DOING DEVELOPMENT, in whatever form, sector or institutional context, tends to be about delivery. There are tasks to be done, products to be produced and deadlines to be met – and for every item on the task list that has been ticked, new ones are added. In this perpetual cycle of busy-ness, we hardly make time to pause, reflect and imagine alternatives. The aim of the Cape Town 2025 project, a joint initiative between Isandla Institute and the City of Cape Town, is to create opportunities to dare to imagine alternative futures. One such opportunity took place in Cape Town on 14-15 July, at a conference that brought together a range of actors engaged in city development. Taking the core values of equity, sustainability and integration as a starting point for conversations about images and imaginaries of a future city, the conference looked at critical areas of intervention to bring about a more just, sustainable and integrated city within the next twenty years.
Creating spaces for explicit engagement on the values guiding our development approaches and trade-offs is critical for sound, creative and inspired development practice. Yet, as became evident at the conference, the capacity to ‘dare to imagine’ does not come naturally. We are so accustomed to identifying obstacles and developing short term solutions, that we loose sight of our potential to be visionary and imagine bold, innovative actions for social change. Yet, without a common guiding vision and a set of core values that serve as a point of reference when tough decisions need to be made, how can we be confident that our actions will have a meaningful and lasting impact? Development is not just about delivery; it is fundamentally about constructing pathways that will lead to a better future.
In Thought Matters, Eve Annecke, Director of the Sustainability Institute, reflects on her experiences in imagining an alternative future and the process of making this alternative a reality, somehow, in the Lynedoch development, Stellenbosch.
In the rough
By Eve Annecke
Reflections on the Sustainability Institute as a living and learning centre within the Lynedoch ecological development in a context of studies and experience in ecology, community and spirit in the tide of Western Cape politics, new housing policy, N2 corridor, drought, farms…
IT IS SEVEN years since our family moved to the Western Cape from Johannesburg. Now that it has become our home – in enough time for us to have become part of the strangeness – I recently noticed that we still introduce ourselves as ‘from Jo’burg’. Even our children do this. What keeps us holding this identity? And might it contain part of some blind, impossible needs to excuse ourselves the challenges of the present by denying our roles in its creation? Is this part of our identities an attempt to escape the murkiness of the stories that scorch the fabric of our emerging community?
Six years ago my sons and I visited a school near a local wine farm. Xolani, our godson who lives with us, was involved in a raucous game with Ray. Both six years old. As they played, a group of local farmworker children (in this area all people of colour) walked by the fence. One, further ahead than the others, looked in disbelief. He hung on the fence, listening intently and then yelled to his friends: “Hi, julle – kom hier gou! Hier’s ‘n kaffir wat Engels kan praat!” (“Hey guys, come here quickly – here’s a kaffir that can speak English.”) And a rapid Afrikaans discussion on this, first-ever, amazing occurrence right on their own doorstep. In the moment, in true curiosity, the children encountered something never encountered before - and Xoli, who did not then count Afrikaans as one of his three language repertoire, played on oblivious to the small revolution he was causing. That day, we wondered. Back to Jo’burg? Longing for a set of realities a decade ahead of the agonistics of the complexities just beginning in the Boland.
Years later, we are part of a hotchpotch crowd. Around 500 children, crèche teachers with various backgrounds -ANC activist then councillor, farmworker history, early learning facilitator from Limpopo; hydro-geologist specializing in groundwater; engineers focusing on renewable energy; maintenance supervisor; builders of clay brick houses; academics; school principal; guest house manager; performing artists; landscape gardener; IT fundi; organic farmer; yoga teacher; retired commercial farmer and sustainable agriculture master’s students. Spiritual sense-making spans Islam, Buddhist, various forms of Christianity, some gentle forms of earth-based meditation through to deeply agnostic.
Together, over the last five years, with a variety of participants playing different roles at different times, this network has created space to birth the following:
• Ecological preschool (35 farmworker children) focusing on early learning, bodywork and sustainability which also provides an accredited training programme to women from Manenberg.
• Government primary school for approximately 500 (mainly farmworker) children, which includes work focusing on ecology and non-violence.
• Ecological renovation of an old steel-framed hall that now houses a combination of NGOs and businesses: Lynedoch Primary School, AGAMA renewable energy, USIKO (wilderness therapy with young adolescent men at risk), Groundwater Africa, the Sustainability Institute and Dimpo di Kopane (performing arts) – this building has won awards for architecture and sustainable construction.
• Guest house – restored historical building.
• Mixed income ecological housing development for 38 houses, including 15 subsidy sites.
• On-site waste treatment through a biolytic filter and integrated wetland system.
• Re-use of water, solar water heating, sustainable building construction, indigenous planting.
• Sustainable construction training for women combining with indigenous knowledge.
• Partnership, through the Sustainability Institute, with the University of Stellenbosch that delivers at Lynedoch an MPhil in Sustainable Development Planning and Management, an MPhil in Sustainable Agriculture, and PhD programme.
Lynedoch is working. (Not that ‘it works’ – that might suggest completeness or a model.) But the achievements are encouraging in the context of an attempt to create a sustainable neighbourhood in somewhat messy efforts at coming to grips with ecological limits, integration and equity. Riding the ambiguities, through the contradictions and being in the suffering, misery and violence of centuries of histories of colonialism, slavery and apartheid, parallel to an increasing disconnect from nature, makes for gritty daily life that struggles with power and voice. Our experience with Xoli was a misty glimpse of patterns to come, and in our locality we still frequently automate to default mode of our races, our histories and our inequalities as ways of making sense.
So much in Lynedoch working is invisibly linked to the energy created by many children and young people. Successful barefoot athletes, IT centre, aftercare, environmental awareness, and so on are all fruitful beginnings of the school as ‘heart of the hamlet.’ However, in the last three years amongst these same children we have experienced extreme child-on-child violence: murder, attempted murder, slaughtering 21 tame buck and brutal sodomy with sharp objects. This is over and above the violence experienced through adult alcohol and substance abuse - as well as continued alleged corporal punishment in school and still some lessons that bore learners into dull grey despair. These are deep, painful community realities. Not individual acts separate from their context. Blearily I hear sustainability yet again spouted forth as the tired definition of living in ways that do not detract from future generations. The future is in the now. The most urgent ecological challenge that sustainable neighbourhoods may have to deal with is climate change. However, without the strong support of cities and towns that put children first (as attempts in Curitiba, Brazil and Bogotá, Colombia) through exercising courageous leadership and continuous explicit action, there will be a continued vacuum for the 35% of people in Africa below 24 years. The young people will not be surprised. Nor should we when their irrepressible energy finds its outlets, as it inevitably does – and we must stop wringing our hands, crying ‘foul’.
In conclusion, the bumpy sense of hope, imaginings and commitment to alternative and emancipatory futures at Lynedoch are largely oriented around the continuous flows of learning and spirit-in-action. The combinations here of experience, studies, practice, theories and critical reflection are probably best located in complex ways of seeing the world resting in process orientation and transdisciplinarity – and a celebration of other ways of knowing. With an ease in going beyond the veils of our constructions, into emptiness.