December 2016

A Right to Economic Inclusion (Final Livelihood Struggles Blog)

  “Everyone has inherent human dignity and the right to have their dignity protected and respected.” Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996)
 “The ability of people to earn money and support themselves and their families is an important component of the right to human dignity. Without it they faced ‘humiliation and degradation’…” Constitutional Court Judgement in Cases CCT 173/13 and CCT 174/13 (Operation Clean Sweep Case, 2013)


This ‘Livelihood Struggles’ blog series has highlighted the experiences of humiliation, hardship and exclusion which many South Africans face, when they try to earn money and support themselves. From Gideon du Toit’s account of living in a cave in Mosselbay, as a result of being blocked from informal trading, to Louise’s telling of the loss of her take-ways and shebeening businesses, to the harassment and negativity described by Big Issue sellers Tinzi and Xolani, a number of different voices from a number of different informal sectors (street trade, shebeens, educares, spazas, and traditional healing) have shown that economic exclusion is widespread. Poor South Africans face great difficulty in gaining access to formal markets and building livelihoods for themselves, regardless of how they are trying to earn an income.



The kinds of difficulties faced by poor South Africans, and illustrated in this series, include legal restrictions around where businesses can operate and in what kinds of places and spaces, access to licences and permits, lack of ability to absorb unexpected financial shocks, harassment from law enforcement, and negative perceptions from the public. In our understanding, these case studies highlight three inter-related concerns. Our first concern is the apathetic, impassive, and/or negligent response of local government, which has the effect of denying people access to opportunities to earn an income. The failure of local municipalities to provide basic infrastructure for street-based businesses is one example of this; another example is the failure to reduce the complexity of licencing processes. Our second concern is misguided development approaches and government policies which impact negatively on livelihoods. The impact of inappropriate policies is amplified when government agencies are incompetent, wrongly-or-under informed, or corrupt. The cases of both informal liquor retailers and street traders provides an example of how repressive actions impact on people at the margins of society who, in pursuit of a life of dignity (not lawlessness) engage in informal businesses in response to poverty and economic marginalisation. This second concern highlights state action rather than inaction.


Our third concern is pervasive and negative perceptions of informality. Tinzi and Xolani (Big Issue sellers) both experience this when motorists roll up their windows and refuse to engage with them, and Neville, a Rasta herbalist, similarly feels that part of the harassment and hardship he faces is because people are ignorant about what he does. While at first glance negative perceptions of participants of the informal economy seems a less severe challenge than state action/inaction, it in fact becomes part of the rationale for a social and political system which supports systemic economic exclusion.


From this perspective, systemic economic exclusion as an issue is about the denial and fulfilment of rights.


The South African Constitution, one of the most comprehensive and progressive constitutions in the world, promises that the human dignity of all South Africans will be respected and protected. In 2014, in a judgement relating to the illegal removal of street traders from Johannesburg city centre, Constitutional Court judge, Justice Moseneke, explicitly stated that being able to earn a living and provide for one’s family is an important part of having human dignity. The stories shared through this series certainly show that without this ability, many South Africans do experience great indignity, and do not enjoy the right to protection of their dignity. From this perspective, systemic economic exclusion as an issue is about the denial and fulfilment of rights.


What this series has highlighted is the need to see economic inclusion as a right due to all South Africans, and to see informal economic activities as a way to realise that right for the poor and marginalised. Furthermore, the series has exposed the failure of both local governments and broader society to act in the spirit of our Constitution, and makes clear the need for a systemic change in how informality is seen and approached. As our Constitution makes imperative for us in its founding provisions, we need to strive to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”


Additional essays and references to some of the SLF research can be downloaded here.

Words by series editor, Caitlin Tonkin, with editing and writing support from Andrew Charman.

Everliving Film Screening at the Labia

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Contributor: Miriam Waltz


On 16 November a group of Rastafarian bossiedokters (herbalists), in collaboration with SLF, hosted a film screening at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town. Titled ‘Everliving’, the stories showed how bush doctors face police harassment, exclusionary conservation polices, lack of access to land, and mistrust. The stories also explored the bush doctor’s identities as healers, fathers, sons, and community elders, and their relationship with nature. The stories were created through a personal storytelling for transformation (PST) process facilitated by SLF in April this year, and were part of the Making All Voices Count (MAVC) project.


The event drew an audience of about 35 people interested in conservation and social justice. After a short introduction of the MAVC project by Joanna Wheeler, Elder Neville introduced the first four stories, which showcased films reflecting aspects of everyday life, of biography, and how the storytellers came to live and believe and do what they do. A brief discussion after these four films addressed questions from the audience around how the bossiedokters became Rastafarians and how they obtain their knowledge about medicinal plants. Leif Petersen spoke about the Herbanisation project, which some of the bossiedokters were previously involved in and which was the focus of his story.


Elder Reuben introduced the second set of movies, centering around ‘persecution’. These three stories directly addressed experiences of oppression or occasions where the freedom of the bossiedokters was constrained. Part of the ensuing discussion focused on the question of permits. While some audience members suggested that the bossiedokters should lobby for better permit conditions, as other groups of mountain-users have done before, some of the bossiedokters objected that this is against their belief-system and their views on nature and private property. The conversation went to common objectives of bossiedokters and conservationists and the challenges the latter group faces in doing their work. In the end, it was clear that for the Rastafarian herbalists, it was their spiritual need and right to go to the mountain and laws and regulations were seen as radically constraining, not just on their physical bodies and their livelihoods, but also on their identity and spirituality.


Competition Commission Grocery Market Award

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Contributor: Mapaseka Dipale


The Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation has been awarded work by the Competition Commission to conduct a research study on grocery markets. The Competition Commission is one of three independent competition regulatory authorities established in terms of the Competition Act, with the other two being the Competition Tribunal and the Competition Appeal Court (formerly, the Competition Board). These are functionally-independent institutions, but are administratively accountable to the Department of Economic Development.


The aim of the study is to understand informal businesses that sell groceries. These can be house shops, spazas or food vendors in the street. The study will be conducted in all nine provinces across the country and we will cover rural, peri-urban and urban areas. By the end of the study we hope to have interviewed 1800 business owners. The research study will take 5 months to complete and it will consist of the following core team: Leif Petersen, Nathi Tshabalala, Anthony Muteti, Mapaseka Jack and Camilla Thorogood.


Camilla and Mapaseka have recently joined Sustainable Livelihoods. Camilla is currently doing her Masters, with her thesis focusing on nutrition in educares. She recently conducted interviews for this in Vrygrond. Mapaseka is an analyst focusing on GIS Mapping and analysing data. She has a background in Computer Science and Accounting.

PMA Highlights #DelftLivesMatter through Engagement Events

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Contributors: Nava Derakhshani, Joanna Wheeler and Caitlin Tonkin


Delft, Cape Town, has one of the highest crime rates in the country, with record levels of homicides. SLF has been working with a group of Delft residents (the Delft Safety Group) to help them tell their own stories about the problems they face living in Delft –  this process has been part of the Participatory Monitoring and Accountability (PMA) project. After a year of facilitated engagement, residents have produced short films and personal stories about their lives in Delft and how they could be different. Through a series of public screenings of these films, hosted in late November in partnership with UCT’s Safety and Violence Initiative (SAVI), the group articulated clear messages about how insecurities affect them, and about the support they need to confront these problems. Through this series of public engagements, people from Delft started a fresh conversation with government, civil society and the general public about how to create real partnerships for safer, inclusive cities. They also called for the transformation of the police, more accountable political leaders, and more of a focus on the potential of young people. These events gave an opportunity for everyone to understand why people’s lives in Delft matter.



Further to the public engagement events hosted, the PMA team has produced a report on the process, findings and recommendations of the PMA work. The work focuses on how to make cities and informal settlements safer and more inclusive, taking as a starting point the extremely high levels of insecurity and violence that characterise daily life for many within townships and informal settings in South Africa. Read the full report, including links to the short stories and collective films made by the group, here.


A further blog explaining the Delft Safety Group and PMA process is available here, written by SLF’s Nava Derakhshani and Joanna Wheeler. Below is the short film ‘Gangsters in Uniform’, produced collectively by the Delft Safety Group.


Pending Public Release of Informality Data

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Contributor: Andrew Charman


The Formalising Informal Micro-Enterprises (FIME) project undertook research on township micro-enterprises from 2010-2015. One aspect of the research was to investigate enterprise characteristics and business challenges. The project conducted 3188 interviews with business owners in eight different township localities. The data has been compiled into a data-set to enable cross-sector and cross-site analysis; the identity of the research informants have, notwithstanding, been anonymised.  SLF has developed a user-manual for future users of the data set. The manual details the research process and questionnaires through which the data was obtained and explains the organisation of the data-set as well as the associated coding framework. The data-set is now publicly available. We are in an advanced phase of negotiating to have the data-set accessible through public data saving and data sharing platform.  Details on accessing the SLF FIME data-set will be announced on the SLF Facebook page.

High Street Study in Katutura, Windhoek

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Contributor: Andrew Charman


The Unlocking Land for Micro-Enterprise Growth (UMLEG) project aims to influence public policy on land constraints affecting micro-enterprises in urban communities. One objective of UMLEG is to generate knowledge on land use challenges such as tenure insecurity, lack of access to land, municipal by-laws and inappropriate zoning. A second objective is to draw on this research to engage with policy makers and land management stakeholders on practical reforms that can unlock land for micro-enterprise activities.


As part of the UMLEG research / engagement agenda, SLF has partnered with UrbanWorks to complete a study of the high street economy, focusing on the case of Eveline Street in Katutura, Windhoek. Eveline Street is one of several business corridors that have been established by the City of Windhoek to support micro-enterprise formalisation through allocating business rights to high street properties. The Eveline Street case is of particular relevance to South African townships because the high street accommodates a large number of leisure related businesses, including bars, restaurants and hair care services. The SLF research found that business activities have intensified overtime, whilst the mix of business activities has substantially diversified. Eveline Street provides a case of how the high street leisure economy can spur economic growth across a range of sectors and stimulate investment in enterprise facilities and property.


The results of the Eveline Street research will be presented at a series of exhibition events in Windhoek, Johannesburg and Cape Town in February and March 2017. Details will be announced on the SLF Facebook page and via invitation.

Exciting New Project Tackles School Dropout

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Contributor: Andrew Hartnack


SLF has been granted funding to play a crucial role in building a community of best practice around the important issue of school dropout. The DG Murray Trust has recently initiated the ‘Tackling School Dropout Initiative’, through which it is funding nine organisations, working in four provinces, to pilot innovative approaches addressing school dropout during the course of 2017.


School dropout is a major problem in South Africa’s 20 000 under-resourced schools, with only a small fraction of those who commence school even making it to Grade 12, let alone writing matric. It has been found that having a matric certificate fundamentally improves the chances of finding employment, while those who drop out before this often struggle to put together adequate livelihoods. Foundational learning in poor schools in South Africa is grossly inadequate, meaning that two-thirds of learners are behind on key numeracy and literacy milestones by Grade 4. These academic shortfalls, coupled with other social and economic pressures (challenging home environment, teen pregnancy, gangsterism etc.), lead to the unacceptably high dropout levels which peak in grades 10 and 11.


The nine organisations funded by the DGMT will apply different approaches to address school dropout in high schools in a range of contexts. Led by Dr Andrew Hartnack, SLF’s role will be to research and evaluate these approaches, playing the role of a ‘thinking partner’ to these organisations as they pilot effective ways to keep at-risk learners in school and on-track to successfully completing their schooling. SLF will be conducting research in 20 schools to learn first-hand about these interventions and what potential impacts they can make in the lives of at-risk learners. We will be sharing more about this process and its results throughout 2017!

Engaging Delft in Heart Health

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Contributor: Gill Black


Our Heart of the Matter (HOTM) project brought together nineteen dynamic Delft community members in a unique partnership with a group of cardiovascular disease (CVD) research scientists from Stellenbosch University (SU) led by Professor Hans Strijdom. The project came to a successful conclusion at a well-attended engagement event held in the Delft Civic Centre in October. All project participants took to the stage with enthusiasm and pride to present their novel photobook and the two short collaborative films they had made, which were seen by an audience of over 120 Delft community members.


Audience participation during a question and answer session with scientists at the HOTM final event in Delft.

Audience participation during a question and answer session with scientists at the HOTM final event in Delft.


The photobook, which was developed through a photovoice approach, shows the variety of food types that are available in the urban township of Delft, describes key factors that influence the food choices of people who live there, and illuminates different perspectives on what healthy eating means.


The two films, Your Health is Your Wealth and For a Better Life, were collectively designed, scripted and recorded by the Delft project participants. The first film illustrates the ways in which heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes have impacted the lives of Delft youth. It also describes what the youth participants think can and should be done to address the heart disease epidemic that is ‘’tearing our families apart’’. The second film explores the Delft participants’ knowledge about what is driving the high prevalence of heart disease in their community, and illustrates how their regular engagement with the group of CVD research scientists over nine months augmented their awareness about the health implications of food and lifestyle choices.


Activities at the October engagement event also included question and answer sessions to gauge and amplify the learning that was happening in the room as the event progressed. Many questions about heart disease that had been asked by the Delft participants during project workshops were given carefully prepared and thorough answers by the CVD research team, with the intention of sharing this knowledge with all in attendance. The action-packed programme included energetic dancing and singing performances by local artists which were thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by everyone who was there.


We hope that the HOTM project provides an example of how participatory community engagement in biomedical research can be an enjoyable process of knowledge exchange and co-learning, and that when given enough space and time, it can help to build respectful and trusting relationships between community members and biomedical researchers.


The Heart of the Matter project was supported by a Wellcome International Engagement grant awarded to SLF director and co-founder, Gill Black, in 2015.


‘I have realised the value of having our research ultimately translated to our communities in an understandable manner. At the end of the day, these are the people we are doing it for’.

Dr. Shantal Windvogel; Senior Lecturer, CVD Research Group, Stellenbosch University



Safe Shebeens Hosts Pool Tournament

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Contributor: Nathi Tshabalala


In 2014, SLF embarked on the Safe Shebeens Project, seeking to contribute to reducing alcohol-related harms by promoting safety in shebeens (unlicensed liquor outlets) that are notorious in government and media circles for being ‘unsafe’. The project promoted safety through signs that communicate house and safety rules adopted by shebeen owners to patrons. The advantage of signs is that they are visible and bridge the literacy gap in townships.


As an extension of this work, SLF organised a pool tournament on 12th November 2016, in Gugulethu. It brought together four shebeens from the three townships of Sweet Home Farm, Gugulethu and Mfuleni. It attracted players (28) and patrons (over 80) to an ‘edutainment’ engagement where sport and education were used to promote safety in drinking venues and contribute towards reducing alcohol related harms. The pool tournament went successfully, and requests for follow-ups from the players have already been made.


Bossiedoktor Freedom

This penultimate blog in our ‘Livelihood Struggles’ series was researched and written by Nabeel Petersen, a previous SLF staff member and now an independent facilitator, researcher and consultant. In writing this blog, he collaborated with Rastafarian Elder Neville, a long-time friend and former employee of SLF. All photographs and quotations are Neville’s.




“Being a bossiedokter is not just about taking that bunch of herbs and selling it to the next person. It is about the connection between you, the healing powers of the herbs and the person wanting healing or knowledge. So it is more a connection of 3. This connection is so important because you can heal that person before you give the herbs. It’s not because healing is in the mind. It’s because of this connection between the 3.” – Elder Neville


Rastafarian bossiedokters are an institution that performs an important psycho-social-physiological role in the Western Cape, most notably to the poor. They are a group of healers that understand local communities and rely on natural indigenous herbal remedies to heal these communities. Herbal remedies or ‘bossies’ cost a fraction of the price of Western medication, are harvested from local areas, protected or not, and are traded directly on the streets, often in makeshift street stalls or on the sidewalk floors.  The self-governing nature of the bossiedokters positions these individuals as agents that operate in opposition to the the formal economy and its practices, as well as in opposition to the dominant bio-medical model and its practices.


“Being a bossiedokter, it is prophecy. It is something that needs to be done. If we weren’t there, many people would have died now already. So we play an important role in society. We save such a lot of people through our interaction with them and selling them herbs.” – Elder Neville


The informal economy or informality is defined by exclusion, structural or voluntary. Whereas most economic enterprises within the informal economy aspire to formality or to formal support structures to secure economic growth, inclusion and business development, certain sub-communities choose to operate and  define themselves in opposition to the formal economy and its principles. One such community is the Rastafarian bossiedokters.


Central to Rastafarian ideology is the notion of freedom. In this instance freedom stands in stark contrast to formalized economic activity. Rastafarians actively and consciously condemn ‘Babylonian’ or formal authoritarian structures, including the state. It is their collective aspiration for exclusion from the formal economy and its governance structures (freedom), that actively creates and reproduces the bossiedokter community, its economic practices, desires for self-governance, and, in turn, its value to society. The bossiedokters subscription to informality as opposed to, and in condemnation of, formal structures is firmly entrenched in being a bossiedokter, from harvesting, spaces for economic activity, community, social interaction and economic aspiration.


“Being free is more important than anything else. It means nothing can hold you back from what you do, what you think, what you feel and having the freedom to make the decisions around your life. Also where you want to pick herbs, why you want to pick herbs and who the herbs are going to. Freedom to go into the mountains and harvest is a kind of rebellion against the system.” – Elder Neville


It is not hard to understand why this economically active community defines itself by informality and operates informally, in rebellion to the state and the imposition of formal governance. Their enterprises and the manner in which they operate are an extension of their religious and socio-political doctrine and their devotion to healing local communities.


This creates an interesting dynamic for this community as they’re perceived as either healers, or herbal poachers and trespassers who venture into restricted and protected areas to harvest medicinal and often protected flora. Whereas bossiedokters express a desire for freedom to harvest and trade, this very freedom to harvest criminalizes them and most, if not all, bossiedokters have stories of persecution and discrimination to tell in relation to their professions. SLF has worked with bossiedokters since 2013 and has recently captured these stories in a digital storytelling process exploring the experience of being ‘free or unfree as a bossiedokter’, as part of the Making All Voices Count Imitative. Elder Neville’s story can be viewed here.


This re-iterating conundrum is best expressed by Elder Neville (who has more than 30 years’ experience as a bossiedokter), who stated that the work of the bossiedokter is:


“…very much connected to being free. What we desire is to harvest in nature without having a permit. It is every man’s right to go into the mountain and harvest herbs for free… and we as bossiedokters still exercise that right even though we know it is a problem. When you get caught in the mountain, you go to jail. I have experienced this twice from picking Buchu…This is basically the most important reason why we don’t look at permits as a kind of solution to our problem. The solution should be that the idea of a permit shouldn’t exist at all especially when it comes to nature. It’s natural.” – Elder Neville


The issue, according to this Elder, is that the state and the public have scant knowledge on Rastafarianism, its ideology and the bossiedokter who are perceived of as “dirty, unclean and ignorant”. Elder Neville claims that conversations around the informal versus formal economy would not exist if not for institutional coercion, imposition and a willingness to accept those that actively do not want to participate in more formalized structures, especially those who actively work to serve the community. As such, the manner in which these herbal experts operate will remain, voluntarily, free and informal as aligned to this collective ideology and its resistance to the state (which they call Babylon).


“We will always be separate. There will always be that distance …because of ignorance, not knowing and not understanding who we are and what we do.” – Elder Neville