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


View from the Street

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)


A typical stall selling a selection of fruits and vegetables.

A typical stall selling a selection of fruits and vegetables.

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.


A vendor in the township selling eggs and aromat.

A vendor in the township selling eggs and aromat.

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

‘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.


Location of Vrygrond in relation to wider Cape Town area.


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.


Children sitting quietly in a brightly-decorated ECD centre.


Read the previous blog in this series here.

No Time to Think of Dying

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.


 Survivalist business An informal business, usually with little dedicated business infrastructure and no growth vision, which aims to generate supplementary household income (i.e. a business for survival, not profit).
 Idiosyncratic shock Unexpected ‘shocks’ which affect the individual household (rather than having a system-level effect, as currency devaluation or price hikes would), like death in the family, illness, theft or drug-addiction in the family.


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.

Engaging Delft in Heart Health

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.


Enthusiastic engagement of community members in question and answers sessions focusing on heart health at the Heart of the Matter community engagement event : Delft Civic Centre, October 15th 2016 .


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’.

Hans Strijdom


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’.

Shantal Windvogel


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’.

Frans Everson


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’.

Nyiko Mashele


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’.

Sana Charania

 The Heart of the Matter project has received accolades from both the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the Vice Dean of Social Impact, at Stellenbosch University. The project was supported by an International Engagement Grant awarded by Wellcome to SLF director Gill Black in November 2015.

Spotlighting Shebeen Struggles

This is the second blog in the ‘Livelihood Struggles’ series. It highlights livelihood struggles specific to the liquor sector in townships, one sector of several core sectors SLF has identified in the course of its research. This is a staff blog, written by Caitlin Tonkin, with research additions from Andrew Hartnack.


 “(1) A Person may not micro-manufacture or sell liquor unless authorised to do so in terms of a licence… (3) A person who… micro-manufactures or sells liquor in contravention of [subsection (1)] is guilty of an offence…” (Western Cape Liquor Act of 2008)

In the Western Cape, these are the (basic) laws which determine who can and can’t sell liquor and where they can and can’t sell it. Passed about eight years ago, the way these laws have hit the ground in townships amounts to prohibition. Prohibition, in townships, threatens the economic survival of thousands of people.


Quincy is one of those people. A South African living in Delft, Quincy opened a shebeen (an illegal liquor outlet) to try to make ends meet. Of obtaining a licence so that his sales would be legal, he explains: “I tried to get a licence, but it was too much. The bar was too high. I tried three separate times to apply, and I paid around R 28 000 in all for the applications… The process was so bad and there were lots of excuses from the liquor board, so I gave up.”



Click on infographic to see in full.


Click on infographic to see in full.

In brief, the township/liquor picture that Quincy is part of looks like this: there is a demand for liquor and spaces of liquor consumption (this demand is created as much by a desire for alcohol as it is by a desire for spaces of recreation and sociability ekasi). In response to this demand, people desperately needing an income to put food on the table start selling liquor. A handful of these people make money enough to surpass the day-to-day needs of families and to start secondary businesses, like hair salons or spazas; many, however, make minimal incomes and sell liquor because alternative options do not exist for them. Either way, liquor becomes the staple of micro-enterprises of varying sizes, and forms an important part of the township leisure economy.


Enter into this picture the requirement of the Western Cape Liquor Act that liquor traders must be licenced. The problem isn’t so much with the requirement that liquor traders are licenced – SLF’s research has found that many traders, like Quincy, want to enter into the Act’s regulatory framework. The problem is that the requirements to get a licence are nearly impossible to fulfil from a position of poverty and informality.


requirements-sketchIn researching the liquor sector in townships, SLF recorded story after story of people hitting a stonewall of requirements when trying to legalise their liquor micro-enterprises. One shebeen owner tried to get a licence through an agent, but the agent was fraudulent (a common occurrence) and the owner was cheated out of R 300. Now she will not apply for a licence anyway because she thinks that people who live in shacks are not considered. A similar view is held by another shebeen owner who says: “… the Liquor board said if you are doing business (shebeening) in a squatter camp you are not supposed to get a licence, but if I add two toilets and make my place better then they would reconsider it.”


“The problem is that the requirements to get a licence are nearly impossible to fulfil from a position of poverty or informality.”


Unable to acquire licences and formalise their businesses, township liquor sellers must either operate illegally and endure (or be broken by) police harassment, or close and forgo the income (albeit minimal) brought in by liquor sales. Noma, a domestic worker from Delft, has experienced both sides of that particular coin: “When I was raided, they used to take me away and lock me up overnight. Although I knew I could make the money back, there was now nobody to look after my children while I was away… this could not go on as my kids were young. So I closed the shebeen… The income (from domestic work) does not compare at all… If it weren’t for the licence I would go back to selling alcohol tomorrow.” Not all shebeeners are as successful as Noma was, earning R 1000 or less a month – and yet the persistence of even these small-scale shebeeners in the face of police harassment and imprisonment speaks to the lack of alternative income options in townships.


Quincy, Noma and others’ experiences indicate that the Western Cape Liquor Act is not in fact working to regulate the township liquor sector – on the ground, it is operating as a prohibition act, with detrimental effect to the many township micro-enterprises dependent on selling liquor. What is needed is a liquor policy which recognises the potential of the township liquor sector to play a developmental role in townships. In the words of one shebeener: “Shebeens should not close at all, because people are making a life out of it. The government must channel the money into development…” Should the Western Cape government remain intent upon eliminating township shebeens, then it is incumbent on them to create and support other employment options.

Socio-Ecological Urban Regeneration

In November 2015, the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) joined the Making All Voices Count (MAVC) initiative. MAVC is a global initiative that aims to promote communication, transparency and, ultimately, accountability between citizens and their governments. MAVC programmes hope to achieve this change in relationship by using technologies to improve communication, and help describe and capture tensions that may exist between citizens and government. Once captured and described, these tensions can be brought to the attention of the relevant government bodies, policy-makers, funders and other interest groups.


SLF is conducting four case studies as part of our MAVC project, each of which address a different sphere of governance. One of these cases focuses on in-depth retrospective and real-time research into the experiences and opinions of Rastafari bushdoctors (or herbalists) and conservation officials on the future use of public spaces for planting and harvesting traditional medicines. This ‘socio-ecological urban regeneration’ programme, as we have termed it, emerged out of a larger SLF-lead project called Herbanisation.


Herbanisation arose from SLF director Leif Peterson’s PhD that investigated the trade of fynbos in Cape Town, and the Western Cape more broadly. Leif’s research showed that the largest population group harvesting plant material in the City of Cape Town are Rastafari bushdoctors. He estimates that a total of 1, 100 tonnes of biological matter are traded annually within Cape Town, of which 262 tons of which grow in the Cape Town city area. As most of the plants are harvested in the Cape Floristic Region, an area home to many protected indigenous plant species, it is perhaps not surprising that bushdoctors’ harvesting activities attract hostility from conservationists, police and other interest groups. These tensions are precisely what the Herbanisation project aims to address. Through planting open-access gardens that are unfenced and free to harvest, the project has successfully brought bushdoctors, conservation professionals and other stakeholders of Cape Town biodiversity together to plant gardens in previously degraded and unused public areas. Not only has the project facilitated the strengthening of linkages between the various stakeholders involved, but it has also helped regenerate Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in open spaces—promoting conservation and contributing to the physical, psychological and emotional health and wellbeing of the local community.


However, the growing bushdoctor population along with an increasing demand for medicinal plants continues to raise concerns, and in some cases, legal action from conservation professionals and other stakeholders. More than a once-off engagement between conservationists and bushdoctors, this project, titled ‘Translating Complex Realities through Technology: Lessons about Government Responsiveness in South Africa’, builds on the Herbanisation project by bringing the voices of bushdoctors to conservation authorities through personal storytelling captured in short films. The bushdoctors designed and created six videos among themselves, and another was created by Leif. Leif’s story reflects on how the Herbanisation project has developed over time, his own positionality within this conundrum and how it provided an opportunity for bushdoctors and conservationists to interact and contribute to the creation of a sustainable medicinal plants garden. While the bushdoctors were given the freedom to tell their own stories, they we20160420_100702re prompted: ‘tell us a story about when you felt free or when you felt unfree during your work as a bossie dokter, and what do you do about it?’ Some of these stories reflected instances of conflict that arose when the bushdoctors were harassed by the police or were hounded by conservationists for illicitly harvesting traditional/medicinal plants in nature reserves. Others told of how the bushdoctors came to be bushdoctors, and provided a broader context of their everyday lives.


The stories have already been presented to an audience of more than a hundred key stakeholders, at the annual Fynbos Forum for conservation managers and scientists which was held in Port Elizabeth from 25-28 July 2016. The Forum was attended by Leif and fellow co-founder of the Herbanisation project, bushdoctor-Elder Neville van Wyk. The proposition of presenting the stories, along with being accompanied by a bushdoctor was enthusiastically received by the Forum organisers, who subsequently gave Leif a double-session—a concession rarely given—in which to present the films and open the floor up for questions and answers.


During the questions and answers, many members of the audience expressed great appreciation for the alternative perspectives presented via the digital stories. Conservationists, in particular, acknowledged how the stories effectively portrayed the bushdoctors’ worldview and everyday circumstances, which the conservationists had not understood before. One of the audience members went so far as to say,

 “I am a scientist, but in those stories I learned something that science cannot teach me”.

Another said,

The digital stories had a real way about driving a message that showed who [bushdoctors] are and why they do what they do”.


Neville’s story left such an impact that he was given a special commendation at the end of the workshop. The session also provided an opportunity for SLF to raise reflexive questions and concerns about bushdoctors, the relationship of accountability in the area of conservation and land management, and the use of digital story-telling as a means of engaging with policy makers and government role players.


A number of audience members expressed concern about how to engage with bushdoctors at a policy level, because they are, ideologically and in practice, an informal group that is currently not organised. This means that while some bushdoctors might agree to terms and conditions stipulated in a wild harvesting permit, others might not. Moreover, some audience members viewed bushdoctors as stubborn and unwilling to make any compromises about where and how much plant material they harvest. What is clear is that while the digital stories provide a valuable contribution to shifting perceptions about bushdoctors, much more work needs to be done in terms of addressing the fundamental differences in the positions of the conservationists and the bushdoctors.


One of the issues for effectiveness in the case of digital storytelling as a method for greater accountability is that the topic is morally charged on all sides of the debate—meaning that presenting the bushdoctors’ points of view, whilst compelling, does not invalidate the conservationists’ concerns pertaining to ecological impact of wild harvesting. In order for real shifts in accountability that lead to effective and sustainable change, the digital stories need to be embedded into a longer, multi-dimensional campaign to exchange ideas, beliefs and values between nature conservationists and bushdoctors. On their own the stories illustrate an important perspective that has been missing from the policy debate, but the fundamental concern of conservationists of the impact of wild harvesting on plant life in the Cape Floristic Region remain unresolved. Over the course of the next six months, SLF will use these stories as a lever to lead to more discussion with policymakers and the public about how to address these issues. The bushdoctors are also developing plans for how to make use of their own stories and screen them, accompanied by facilitated dialogue, to broader audiences.


Words by: Dillon Wademan

Economic Exclusion in Action

The following blog is the first in the series ‘Livelihood Struggles’,  and is the work of guest-writer, Gideon C. du Toit, a freelance writer based in the Garden Route region. The experiences described and opinions expressed are those of du Toit himself, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation or its collaborators.


The Western Cape is an area known for its rich natural and cultural diversity. To the periodical visitor this seems like the ideal place to live. Little do they know that this area is also host to the atrocity of economic exclusion, something that I have experienced firsthand.


Earning my keep as a freelance writer, my wife and I were facing financial ruin as our combined household income steadily declined. Drawing on the spirit of entrepreneurial initiative and with months of planning, we decided that my mother’s winning Jaffle recipe was the way forward, so we purchased Jaffle pans, a gazebo, utensils, aprons, a menu and a small gas stove.


Mosselbay hosts two municipally-approved, demarcated areas for flea market trade. Since these areas have a lot of passing traffic, we approached the municipality and applied for a stand where we could sell our Jaffles. Even before I had the application papers in my hand, the municipal official informed me that the current stands were all occupied by the same tenants who have been renting it for years, and that no additional stands will be allocated. As I read through the papers it became clear to me that these demarcated areas where meant for occupation by at least the middle-class, as the requirements were grossly out of reach of the poor. The requirements to prepare food in a stall required an outlay of at least R15 000, not including health certificates and additional approvals.

The cave in Mosselbay in which du Toit and his wife lived.

The cave in Mosselbay in which du Toit and his wife lived.


When I pointed this out, I was advised to apply for a stand at either the Goods Shed, or at the annual Diaz festival. The Goods Shed is a former railway shed turned indoor flea market that enjoys the majority of its commercial traffic during December, while for the remainder of the year isn’t conducive for sustainable trade.


With no stalls available for lower income groups, no additional stalls identified in the existing areas, the high costs of obtaining a stall and boundless array of red tape to acquire a stand, we simply had nowhere to legally bring our product to market. Despite our best efforts to push through financially, we ended up homeless on January 12, 2016. Together with our pets, we took shelter in a cave from where we attempted to earn money by washing cars in one of the public parking areas but this was abruptly ended by the local traffic officials chasing us from the area, and once again denying us the right to earn an income.


On the 19th of January 2016, we decided to sell our remaining belongings, buy a lethal drug overdose and commit suicide. On my way back to the cave I was picked up by a stranger, who took pity on us and offered to take us to another cave, this time in Wilderness where homeless people have been squatting for years. This area was more “informal trade friendly” so I took to washing cars in the public parking areas, and on rainy days I worked on a novel, while my spouse found work as a waitress.


Once able to earn a small income without hindrance it took exactly one month for us to move into a small Wendy Hut in someone’s backyard. Systematically we worked ourselves back up. I decided to call the local DA before the municipal elections, and discuss the possibility of identifying areas from which less privileged people can bring products to market. I was assured that this issue was at the top of their priority list.


After months of saving, I managed to construct a biltong and droëwors manufacturing unit that cure products in a clean and hygienic environment faster than conventional methods. I figured that if I sell pre-manufactured products like biltong, I would stand a better chance of acquiring one of the new stalls, promised before the elections.


Early September 2016 I decided to follow up on the progress relating to the development of these additional trade areas. After my first four attempts to initiate correspondence with Mosselbay local government went unanswered, I escalated my enquiry to provincial level. Several failed attempts to get feedback from provincial government forced me to contact the office of the Premier, after which I was repeatedly referred to different offices, without receiving replies.


Weeks later, Carlin Petersen from the Mosselbay municipality responded, by telling me exactly what they told me a year ago. The promises made by local government with regards to additional facilities that would enable the poor to take part in the local economy, simply didn’t materialize. Any attempts to question this, are simply ignored and swept under the carpet, thus keeping the poor permanently excluded and without a voice.

The new entrepreneurial endeavor in which du Toit's future rests.

The new entrepreneurial endeavor in which du Toit’s future rests.


Why would a government proclaiming that they are encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors, avoid the issue when questioned? Why haven’t they done a thing towards devolving areas where poor people can trade? The initiatives implemented by the DA are clearly designed to serve the middle class. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to enter the local economy, kept out of trade by bureaucratic rule, municipal bylaws and a financial bar set so high that the poor will never realistically reach.


As for me, I have no idea what my future will bring.


Read the subsequent blog in this series here.

‘Livelihood Struggles’ Blog Series Launch

Experiences of Exclusion from the Formal Economy


“The law is sometimes too tough for us.”

These may sound like the words of a criminal, encountering the workings of due justice. In fact, they are the words of a woman who runs an Educare centre in Ivory Park, Johannesburg, but struggles to achieve compliance with all the regulatory criteria. This woman, anonymised for her safety, was moved to start an Educare when she saw street-children in her area going hungry. She has correctly registered her Educare with government as a non-profit organisation, yet she receives no assistance from them and has to borrow money or use her pension to buy food for the children in her care. Although her Educare centre is rooted in her goodwill towards her community, it is also her only source of income – so the failure of “the law” to support her is a problem for her.



Police harassment for failure to meet unsupportive regulations is but one obstacle for the poor to building livelihoods.

In response to the need of people struggling on the economic margins for livelihoods, the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation is launching a series of blogs titled ‘Livelihood Struggles’. The series will feature lived encounters with economic struggle, such as experienced by the Educare owner introduced above. Some blogs will be written by participants of the informal economy themselves, others by SLF researchers and collaborators. The series highlights the great difficulty poor South Africans face in gaining access to the formal economy and attaining regulatory compliance. Poor people face a range of challenges in accessing formal markets and building livelihoods for themselves: these challenges include legal restrictions around where businesses can operate, high fees for trading licences, lack of start-up finance options, unchecked crime, and unhelpful or corrupt officials. Often, when people attempt to work through these challenges legally, they are stone-walled by bureaucracy or red tape. If they bypass these challenges extra-legally, for example through trading without a licence, they face high risks of police harassment and criminalisation. But what options do unemployed persons have in an environment where there are few jobs in general and even fewer for persons lacking skills?


From years of research with the communities who face these challenges, the Foundation has come to understand that the difficulties faced by poor people in accessing the formal economy are neither random, nor befall only the unlucky. The obstacles are systemic. Economic exclusion is widespread; an outcome of a government which works better for the rich than for the poor. Thousands of South Africans are marginalised and prevented from building sustainable livelihoods because of government policies which make gaining access to the formal economy from a position of poverty almost impossible. This blog series will spotlight a handful of cases which come from communities surviving at the economic margins, where “the law is too tough for us” is indeed a personal truth for many. Highlighting the systemic nature of this truth, rather than the individual details of each case, is the purpose if this series. We hope that through these insights we can impress the need to strengthen rights for the poor to pursue livelihoods through informal economic activities in a way that promotes economic inclusion as a priority development objective.


Read the first blog in this series, ‘Economic Exclusion in Action’, here.

You Only Live Once ekasi: Quotes + images from youth discussing fun and the risks of leisure in townships


“We call this one toothpaste – it’s what they are drinking first thing in the morning” says Duki pointing to his drawing depicting alcohol consumption in his circle of friends. “You see them drinking this to start with at home – because it is cheap and no one will see you drinking it.”

Reflective drawings by youth generating conversation on choices of drink & combinations and the reasoning behind their choices.

Reflective drawings by youth generating conversation on choices of drink & food /drink combinations and the reasoning behind their choices.

Following weeks of discussion and training with a select group of youth these, kinds of conversations are beginning to emerge. SLF has been piloting an action research and engagement process with a broad representation of youth from various locations in the Cape Flats. They include both young women and men aged 18 – 30 who reside in Delft, Mitchells Plain and Philippi, Cape Town.


Gendered focus groups discussing the risks of alcohol consumption.

“I don’t drink too much because I want to watch over my friends – because they are in danger when they drink… I used to drink and party, but I am trying to change my life.”The project aims to give young people a ‘voice’ by building on previous organisational successes in affording marginalized citizens a voice through digital stories and photographs. By using the Photo Voice method as a base, the project has generated images and debate by youth on both their risky or responsible consumption of alcohol.


Discussion on the advantages & disadvantages of drinking alcohol

Advantages? – You speak 75% the truth when you are drunk.”

Youth are well aware of the risks of alcohol consumption: Violence, assault, ‘black outs’, rape, ‘babbalas’ hangovers, financial strain and unsociable behavior – are but a few of their depictions of the problems caused by alcohol.
Yet conversely, the benefits are also well established including a boost in confidence, the good feeling, its ability to motivate and catalyze socializing and meeting new people.

“I drink coffee and water at home b’cos I can’t drink in front of my parents.”

And so, despite the well-articulated awareness of both the risks and consequences of alcohol consumption, and regardless of limitations imposed on them, young people still have incredible enthusiasm attached to drinking and socializing.

“I drink only to be tipsy – not to be drunk. I don’t drink spirits.”

“We party at home because it’s safe… you can see from a person if they are going to cause trouble so if they gate-crash and look like trouble you can close the gate and say ‘invites only’. It is much safer with friends at home.”


How to manage hangovers: “Water is good in the morning when you have Bhabalaza”

Young people have shown an array of methods they use to mitigate the risks of intoxication including the combination of food and drink, limiting intake etc. What has stood out the most however was consumption in the safety of their own homes and with established and reliable contacts.


How to manage a hangover: “In the early morning we like to drink beer when it’s hot – what makes you sick can make you healthy again.”

This is an ongoing process with a dedicated group of young participants. In our final stages of the process, the youth are framing their photographs in which they wish to tell their unique experiences of being young in their under resourced locations. Themes include, among others, secretive consumption, precautions for safety, frugal spending and consumption management to prevent illness. Their photo narratives will be used in a short publication as well as in an engagement exhibition event.

We aim to attract policy makers and organisations interested in youth development so as to contribute to the discourse affecting this vulnerable and incredibly valuable factor of society.





Words by: Nava Derakhshani