Their ac­tions should be value-based to en­sure that com­mu­ni­ties be­come re­silient in times of se­vere stress, writes

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

UN­HER­ALDED lo­cal civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, lead­ers and peace-builders, work­ing at the coal­face with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties where bro­ken fam­i­lies, de­cay and fail­ing public ser­vices have plunged swaths of com­mu­ni­ties into hope­less­ness, apa­thy and vi­o­lence, need ex­tra­or­di­nary re­silience to keep go­ing.

From pre­vent­ing po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions in KwaZu­luNatal, deadly trade union ri­valry in Marikana, gang-war­fare on the Cape Flats, and xeno­pho­bic at­tacks in Alexan­dra, such civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists also have to deal with their per­sonal, fam­ily and public ser­vice de­liv­ery trou­bles.

They are of­ten more trusted by the com­mu­nity as cred­i­ble peace­mak­ers than the lo­cal po­lice or elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

South Africa des­per­ately needs re­silient lo­cal civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, lead­ers and peace-builders to con­tinue to help lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties em­power them­selves.

Re­silience is var­i­ously de­scribed as the abil­ity to bounce back from set­backs, to over­come deep-seated chal­lenges thrown into one’s path and to be able to im­pro­vise in mo­ments of ter­ri­fy­ing crises by com­ing up with in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions.

Di­ane Coutu, in an ar­ti­cle in the Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view, ar­gues that among the key char­ac­ter­is­tics re­silient peo­ple pos­sess are “a staunch ac­cep­tance of re­al­ity; a deep be­lief, of­ten but­tressed by strongly held val­ues, that life is mean­ing­ful; and an un­canny abil­ity to im­pro­vise”.

Civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, lead­ers and peace­builders must not only boost their in­di­vid­ual re­silience, they must also strengthen the re­silience of their dis­tressed com­mu­ni­ties.

The state is fail­ing, mis­man­age­ment is soar­ing and cor­rup­tion is out of con­trol. Or­di­nary peo­ple are los­ing faith in the demo­cratic, over­sight and pro­tec­tive in­sti­tu­tions, such as Par­lia­ment, the prose­cut­ing ser­vices and the po­lice. There is a mass dis­il­lu­sion­ment in mem­ber­ship or­gan­i­sa­tions, such as po­lit­i­cal par­ties, civic or­gan­i­sa­tions and trade unions.

Lead­ers that were trusted be­fore have let many down. Many re­li­gious lead­ers, tra­di­tional au­thor­i­ties, and big busi­ness fig­ures have equally dis­ap­pointed those look­ing to them for an­swers.

South Africa is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a break­down of demo­cratic rules, laws and norms – be­cause lead­ers ig­nore them.

In many cases civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, lead­ers and peace-builders are the last thin line against com­mu­nity col­lapse, public and elec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ cal­lous­ness and vi­o­lence spi­ralling out of con­trol. They pro­vide al­ter­na­tive ver­sions of lead­er­ship at the lo­cal level – hon­est, ac­count­able and con­sen­sus-seek­ing.

They per­son­i­fied ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship, of­ten ab­sent in our democ­racy, yet nec­es­sary to hold the gov­ern­ment, lead­ers and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions ac­count­able for their ac­tions, de­ci­sions and fail­ures.

They of­ten pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion to com­mu­ni­ties, help­ing them un­der­stand their rights in or­der to hold the gov­ern­ment and lead­ers ac­count­able for non-de­liv­ery. They of­ten also dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion about the gov­ern­ment and lead­ers’ wrong­do­ing – so that cit­i­zens can act.

Strength­en­ing the re­silience of in­di­vid­ual civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists and lead­ers will pre­vent them plung­ing into help­less­ness, apa­thy and de­spair them­selves. What would be the in­gre­di­ents to bol­ster the re­silience of these un­cel­e­brated lo­cal he­roes?

Fight­ing in­jus­tice should re­main a cen­tral mean­ing of their lives. They should see the de­sire to bat­tle seem­ingly in­tractable chal­lenges as an obli­ga­tion to their in­di­vid­ual, their fam­ily and com­mu­nity.

They must re­tain their faith, even in the direst sit­u­a­tions. They must re­main pos­i­tive. They must try to see set­backs as tem­po­rary, change­able and not per­ma­nent.

They should not fall into a vic­tim men­tal­ity even if they are hard done by. They should seek prag­matic, prac­ti­cal and in­clu­sive, rather than ide­o­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal par­ti­san or out­dated “tra­di­tional” so­lu­tions.

Im­por­tantly, their ac­tions should be value-based. The demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tion, laws and rules should guide the val­ues frame­work.

They should adopt, what Steven Snyder, the au­thor of Lead­ers and the Art of Strug­gle, calls a growth mind­set, the idea that one’s abil­i­ties, skills set and in­tel­lec­tual prow­ess are not fixed, but can grow over time.

Deeply held be­liefs which are not ev­i­dence-based should be jet­ti­soned.

They should seek sup­port, col­lab­o­rate with others and strike al­liances to reach com­mon goals. They should lever­age all skills, in­sti­tu­tions and re­sources in their com­mu­ni­ties – in sup­port of de­liv­er­ing to their com­mu­ni­ties.

They should strive for life­long learn­ing, whether in the class­room or in the school of “life”. Rein­vent­ing one­self is cru­cial. So, too, is hav­ing a sense of hu­mour. Re­fresh­ing one­self phys­i­cally, spir­i­tual and men­tally through ex­er­cis­ing, cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and read­ing is im­por­tant to re­tain a sense of bal­ance.

Re­searcher Michael Ganor aptly de­scribes com­mu­nity re­silience as the abil­ity of com­mu­ni­ties to “deal with a state of con­tin­u­ous long-term stress; the abil­ity to find un­known in­ner strengths and re­sources in or­der to cope ef­fec­tively”.

Many of South Africa’s pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties suf­fer from chronic long-term stress caused by the ser­vice de­liv­ery fail­ure, sys­temic vi­o­lence and apartheid-in­duced trauma.

How can civic, com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, lead­ers and peace-builders build the re­silience of the com­mu­ni­ties they work in?

Most im­por­tantly, they must use the avail­able re­sources in com­mu­ni­ties, gov­ern­ment and com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions – churches, schools, hos­pi­tals or lo­cal busi­ness. They must also use all the skills – which are of­ten hid­den – avail­able in their com­mu­ni­ties.

They must build coali­tions for com­mon goals within and among dif­fer­ent groups, sec­tors and or­gan­i­sa­tions within com­mu­ni­ties. They must form de­vel­op­ment coali­tions between lo­cal gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety and lo­cal busi­nesses. They must form com­mu­nity mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tees to hold gov­ern­ment de­liv­ery sites ac­count­able. Com­mu­nity mem­bers should sit on such mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tees, play­ing an over­sight role over ser­vice de­liv­ery in schools, po­lice sta­tions, hos­pi­tals and na­tional de­part­ment de­liv­ery sites, such as the De­part­ment of Home Af­fairs.

They should mo­bilise com­mu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in and in­flu­ence ward com­mit­tees, which is sup­posed to en­hance lo­cal public par­tic­i­pa­tion, but which has widely failed to do so.

They must also get lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in de­ter­min­ing the pri­or­i­ties in mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets.

They must es­tab­lish so­cial en­ter­prises which can pro­duce public ser­vices, plant and make food and pro­duce man­u­fac­tur­ing prod­ucts for the gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Such com­mu­nity so­cial en­ter­prises should be­come the black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment part­ners to busi­ness.

The gov­ern­ment must buy from such com­mu­nity so­cial en­ter­prises through its pref­er­en­tial pro­cure­ment sys­tem for black­owned com­pa­nies.

But South Africa’s busi­ness sec­tor must strengthen strug­gling com­mu­ni­ties by fi­nan­cially sup­port­ing gen­uine ca­pac­ity pro­grammes, pro­vid­ing cor­po­rate wel­fare to com­mu­ni­ties in their catch­ment area and buy­ing prod­ucts from com­mu­nity-based or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Cor­po­rates must sup­port ef­forts to es­tab­lish com­mu­nity-based so­cial en­ter­prises, which can pro­duce public ser­vices, plant and make food and pro­duce man­u­fac­tur­ing prod­ucts for gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

South Africans of all colours with fi­nan­cial means should show greater so­cial sol­i­dar­ity with his­tor­i­cal dis­ad­van­taged in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties.

Priv­i­leged in­di­vid­u­als could give their do­mes­tic work­ers in­dus­tri­ally use­ful prac­ti­cal skills – driv­ing, first aid or vo­ca­tional train­ing.

They could adopt a child’s ed­u­ca­tion in the town­ship or adopt a town­ship fam­ily – through reg­u­larly help­ing.

Fi­nally, the gov­ern­ment must gov­ern more hon­estly, more in­clu­sively and be­come more ac­count­able – which will ul­ti­mately foster re­silient in­di­vid­u­als, com­mu­ni­ties and so­ci­ety.

Gumede is As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor, School of Gov­er­nance, Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. His lat­est book is Rest­less Na­tion: Mak­ing Sense of Trou­bled Times.

This is ex­tract is from an ad­dress to the Peace-builder’s Con­ven­tion, hosted by Free­dom House on Septem­ber 9, in the Gariep, in the Free State.

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