Volume 1 No 1 March 2004


2004 is bound to be an auspicious year as we turn to the world and each other as (South) Africans to celebrate ten years of political freedom. It is therefore fitting that we will soon be heading to the ballot boxes to make our mark once again, this time in support of the political parties we want to lead us into the next decade of freedom. The ten year mark also allows us to step off the roller-coaster of transition to stand back and reflect on our journey – whence we have come from and where we are heading to…

In keeping with this national mood, Isandla Institute has decided to launch a book into the maelstrom of ideas and reflections that will no doubt abound as the year unfurls. The book is titled: Voices of the Transition: Perspectives on the Politics, Poetics and Practices of Social Change in South Africa (Heinemann, April 2004). It is a unique and bold intervention into the prevailing debate about the nature and direction of the national development project of democratic South Africa. With due respect for the complexity and multi-layered nature of South Africa’s unfolding democratic experiment, the book draws together a wide spectrum of perspectives and genres to reflect on past and desired processes of social change. Through the provocative analyses, the development community can find new hooks and angles to make sense of our adventure in freedom. We hope that future development debates will be more rigorous and expansive as a result of our intervention into the public sphere.

The book can also be seen as a response to the call of the government to join it in reflecting on our achievements as a democratic society in fulfilling the aims of the RDP. As stated in the government’s Towards a Ten Year Review: “The Review primarily reflects on government’s performance in realising its objectives and does not seek to examine in detail the evolution of various sectors of society in the period under review. It is expected that organisations in [relevant] areas … and the intelligentsia, trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) and community-based organisations (CBO’s) and the private sector will conduct their own assessments which, together with this Review, will help inform the nation’s evaluation of itself in the First Decade of Freedom.”

In the recent State of the Nation Address by President Mbeki, the general thrust of the government’s ten year review was confirmed and echoed. The central message is that the government has adopted the right policies and programmes. In the words of the President: “… we would like to restate this matter unequivocally that the policies we required to translate what President Mandela said in May 1994 are firmly in place. Accordingly, we do not foresee that there will be any need for new and major policy initiatives. The task we will all face during the decade ahead will be to ensure the vigorous implementation of these policies. … We will have to focus on the implementation of the measures we have identified to ensure that we achieve better value for the money spent on social delivery” (emphasis added). Consequently, the President put strong emphasis on the performance of the bureaucracy to ensure effective implementation and service delivery.

At face value, this seems to be a plausible analysis and approach. However, as independent civil society actors, we have to do a double-take and point out that this approach is not necessarily useful or appropriate for our times. Whereas the government’s assessments suggest that the development challenge is often merely a question of delivery, our view is that we need to take account of the cumulative effect of various development investments and social processes that accompany it. Our urban areas reflect most starkly what we have in mind. Since 1996, when non-racial local government came into being, there has been considerable progress in the provision of basic services to the poor and disadvantaged. However, whilst service delivery has taken place with incredible speed, the impacts are not at all what was envisaged by policy frameworks and legislation. For example, the ambitious housing target of the RDP – 1 million RDP houses for the poor in five years – was realised and exceeded! In fact, by 2003 close to 1.5 million subsidised houses were built or under construction. However, we also know that most of these new houses are located even further on the periphery, far removed from economic and social opportunities, thereby effectively entrenching the apartheid geography of South Africa’s settlement patterns. The reason for this is that a quantitative development target (i.e. the number of housing subsidies) supersedes equally important qualitative development concerns that may have a slow-down effect on the rate of delivery. This tension between quantity and quality is fundamental to development work and can never be expunged. It does not help to wish it away by drawing simplistic dichotomies between policy formulation and delivery. By its very nature, development policy is iterative and politically negotiated, which suggests that we have to keep both elements alive if we are to get better at solving our many intractable development challenges such as unemployment, gender-based violence, the HIV epidemic, and so forth.

It is precisely this kind of critical debate and reflection that Isandla Institute wishes to advance with the launch of this monthly e-Newsletter. Isandla Development Communiqué is circulated to a database of just over 1000 development practitioners across the country and in the region. In future, Isandla Development Communiqué will take on a very specific format:

  • Editorial Introduction
  • Thought Matters: Feature Article by specialist writers
  • Talkback: Feedback from readers on Feature Articles
  • Resource Guide: a reference to new books, reports or websites on development
  • Work in Progress: Update on Isandla Institute projects and events

The feature articles will be thematic and broadly linked to upcoming or recent events that stand out in the development calendar. For example, the next newsletter will focus on the recent budget speech of the Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel. The one thereafter will explore the conceptual challenges facing civil society organisations in lieu of the global Civicus gathering in Gaborone, 21-25 March 2004. Since the purpose of the newsletter is to stimulate critical debate in the development sector, we invite feedback from our readers if they want to support or critique issues raised in the newsletter.


few weeks ago a historic event in the general land restitution struggle occurred – the first occupants of District Six were welcomed back home by former President Nelson Mandela and the District Six Beneficiary Trust. It was a moving moment that signalled the beginnings of a willingness to intervene in urban land markets to ensure greater access and equality for disadvantaged groups in the city. However inspiring this process may be, it will not be without complex challenges for the future. One of our recent Dark Roast Occasional Papers [No. 13] by Alessandro Angelini provides a fascinating insight into the history and prospects of District Six. The paper explores the potential of the process of public recollection to promote a new urban agenda of spatial and social integration.

In fact, all Dark Roast Papers published in 2003 are worth exploring. Two of these give a sneak preview of what the forthcoming book Voices of the Transition holds in store. No. 11 is the pre-publication of a chapter contributed by Mark Swilling, whereas No. 12 is an earlier version of Gavin Andersson’s contribution to the book. No. 14 is a paper written by Edgar Pieterse, in which he proposes a model for relational urban politics.

In 2004, we are taking the series in a slightly differently direction. We are aiming to open up the insular development debates in South Africa to international trends. The first issue of this year is written by Harvard scholar Xavier de Sousa Briggs and focuses on the pernicious problems of urban segregation. Other papers forthcoming this year will focus on civil society in Nigeria and livelihood strategies in Russia. But do not worry: we will remind you when those are available.


oices of the Transition will be launched with much fanfare just after the inauguration of the new President on 6 May in Johannesburg (venue to be confirmed) and on 13 May in Cape Town at the National Gallery. If you want to attend either (or both) of these launches, please contact the organiser, Saskia Boonzaier at: admin@isandla.org.za. We look forward to seeing you there!

We would also like to invite you to visit our updated and revamped website: www.isandla.org.za.

Contact details
PO Box 12263 Mill Street
Cape Town, 8001

Editorial collective: Edgar Pieterse, Katherine McKenzie
and Mirjam van Donk