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

The Zimbabwean Spring

SLF Director Andrew Hartnack reflects on an international conference and the launch of his new book in Harare, Zimbabwe.

On the 2nd and 3rd of September 2016, I had the privilege of attending the 2nd annual conference of the Zimbabwe Historical Association, held at the University of Zimbabwe, Harare. This was a gathering of many historians and other social scientists from around Southern Africa and beyond, with a keynote address by Prof. Terri Barnes (University of Illinois), who has been a top Zimbabwe scholar for several decades.

Conference delegates after the Zimbabwe Historical Association conference in Harare

Conference delegates after the Zimbabwe Historical Association conference in Harare

Harare was ablaze with the blossoming trees it is famous for: pink and white bauhinias giving a particularly spectacular springtime show. Harare has recently been in the news for other reasons: riots, vehicle-torchings, police beatings and tear-gassings, linked to a new wave of protests (some say a different kind of “Zimbabwean spring”) about the government’s poor running of the economy. Indeed, the conference came at a pivotal moment in Zimbabwe’s history and many of the presentations, while historical in focus, touched on the contemporary moment and the unfolding political and economic situation faced by the country. It was a fascinating, energising and enjoyable conference with many presentations being of direct relevance to the work of SLF. Jooste Fontein’s paper on state power, violence and rain in Mathare (Kenya) was particularly relevant to our work. Other papers on child migration and human trafficking, urban livelihoods and shebeening made for some interesting reflections on SLF’s work.

On the first evening of the conference, I had the honour of launching my recently-published book, based on my in-depth PhD research on farm welfare, land reform and farmworkers in Zimbabwe. It is entitled Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld and is published by Weaver Press (Zimbabwe) and UKZN Press (South Africa). The following is a synopsis of the issues explored in Ordered Estates:

‘There is a growing body of work on white farmers in Zimbabwe. Yet the role played by white women – so-called ‘farmers’ wives’ – on commercial farms has been almost completely ignored, if not forgotten. For all the public role and overt power ascribed to white male farmers, their wives played an equally important, although often more subtle, role in power and labour relations on white commercial farms. This ‘soft power’ took the form of maternalistic welfare initiatives such as clinics, schools, orphan programmes and women’s clubs, mostly overseen by a ‘farmer’s wife’. Before and after Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence these played an important role in attracting and keeping farm labourers, and governing their behaviour. After independence they also became crucial to the way white farmers justified their continued ownership of most of Zimbabwe’s prime farmland.

This book provides the first comprehensive analysis of the role that farm welfare initiatives played in Zimbabwe’s agrarian history. Having assessed what implications such endeavours had for the position and well-being of farmworkers before the onset of ‘fast-track’ land reform in the year 2000, Hartnack examines in vivid ethnographic detail the impact that the farm seizures had on the lives of farmworkers and the welfare programmes which had previously attempted to improve their lot.’

I hope that my book will be of relevance and importance to those seeking to understand the agrarian landscape in Zimbabwe, and in Southern Africa more generally, as well as the impacts of land reform in the region. It also pays great attention to the livelihood options and strategies of those who no longer rely on formal employment for their day-to-day survival. As such, it has some important parallels with SLF’s work.

I have so far been honoured to have received the following comments from fellow Zimbabwe scholars who have commented on the book:

Ordered Estates offers a sophisticated and nuanced portrait of Zimbabwe’s contemporary agrarian landscape, providing a valuable contribution to the growing body of work about changes in different social, political, structural and cultural spheres generated in the post-2000 “fast-track” era.” – Amanda Hammar, MSO Professor in African Studies, University of Copenhagen

Farm workers on a large-scale tobacco farm in Zimbabwe

Farm workers on a large-scale tobacco farm in Zimbabwe

‘This fine book fills a major gap in agrarian labour studies through its examination of maternalistic farm welfare endeavours. It also offers a sharp, lucid and convincing critique of notions that “fast-track” land reform eradicated exploitative power relations on farms.’ – Lloyd Sachikonye, Associate Professor, Institute of Development Studies, University of Zimbabwe

The book launch in Harare was a great success, with over 40 people attending and listening to Dr Ushehwedu Kufakurinani’s very positive reflections on the work. Several of the people who participated in my research were able to make it, which was very gratifying. Over 20 copies of the book were also sold, which was very encouraging. I was asked to sign many of these copies, which was also a new and humbling experience.

Ordered Estates will also be launched in Cape Town on the 19th of September 2016. Highly-regarded Zimbabwe expert Professor Brian Raftopoulos (UWC) will speak about the book at that event. It will be held at The Centre for the Book at 5.30pm. Copies of the book will be available, and are also available to order from the African Books Collective website.


Words by: Andrew Hartnack