The report shows how South Africa’s spatially unjust land use systems impact on (informal) micro-enterprises in the township context. The report illustrates the ways in which land use management systems have intentionally and unintentionally reinforced Apartheid era town planning and spatial injustices. For township micro-entrepreneurs, the land related processes which people have to navigate to obtain regulatory compliance resembles a Kafkaesque world: one in which the rules are nightmarishly complex, incomprehensible and illogical. Partly as a result of these challenges, the great majority of township informal micro-enterprises do not comply with land management system requirements and gain few to no benefits in doing so. Township micro-entrepreneurs have no alternative to trading illegally. We refer to this process as ‘enforced informalisation’.
Based on detailed evidence, the report amplifies the argument that South Africa requires a land use system that can more effectively operationalize the principles of spatial justice and spatial resilience, whilst making allowance for economic marginalisation. Land systems need to recognise the fluidity of urban conditions and multiple uses of land for business, social, cultural and residential purposes. The report recommends specific ways in which legislation need to be refined, including the need for urban land reform in spatial development frameworks. We recommend that municipalities should simplify land use systems and accommodate mixed land use with greater tolerance for economic activities. Finally we call on national government to develop a policy framework on micro-enterprise formalisation, specifying land use requirements and specific additional criteria for certain classes of enterprises.
Click here to view the report.
Our Making All Voices Count research report has been published.
This report draws on research that has been done at SLF within the past 6 years. It focuses on four case studies which examine challenges faced by marginalised groups and the individuals that campaign on their behalf. These groups include activists against gender-based violence, community care workers and health committee members, informal traders, and Rastafarian bossie doctors. We have worked with these groups through a range of technology-enabled participatory processes to unpack the dense and complex layers that block government accountability in South Africa.
Click here to view the report.
This case study was included in a collaborative submission by SLF, PLAAS, the University of the Western Cape, and the Centre for Excellence in Food Security, in response to the Competition Commission’s inquiry into South Africa’s grocery retail market. The full submission is available here.
Some years ago, the City of Cape Town sold off a 9.7 ha site adjacent to Delft, to Shoprite Checkers (Pty) Ltd (whose co-founder and Chairman Christo Wiese has a personal fortune estimated at R93 billion). In 2016 it was announced that a shopping mall would be constructed on the site, with a proposed investment of R170m. According to an article in The New Age, “The City’s property management department has been facilitating the development of this site over the past few years and has been informed that the construction of the bulk services was due to commence soon”. In terms of broader investment, it is claimed that the developer will make a R2m contribution to developing a facility of the City’s choosing, create 240 “housing opportunities” (in a private property development), and employ local labour in the “different stages of development” of the mall.
Delft South (population ~40,000) had over 1,600 microenterprises in 2015. The City’s land use zoning regulations render the great majority of these enterprises as illegal or at least extra-legal (shown in the map alongside), hindering their potential for formalising. Despite the enthusiastic response by the City of Cape Town as to the positive impacts of the mall, there is no evidence that this development will bring about economic opportunity to any of the resident microenterprises within the Delft community. There is no mention of the mall being compelled to make space for Delft township businesses of any nature. Moreover, researchers working with township entrepreneurs (such as SLF) have not been consulted by the City of Cape Town in the approval of the mall vis a vis their assessment of the socio-economic impact that the mall could have on local businesses.
Based on the parent company ownership, it is most likely that the tenanted businesses will include some or all of the following outlets that fall within their group: Shoprite, Checkers, Checkers Hyper, Usave, Computicket, OK Furniture, MediRite Pharmacy, LiquorShop, and Hungry Lion. Supermarkets and shopping malls virtually always include high street supermarket, liquor and take-away businesses within their tenants and services. These three kinds of business outlets alone directly compete with over half the township economy.
By actively facilitating development of shopping malls in the vicinity of the township, yet making no allowance for informal business, local government and big business form a highly effective partnership to outcompete and dominate the township retail grocery sector. Further to this outmanoeuvring, the new mall will form a localised monopoly of formal retail businesses – against which no township grocery retailer can ever expect to prosper or grow beyond its current informal status. In South Africa’s economy of entrenched inequality this scenario is highly problematic.
Much of the change required to level this playing field and limit the unfairness of structural conditions falls to government. Firstly, there is a critical requirement to ease the legal and technical processes for formalisation of informal businesses to take place. This includes activities such as amending and relaxing town planning laws to incorporate the residential reality of township informal grocery retailing, and easing the requirements for permitting and licensing in order to bring township business into a regulatory framework. Furthermore, future shopping mall developments must be compelled to incorporate (eg) 25% or more space for local township businesses. Explicit provision for secure, hygienic and appropriately-sheltered trading facilities ought to be incorporated in all planning and design for retail spaces in malls, as well as around key transit nodes like bus and train stations and along high streets and similar transit corridors. Without such and other similar actions, township enterprises will never have the opportunity to legitimise and grow in the face of market dominance by formal retail chains.
Words by: Leif Petersen
Editing by: Caitlin Tonkin
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.
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
This, our fifth blog in the ‘Livelihood Struggles’ series, deals with the difficulties street vendors face in South Africa’s big metros. Enormous thanks must go to The Big Issue, who provided invaluable input into this blog, and two of whose vendors, Xolani and Tinzi, are co-authors alongside SLF researcher Caitlin Tonkin. However, the views put forward in this blog are not necessarily those endorsed by The Big Issue as a whole.
“My name is Xolani… I am working for The Big Issue for six years now… some customers, they don’t understand why we sell on the street… But I explain that there are no jobs and [selling] the magazine stops the suffering of people.” (Xolani, Big Issue vendor)
Xolani earns his living on the city streets. Hawking goods on the streets, both in the city and in the townships, is what provides the proverbial bread and butter (and rent, transport, school fees, healthcare etc.) for at least a million South Africans (and African foreign nationals) – and forms an approximate 8% of the national economy. Contrary to the common belief that street trade is opportunistic and impermanent, successful street trade is characterised by consistency. In many cases, street traders have worked the same pitch, selling fruits, or sweets, or fashion accessories to the same loyal customers, for upwards of five years; they have strategically chosen pitches which see high levels of traffic (foot or vehicular); and they have established agreements with surrounding shops regarding storage, access to water and use of ablutions. In reaction to a saturated formal job market, these are entrepreneurs who have made a plan to support themselves and their families, and in so doing generate productive economic activity.
The Big Issue is a non-profit organisation positioned within this space of street trading. By publishing and selling a monthly magazine to vendors, The Big Issue gives its vendors, all marginalised and unemployed adults, both a product to sell and experience in managing their own stock and money (among other forms of educational, social and psychological support provided). If you live in Cape Town, you’ll most probably be familiar with the blue-bibbed vendors who sell their magazines at busy intersections. To gain insight into the daily struggles of street vendors, SLF spoke to vendors and staff at The Big Issue. Tinzi, a vendor, explained:
“I became a vendor as I could not find a job… Selling the magazine isn’t easy as people just look at you like you a beggar or you going to rob them, they close their windows and lock their cars… Being a vendor is tough. You have to stand in the rain during winter as its difficult to get permission from the malls for us to sell there. Sales drop and you get sick and when you don’t work you don’t get money to provide for your family. Sometimes the law enforcement officers confiscate your magazines and say you can’t sell here, but the social-worker [provided by The Big Issue] will tell them that we have permission…”
Xolani added, “…we have people thinking we are lazy…”
A social-worker from The Big Issue explained further:
“[One of the issues] vendors face on the streets is the law enforcement, especially when we start in areas they don’t know The Big Issue. Their magazines will be confiscated and they will be dealt with rudely. But we do have an agreement with the City of Cape Town for our vendors to sell at the robots…”
The Big Issue vendors’ thoughts, and prominent research in this space (including research by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute and Professor Claire Benit-Gbaffou, from Wits’ Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies), points, broadly, to two major struggles which street vendors in South Africa face.
The first is a struggle with the state. In general, South African municipalities, who are responsible for the day-to-day regulation of street trade, see street vendors as bringing dirt and crime into cities. Municipalities over-restrict and over-enforce street trade, while simultaneously under-regulating and under-supporting it. For example, many vendors experience regular harassment from law enforcement, particularly if they are selling near malls or formalised shops, yet they lack the basic infrastructure, such as shelter and storage facilities, which formal shops have and which the state could easily provide for street traders. Municipal investment in supporting street trade could be a powerful development tool – and yet municipalities generally adhere to a practice of treating street traders as nuisances, who threaten private interests and spoil ‘world-class’ city spaces.
The second struggle traders face is with the negative perceptions the public has of them. Both Xolani and Tinzi point out that public perceptions of them and their profession range from lack of understanding, to lazy, to outright criminal. These perceptions are not so different to how the state sees street traders. As this blog, and indeed this series, seeks to show, these demeaning perceptions obscure a more complicated reality of jobless South Africans making work in very marginalised spaces. A change in public perception towards street traders could play a role in pressurising municipalities into better practices towards street traders; more than that, though, is that a change in public perception towards street traders could improve the quality of their daily experiences. In Tinzi’s words, “Life will be easier if people understand that we want to be treated with respect, as we doing an honest job and trying to make a living and provide for our families.”
Read the previous blog in this series here.
‘Obstacles for ECDs’ is the fourth in our ‘Livelihood Struggles’ series. It is written by SLF associate Mapaseka Jack, based on her experience of interviewing ECD owners and staff. The ECD interviews formed part of an independent Masters research project, in which SLF is playing a supportive role.
“The most important phase of learning takes place in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, and if that opportunity is missed, the damage can never be undone.”
Marelise Van Der Merwe (Writer @ the Daily Maverick)
In partnership with a Masters student who is researching ECD centres, I recently spent a week in Vrygrond, talking to various ECD centre owners, to better understand how they operate. Vrygrond, situated near Muizenberg (Cape Town), is one of the oldest informal settlements in the Western Cape. Early Childhood Development centres (ECD centres) are any building used for the admission, protection and temporary care of more than six children away from their parents (UNICEF definition). Depending on registration, an ECD centre can admit babies, toddlers and pre-school children. The term ECD centre can refer to crèche, educare, a playgroup, a pre-school, after school care.
South African Law requires that all ECD centres be registered and that they should follow a programme that ensures that the children get adequate education required by the national government. Currently, government provides an operational subsidy of R15 a day per pupil, a subsidy restricted to ECD centres that comply with certain standards on infrastructure. Some of these standards are: the structure must be safe and well ventilated; it should have enough windows; and each child must have enough space to move about freely, meaning there must be 1,5 m² of indoor play space per child and 2 m² of outdoor play space per child. These rules make it hard for the ECD sites we visited to comply. Because our government does not have a subsidy that funds infrastructure additions or improvements for the ECD centres, centres that do not meet the standards defined by the department are not assisted at all.
Most of the ECD centres interviewed were not formally registered with any government department and they stated red tape and the lengthy process as the reason. Not being registered means they cannot apply for funding for their ECDs. Although their main reason for opening the ECD centre was to help the parents and give the kids an education, they are struggling to work around the bureaucratic requirements of the state. One owner said, “I’ve been applying since May this year and there’s a lot of red tape and requirements.”
The Department Social Development (DSD) can make the process quicker and simpler when they want to. One of the ECD centres we interviewed was registered in 24 hours by the department and the department donated land for centre. This is one of the prime examples that government can make this process easier. The pastor who owns the crèche said, “The Minister showed up and the registered the ECD Centre in one day and donated tables and chairs.”
One of the ECD owners extended her house in order to open an centre. Her ECD centre is well managed with an office. The classrooms are divided by age and there’s a schedule followed by each class, the kitchen is fully stocked with a helper. There’s play area outside with swings and space for kids to run. Yet, she told us that “DSD said I can’t register the ECD Centre because the extension doesn’t have enough windows.” The owner only found out about this standard when she applied and this is the only reason she cannot be registered even though her educare is one of the best educares in that neighbourhood.
After going through a long process of being registered, ECD centres are not guaranteed that they will receive funding. There’s a lot more paperwork that the ECD centre owner must complete. One of the ECD centres visited is legally registered and they are in a process of closing due to lack of funding and support. One of the owners we spoke to said ”I’ve been applying for funding since 2015 and there’s a lot of documents to fill. Other people have received funding not me. I don’t know why and now I am closing the educare because I cannot afford to run it.” The only help she has received has been from various organisations that provide food.
The formalities that the department impose on ECD centres to qualify for funding, especially in neighbourhoods such as Vrygrond, make it difficult for the ECD centres to survive or continue. The current laws cater for well-established ECDs or ECD centres that operate in the formal economy, yet make it impossible for the ECD centres that we interviewed to benefit or receive support from the government. A separate subsidy should be created to fund construction of new facilities, upgrading and maintaining existing facilities for informal ECD centres to help them get to reach a state that allows them to become formal. Without such interventions, the current subsidy will not reach the kids who need it most and education inequality will continue.
Read the previous blog in this series here.
This, the third blog in our ‘Livelihood Struggles’ series, uses the story of Louise (in addition to others) to highlight the resilience of poor South Africans to ‘idiosyncratic shocks’ which affect their livelihoods. Louise is known to SLF through our Safe Shebeens project, and gave her permission for her experience to be featured. Written by Caitlin Tonkin.
“I have no time to think of dying…”, says Louise, a shebeener from the Sweet Home Farm informal settlement, outside Cape Town. She says this because herself, her children and her boyfriend depend on her shebeen for an income. “Ek sal nooit survive sonder my shebeen.” (I will never survive without my shebeen).
Louise was one of several shebeeners with whom the Foundation worked in 2012, on a project to promote safety in shebeens in the Sweet Home Farm community. As part of this project, shebeeners were helped to produce their own digital stories. It’s in her digital story (featured below), that Louise explains her shebeen’s central role in keeping her family financially afloat, and thus how important it is that she stays healthy to run her shebeen, despite her HIV positive status (about which she is very open).
Since 2012, Louise has fortunately remained healthy, and has grown her business to include a take-aways section. On a recent visit to Sweet Home Farm, Louise tells SLF that her business was providing enough that she always had petty change in her pocket, to give to her grandchildren to buy sweets. But, earlier this year, two men were shot in a gang confrontation in Louise’s street, and died on her property, where they had run to escape further shooting. Because of their jealousy of the success of her business, Louise suspects, the families of the two men forced her to pay for the funerals. R 20 000 later, Louise’s savings are spent and she can barely buy stock for her shebeen, let alone keep her take-aways business running.
Louise’s experience shows the devastating effect that unexpected expenses, often related to illness, dying and death, can have on people whose income derives from survivalist economic activity. Although Louise has been impacted by a specific set of circumstances, she is not alone in her small, informal micro-enterprise(s) and the income/savings generated by that being insufficient to keep her financially secure in the face of unexpected, shock expenses. Joey and Megan, a Delft couple, were similarly affected by unexpected illness: Joey’s heart operation, subsequent months of hospitalisation and return home wheel-chair bound meant that his wife no longer had the time, human labour or money to to continue running their succesful spaza, on top of caring for him.
SLF’s research has revealed thousands of examples of South Africans, like Louise, Joey and Megan, for whom a micro-enterprise is their key means of economic survival, either because this is their only source of income, or because revenue from that one micro-enterprise supports a host of other informal micro-enterprises which collectively contribute to household income. For these South Africans, a small micro-enterprise is at once the source of their income, their savings and what they need to continue that micro-enterprise. This makes them highly vulnerable to unexpected expenses (both financial expenses and time/labour costs) like funerals, medication, hospitalisation, or theft, which can obliterate the narrow margins of their economic survival.
Idiosyncratic, or household, shocks disrupt poor South Africans’ fragile economic balance. Without financial security, absorbing these shocks is incredibly difficult, as Louise’s experience shows. And yet, South Africans like Louise don’t just stop surviving – they can’t. As Louise catches SLF up on her situation, she remains positive that she will find ways to continue providing for her family – already she has started renting out rooms in her shack and taking on adhoc char work, as well as continuing to make some cash off her pool tables and juke box. Louise’s story is a story about struggle, but is also a story about resourcefulness and resilience in the face of struggle. Like other South Africans who experience such unexpected shocks, Louise demonstrates a kind of heightened resilience that comes from literally having no other choice but to continue surviving.
As Louise says, “I have no time to think of dying.”
Read more about ‘idiosyncratic shocks’ and how South African micro-enterprises respond in SLF’s Andrew Hartnack and Rory Liedeman’s research paper, here.
Read more about the shebeen sector in townships in the previous ‘Livelihood Struggles’ blog, here.
On the 15th of October, our Heart of the Matter (HOTM) project reached its conclusion at a community engagement event held in the Delft Civic Centre in Cape Town. The Delft residents who participated in the project rose to the occasion with terrific enthusiasm to showcase the photobook and two films that they had been working hard to produce since the beginning of the year.
The HOTM brought together nineteen dynamic Delft community members in a unique partnership with a group of cardiovascular disease (CVD) research scientists from Stellenbosch University, led by Professor Hans Strijdom.
In the first phase of the project a team of 11 community members – who chose to name themselves the Delft Health Ambassadors—participated in a photovoice process. Through this process the group developed a novel photobook, using images and narratives to describe accessibility to different types of food in the urban township of Delft, key factors influencing their food choices and their perspectives on what healthy eating means.
During its development, the HOTM photobook was shared at several stages with the scientific team, providing them with first-hand and grounded information regarding the diets and lifestyles of people who live in a place that has a particularly high rate of cardiovascular disease. The Stellenbosch researchers contributed to the book with many comments about what they had learned through the photographs, and by providing essential public health information about cardiovascular disease. So far, 150 copies of this colourful and unique photobook have been disseminated, mainly into the Delft community with some also being given to medical scientists with an interest in community engagement, at Stellenbosch.
In Phase 2 of the project, eight younger community members – who ranged in age from 18 to 25 and called themselves the Delft Youth Ambassadors – collectively, designed, scripted and shot a short film entitled Your Health is Your Wealth. The film illustrates the ways in which heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes have impacted the lives of these young people. Your Health Is Your Wealth also describes what the youth participants think can and should be done to address the heart disease epidemic that is ‘’tearing families apart’’.
The 3rd phase of HOTM enabled the Delft Health and Youth Ambassadors, and the CVD research group, to work together in making the film For a better life. The film further explores the Delft participants’ knowledge about what is driving the high prevalence of heart disease in the community, and illustrates how their regular engagement with the group of CVD research scientists over nine months has augmented their awareness about the health implications of food and lifestyle choices.
Phase 4 was all about the HOTM community engagement event which took place on a windy but sunny spring day in October after 3 months of detailed planning by the Delft Health and Youth Ambassadors. The Ambassadors and the SLF team all arrived early and with much excitement and anticipation to set up and prepare for the arrival of the audience. All guests had been personally invited by the Ambassadors and were warmly welcomed by them at the door. The first 45 guests received a copy of the HOTM photobook. The CVD team from Stellenbosch University also arrived in good time to help welcome guests and catch up with the Delft participants before the start of the programme.
The Delft Health and Youth Ambassadors’ ownership and enjoyment of the day was evident from the very minute they arrived at the Civic Centre. The event was MC’d in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa and all of the Ambassadors took a turn on the stage. As well as showcasing the book and films that they had produced together, the two Delft groups had designed the packed programme to encourage audience engagement, including energetic dancing and singing performances by local artists. The day’s activities also included some 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 throughout their engagement with the project were given carefully prepared and thorough answers by the scientific team, with the intention of sharing this knowledge with all in attendance. The lively audience of 120 guests were entertained, informed and well fed throughout the afternoon! Their sustained engagement and positive responsiveness indicated that the event was a success and the Ambassadors and scientific team received fervent applause at its closing.
We hope that the HOTM project has helped to raised awareness among the Delft community about the ways in which food and lifestyle choices influence the risk of developing CVD. The scientific team commented on their experiences of participating in the project in the following ways…
‘It brought me back to earth in a way, and made me realise that our research must always be to the benefit of society. Having said that, I must also state that this project confirmed that we, as a group, are doing relevant research, and it has strengthened my resolve to continue with what we are doing’.
‘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’.
‘Gaining knowledge and understanding from the perspective of the community members themselves renders insight that the laboratory cannot offer. A unique opportunity is created where the two ‘worlds’ can interact and gain better perspectives and understanding through the exchange of information’.
‘It is vital for researchers to communicate their research to the general public, be it through workshops or media outlets. These forms of communication and interactions may help educate not only caregivers but also children, thus giving the knowledge to make better choices regarding their own health’.
‘Although this engagement did not affect how we conduct research, it has helped broaden our knowledge with regard to cultural and social issues that may influence heart health’.
Mashudu Eva Mthethwa
‘More than anything it reaffirmed my ambition to continue with research that can have large-scale positive impacts on the communities such as Delft’.