needs are we trying to address when get involved in massive food programmes, and what need are we trying to address when we allow mining in our communities? How do we organize around those needs? During organizing, how much and what do we compromise? Who decides how we should organize in order for us to satisfy our needs? People started engaging, asking questions, opening up, and making references to other development initiatives which did not have a positive impact on the lives of the people.

In most of the discussions and dialogues, the information received from TfT played a major role in conscientizating the community. Case studies of farmers from Kwa Makhatini, here in South Africa, where a cotton plantation programme was first piloted, were shared during sessions. Case studies of struggles of small-scale farmers in India, who were trapped in debt and committing suicide, were also shared. The purpose of sharing these case studies was not to scare people, who wanted the massive food programme, but to make comparisons and to widen our world view, and to show that food sovereignty and food security are a global issue.

At this point the community was energized to act, yet it gave the chance to those who wanted to join the programme to go ahead, with the knowledge to make informed choices. The TfT method assisted the community to use ‘microscopic’ lenses to deal with top-down approaches to development and to work as a collective in order to have a voice. We move from the ego-centric (I) to socio-(we) and world-centric (we all). A resolution was taken to form committees to work closely with our organization advocating a change in the way the authorities engage with local people on issues of development.


Coincidentally, at that moment in time one of the committee members on the massive food programme came across an advert in a national newspaper. The advert was inviting interest groups to make submissions to the Agricultural Portfolio Committee in Parliament on the Genetically Modified Organism Amendment Bill. We prepared our arguments and brought with us different maize varieties, the hybrid, the GM and 5 traditional varieties. To present our analysis we used the Three Storey Building to engage both the parliamentarians and the investors on the socio-cultural, socio-political and economic issues adding a fourth storey on the environmental impact of GMOs. Issues of consumers’ rights to information were key. There was a disclaimer on the seeds’ tags that liability ended with the+ ‘End-user’, which we challenged. We also have the opportunity to forge networks with other partners, like Biowatch and Africa Bio-safety. The Bill was withdrawn and came back in 2011 with some clauses thrown out, but food labeling, which was one of the main things we had argued for, was included. Now, as we speak, food menus in major restaurants and in major retailers in the country are labeled.

We also made contacts with members of parliament who are working in our favour when we opposed the mining licensing. Funding was organized for exchange visits to Richards Bay Sands Mining Operation. The AmaDiba Crisis Committee met with members of the community affected and visited the site as a fact-finding mission which was part of the action plan. The findings were shocking. Communities were stripped of their livelihoods. The avocado and papaya trees, which used to bear fruit that community members sold by the roadside, were sterile, no longer producing fruit. The soil had become less productive. Local people were promised jobs but only two people were employed, one as caretaker and another as a cleaner. Houses were collapsing. Social cohesion was ruined as people were accusing each other of greed and blaming traditional leadership for accepting bribes and selling them out. Benefits were not paid to the community as promised.

The second stage was to present a petition on the day the Minister of Minerals and Energy and the government delegation was declaring the license. We forged a network with Sustaining Wild Coast for media coverage. The Minister was shocked to hear about the dubious process undertaken by the investor to obtain the license. The national department had been misled and the environmental impact assessments had been cooked, and the community had not been consulted. The community wants the area to be protected and declared a World Endemic Centre because of its very rich biodiversity. A commission of enquiry was appointed by the Ministry which conducted hearings and made recommendations. Then the mining license was revoked and nullified.

Three members of the Crisis committee attended the TFT certificate and diploma courses to deepen their knowledge on how to deal with struggles of social transformation. Their videos of this work are available on the internet entitled “Too Great a Toll’. The struggle shifted to the National Toll Road (known as N2 toll road). However, we learnt that structures like bridges were to be funded by mining so the toll road developments move at a snail’s pace. The struggle of Pondoland continues. TfT gives us the most relevant and powerful language one can use to speak truth to power. A LUTA CONTINUA.