Change drivers co-defining matters of concern

by Injairu Kulundu

Briefly describe the context and history of the project site

At a time when young people in South Africa are asserting their visions for the future this project connects with young leaders from across the poles of South Africa as they reflect on critical questions that sit at the edge of their praxis. It takes us to a place where we can witness the heart of a young radical imagination in motion, an imagination that dares to transgress the limits of what is possible for them. The context of the “Not Yet Uhuru research” project comes out of four years of working closely with Change Drivers from across South Africa as part of an organization called Activate! Change Drivers.

Activate! Change Drivers is one of the largest youth movements in South Africa. It is a created network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa.  This organization invites a diverse group of young leaders between the ages of 20 and 30 to be a part of this network. The leaders they engage with come from all walks of life, be it from urban or rural contexts, different socio- economic statuses, formal or non- formal educational backgrounds and various identity and gender based differences. These young leaders truly represent the different poles of South African society. They are invited to be part of the Activate! Network on the basis of the work that they are already doing for the public good. Hence the reason why these participants are called Change Drivers; because they are in their own unique ways devoted to creating a positive and progressive future for South Africa. The initiatives that they are involved in range widely across diverse sectors and encompass ingenuous informal and formal initiatives at the local and national level (Why Activate 2016).

From 2012 to 2015  I worked as a team leader, quality manager and material developer for Activate! Change Drivers. Because of my proximity to the project I have a very intimate knowledge of the workshop space. I have been privy to the kinds of exchanges that Change Drivers have had with the project and most importantly the fascinating interactions that Change Drivers have had amongst themselves. Since 2015 I have been interested in how Change Driver’s perspectives about the world around them are evolving, and how they continue to grapple with issues of social change in their contexts. This interest gave rise to questions about where this network is instinctively leading itself to, and after four years of crafting the curriculum as an organisation, what would happen if we let Change Drivers define what they themselves feel are the most crucial issues that we need to be paying attention to right now. How could they help us regenerate our understanding of what liberatory pedagogy should look like in contemporary South Africa? And what are some of the transgressive moves that they are making in the present moment. These questions were the genesis of this PhD project entitled:

Not Yet Uhuru

[1]!

Regenerating and Re-imagining African Liberatory Pedagogy in the 21st Century.

Transgressive learning for the common good amongst a community of Change Drivers.

This project focuses on the transgressive learning of Change drivers is because it believes that the transgressive impulses and everyday learnings of Change Drivers can show us the ways in which they resist, reimagine and regenerate the possibilities that lie within their contexts. The value of looking into everyday experiences and events as a site for transformation and change is emphasized below:

Everyday acts of resistance are telling you what people desire.

They are telling you what causes pain.

They are telling you where their are trouble spots.

They are telling you where people are confused.

Everyday acts of resistance are revelatory, revealing things about social relationships and power.

Robin Kelley (Tuck & Young 2014: 87)

At this crucial time when young people are asserting their visions for the future we seem to lack genuinely brave spaces that can invite the general public to meaningfully listen to what they are sensing, seeing, thinking and co-creating. This project seeks to centre the voices, ambitions and transgressive impulses of Change Drivers and to consider their trajectories as an important ground for what liberatory pedagogy ought to look like in contemporary Africa.

In keeping with the history of the project there was not one particular ‘site’ that the project was built on. Instead, we orchestrated the gathering of 21 Change Drivers from across the country who responded to the call to participate in the PhD project (more about the invitation for this in the next section).

Q1: Can you explain the initial PROCESSESS OF ENGAGEMENT with the communities / research participants you are working with to co-define the matters of concern

How did you gain access?

In July 2016 an invitation was sent out to the Activate! Change Drivers Network asking for those who felt inspired by the “NOT YET UHURU! project to co- conspire with its aims. The invitation outlined the importance of making sure that young Change Drivers on this continent are valued for the knowledge that they hold. Furthermore, this knowledge ought to shape our current understandings and future configurations of what liberatory pedagogy should look like.  It

was an appeal for those who felt moved by this cause to come forward and contribute their knowledge and their experiences as part of re- generating what liberatory pedagogy could look like on the continent. Participants were asked to co- conspire with the open and honest agenda of the project by offering the depth of their transgressive learning. Each participant was asked to write a brief motivation around why they wanted to be a part of this project. This was done in order to gain a sense of the driving intentions behind their applications and to design project that they felt they had to reach towards. The motivations also helped me make sure that a broad diversity of participants were invited to participate in the project, and that I could directly select a good representation of gender, racial, sexual, class based and urbal/rural participants to make sure our engagements together were representative of  the poles of South African society. In all honesty I did at best as a could to work with all applicants eager to be a part of this conversation.

In the end the project collaborated with 21 co- conspirers from across South Africa. These collaborators represent a heterogeneous diversity of young people’s experiences in South Africa.  The worlds they straddle include differences in race and gender based identities including LGBTIAQ persons, youth that live in urban and rural contexts, employed and formally unemployed youth, and lastly, formally educated and informally educated youth. The criteria of those chosen conspire with this project was made on the basis of maximizing the diversity and intersectional voices of those who were interested to be part of the project.

Through the use arts- based methodologies we explored the framing research questions at a four day residential workshop in a remote context.  At the end of these workshops process each co- conspirer was given the space to make an ‘offering’ that shared the highlights of their transgressive journeys as Change Drivers. They each in turn took their time to make sense of the important questions they are holding right now. With the support and funding of the T-learning, Transformative Knowledge Network that is housed at the Rhodes University, Environmental Learning Research Centre and the film expertise of Another Love Productions  this research project has gathered high quality film footage of our creative time together in the workshop space and in depth up- close- and -personal offerings from each of the 21 Change Drivers that collaborated with the project. We would like to weave this material together to create a full feature film. More information about this leg of the project will emerge later.

What existing relationships did you have with the communities?

I had in the past interacted with many but not all of the participants as their facilitator in the Activate! programme. My experience with them was first and foremost one that was developed in the heart of many conversations and deep explorations around identity, leadership, innovation and socio- political navigation.  The result of this interaction was a very deep and intimate understanding of the questions, struggles and dreams that each participant held around these issues. I would like to think that the intense nature of our interactions as part of the Activate! program gave them a chance to know a bit about me through my facilitation and what I shared of myself as part of our time together.  My hope that we had gained a relationship of mutual respect from years of unpacking and strategizing around social justice issues in South Africa.  For those that I did not directly facilitate in the past, my position as a member of staff at Activate! was the primary relationship that existed and as such perhaps they extended to me the trust gained in their broader interaction with the program.  In characterising the existing relationship that we had it is important to acknowledge the power that I wielded in the space as a facilitator. Even though the program was designed to have a young facilitation team guiding the program amongst young Change Drivers I most probably played the role of a big- sister- guide in the training environment. And perhaps that role was extended to being a co- conspirator of some sort when I got the chance to meet and collaborate with participants in their own local contexts.

What new relationships did you need to form?

It was obvious to me that I needed to form new relationships or at least change the premise of our previous relationship in order for this project to work optimally. What troubled me the most was that as an Activate! member of staff I wielded a certain kind of power that gave me a strong legitimacy in the space. While this was necessary for the work that we did previously, I felt that  we needed to form a new relationship that did not replicate the power dynamic that can be present between a facilitator and a participant. By asking participants to become “ co- conspirators” in this project I knew that I was asking for a different sense of ownership and interdependence in this project. As such a lot of preparation work went into framing the process in a way that maximized the autonomy and sovereign drive of the individuals that I was collaborating with. I had to dismantle the power dynamic that might imply that I had something particular to ‘teach’ or share as part of this project. Instead, the process that was created centered around releasing the erotic knowledge of the participants. Erotic knowledge defines knowledge ‘that is formed by the “erotic- the sensual- those physical emotional and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us” (Lorde, 2007: 59).  The heart of this project was simply about creating the conditions that could allow co-conspirers to engage at this level. During our time together we spoke about collectively creating the kind of space where our souls would feel comfortable showing up. In order to do this I had to find meaningful ways to consistently step out of the way and open up the space for co- conspirers to share their truth through as many creative mediums as possible.

Q2: Can you explain how you went about scoping the matters of concern with the communities

The core work that we have engaged with has been to generate the space where the edge of their transgressive learning of could be shared in bold ways.  This was a space where we invited the depth of their embodied knowledge to help us see into what Change Drivers in South Africa are currently navigating.  Through arts based methodologies a space was created where participants could slow down and take stock of the journey that they have been through as Change Drivers. They were invited to create cartographic maps of their journeys using a wide range of craft based materials that they could use to mould or represent key aspects of their transgressive journeys. Change Drivers were also invited to spend a lot of time reflecting in nature and to bring back to the group natural metaphors for how they see their contributions in the world. We worked with using our bodies to demonstrate where they felt that they were in their journeys and also where they want to be. Plays were created that shared the tensions in defining what the common good is and whose interests are served as a part of this. Lastly, we wrote letters to future generations of Change Drivers as a way of sharing essential lessons and learnings that they felt were important to share.

These different creative mediums were employed as a way of offering different ways in which we could express ourselves. The idea was to get out our rational head space and to find ways to excavate and come to what felt really important to share.

What was the scope of concerns that were raised in your initial interactions with the communities / research participants

How were the matters of concern expressed {please quote from data if you have this – again if you have already covered this in other articles on the website, then please just cross reference to this}?

What are their existing learning cultures and practices (i.e. how are participants learning via their everyday activities / more formal system engagements?)

I will answer these three questions concurrently

Please Note: collating the scope of concerns gained from this process is the heart of the PhD research project that I am engaged in! As such it is a useful but huge challenge to find a succinct way to surmmarise all of what I am still collating. Nevertheless, I will try and highlight some of the predominant themes that are emerging as best as a I can:) ( this is like asking me to give the conclusive findings of my research! eeek)

At the end of the workshops we held together each Change Driver took the time to share the depth the insights that they were reflecting on over the four days that we were together. Each participant made an ‘offering’ that highlighted important aspects of their transgressive learning up until this point. We filmed each offering and these entries are exactly what the PhD is tracing.  So much has come out of what participants have shared!  The work that I have been sitting with is to carefully collate the range of concerns that have been raised. Some emerging themes include:

Deep discussions around the experiences of local government. In particular what was relayed is how central local government is to the development of communities and how they often frustrate, co-opt  and dilute the efforts of Change Drivers in ways that do not benefit the common good. Change Drivers highlighted the depth of risk that they are exposed to  when they stand up for another vision for leadership in their communities. More often than not local government represents an incredibly strong network of leadership and much needed resources that often co- opt the energy of Change Drivers for its own political ends. To stand up against the corruption, nepotism and violence that often is a part of local government is to potentially isolate oneself  and make oneself a target in dangerous ways. For four of the participants what it means to transgress in these instances includes skillfully maneuvering these trappings.

These stories share concerns about democracy an dated state in Africa, and how things are wired on the ground. They also bring into focus an undercurrent of young leadership that constantly have to navigate this risky interface and the innovation and drive that persists often despite of the trappings of local government. These concerns makes one wonder how one can better support Change Drivers in amplifying the work that they have already showed up to.

Another strong theme that is emerging is the theme of reconciliation or restoration in South Africa. This theme is about what it will take to attend to the violent history of South Africa in this present moment. There is a sense of great frustration and different understandings of what we need to try and cultivate in the present in order to create a  more equitable future. These sets of stories emphasize working conversations around inequality and nation building in South Africa. They also ask important questions about  the kind of leadership that we need on the continent to get us there. They show the different ways in which Change Drivers have chosen to take this on.

“Fees Must Fall” – an uprising of students movements across the country that demanded access to free and decolonized education definitely came up as a matter of concern. The dynamics that played themselves out as part of this movement have been a huge source of learning for Change Drivers. We engaged in conversations that shared different perspectives around the recent students movements. These conversations highlighted a struggle in maintaining an intersectional focus within the “Fees must Fall Movement” where different identity groups felt like their emancipatory concerns were being compromised in one way or another.  This was an interesting conversation around the challenges in harnessing the unity and sovereignty of a intersectional collective. It was an interesting place to witness how galvanizing movements could be fractured along the lines of identity, and class. The transgressive learning activated here is an important place to expand the explorations of what liberatory pedagogy could like like in contemporary South Africa.

These are only some of the experiences that were shared in our time together, please stay tuned for a full report on this in the upcoming chapter on my results! I promise to give a more nuanced representation of each of the concerns that were offered by Change Drivers. It needs more time and care to share what has been emerging.

In what ways do these relate to each other as nexus concerns {try to explain the relationality between concerns, based on the data from the field sites}

When one looks at the range of concerns raised by participants one begins to see the history of inequality and polarization that is very particular to South Africa play out on different fronts. These fronts play out in terms of ones’ race, ones’ class and where it is that one is operating from -whether from an urban or rural setting. In each instance you begin to see where young people who care about creating change are vulnerable, and the particularities of what that looks like from each intersectional front. Each of these different perspectives form part of the whole. What is missing or needed in one form of engagement is highlighted in the questions that the other holds. I have been particularly impressed by how Change Drivers are their own best educators.  The depth of what each of them is experiencing deserves the space to be shared and critically engaged with by their peers. This is a question about how to create great solidarity around the knowledge that does exist.

The nexus concerns that emerged from our interactions include; a contemporary analysis of democracy and the State in Africa, inequality and the multiple fronts for launching social justice experiments across poles,  the unfinished business of  restorative or restitutive justice in South Africa,  resourcing sustainable futures for young people on the continent, innovative ways in which Change Drivers try to open up new trajectories to bring life and process into their communities and  the possibilities that sit at the heart of young imagination in Africa.  These nexus points point to an interesting analysis of the barriers to sustainable young futures in South Africa and the possibilities for the future that Change Drivers are opening through their work.

The enduring image that emerges from the concerns raised by Change Drivers is one of a matrix in which each person is placed in a position or vantage point that is useful to others in some way whilst presenting its own unique challenges. Perhaps these Change Drivers are aware of the different experiences that other Change Drivers hold, but are in a situation where they are driven to choose what makes the most sense in the context that they are in. I wonder what it would be like if each Change Driver here were challenged to regenerate their praxis in ways that acknowledge the contradictions in the perspectives that they hold. What impact if any would this have on the way they define and act on the pertinent issues they face in their contexts? My comment here is about the intersections between individual transgressive learning and the broader collective struggles that underpin them. It seems to me that these nexus points between inequality and privilege need to be worked with more meaningfully as part of what liberatory pedagogy could look like in this context.  This is a comment on purposefully creating a contemporary curriculum on liberatory pedagogy that centre the way the same system affects different people in different ways. A curriculum that is focused on meaningfully unpacking the way the status quo relies on the polarizations we witness so strongly in society. For me this would be about finding experimental ways to explore the collective as well as the individual learning of a group in more radical ways.

What is the history of the concerns; and how do people experience them now; and what visions do they have around these into the future?

The history these concerns comes directly from the work that Change Drivers have been doing in their communities for the last 4 years. These reflections reveal the learnings they have had over the years as Change Drivers and where they find themselves now. The shared concerns sit at the edge of their praxis at the time in which they shared them.

As part of writing a paper on some of these findings I was able to give participants back a summary of what they shared when we were together. It was interesting to hear some of the reactions that came up for them as they reflected back on what they had shared. For some participants they were surprised to find what they thought was an accurate depiction of their politics to date. It felt useful or them to have their ethical standpoints carefully articulated back to them as a mirror. For others it provided an opportunity to see where they were and to think about how they have evolved since then. For Judith she spoke about how the safe spaces the she created as part of being part of a black radical feminist group have ended up being quite intimidating spaces in themselves – where the expression of the group has been curtailed by the politics of hierarchies within marginalized identities. It was powerful to hear her speak about how what they had intended to create has opened up the need for new learning and the regeneration of the space that once gave her and her peers so much life and purpose. Kristie commented on how bearing witness to what she had said many months ago helped her better bear witness to where she is now. So… in many ways the reflective journey continues and it feels great to know that the interactions that we had can be useful in the way they help us keep sifting through our meaning making of the present moment in the service of a sustainable future.

The time frame of the project means that I haven’t had to the space to meet all the participants again since the workshop.  That means that I do not have a full current picture of what is happening for these Change Drivers right now, but this is something that I am looking forward to establishing as the project reaches towards its final year in 2018. We are currently working on completing a full rendering of the filmed ‘offerings’ that were produced from the workshop. From here, these will be shared with the Change Drivers and hopefully new conversation will ensue from this interaction.

Q3:  What are the learning potential(s) / potentials for expanding learning that you identified with the research participants in discussion around their matters of concern.

What concerns would the research participants like to take further and why?

All of the concerns named in the matters of concern are those that the participants would like to take forward. I suppose by virtue of being Change Drivers the concerns that they named are things that they are actively working on and will continue to work in their communities. They are and always have been the vehicles for the change that they are trying to create. What the space that we had together offered was a time to reflect and take stock of what is meaningful for them on the edge of their praxis. This research project captures these Change Drivers on the move. Our time together was simply about finding the right kind of generative pause for them to reflect on what make needs their attention now. And for them to offer that in ways that can help us think more carefully about what liberatory pedagogy could look like in contemporary Africa.

What proposals are being made by them?

What do you think is most important to take forward, and why?

As with the previous comments it is difficult to mention the myriad of projects that have ensued since the last time that we met. Again, I think it is important to clarify what the aim of this project was. I was interested in understanding what sits on the edge of their praxis so as to collate these thoughts and use them in regenerating what liberatory pedagogy could look like in contemporary Africa. As such one of the most important proposals lingering from this study is to clarify and collate the findings of this and to use this to generate the themes for a meaningful curriculum and/or holding spaces for the Change Drivers. In other words, the project is about being led by the learning of Change Drivers to create a curriculum of relevance that responds to what is pressing in the socio political environment right now. This remains an important part of the project that is being manifested through their input.

Change Drivers have asked for the opportunity for us to meet at the site of their communities so that we can collectively get a better perspective of a day in their lives. We are currently mobilizing for the funding to be able to do this and to include video footage of Change Drivers in their contexts as part often the Not yet Uhuru film that is being created.

There is also always the hope that their work can get the kind of publicity and acknowledgement that can help strengthen and share the work that they are doing. Resources of any kind whether human or otherwise are always a part of their daily negotiations. A sense of this project moving forward would rely on the way it can find meaningful ways to plow back into the work that is ongoing. We hope that the results of this thesis and its accompanying film can be a useful vehicle to generate this focus. A bit more on the ensuing film project is included below.

The “NOT YET UHURU” film project is conceptualized as a essential visual accompaniment to this ongoing PhD in education. The film recognizes young people in their capacity as knowers and theory makers. This is an ethical stance that challenges us to recognize and subvert the dominant ‘politics of credibility’ that often delegitimizes, marginalizes and distrusts the perspectives and transgressive impulses of young people (Fricker 2007). It acknowledges them as critical actors in the co- creation of a predominantly young future and asks them to lead us in their understanding of what teaching and learning for freedom should look like in contemporary South Africa. Robin Kelley reminds us that:

“All around us, young people are at the forefront of asking how we imagine a different future, but their theorizing goes unnoticed because youth are still seen as junior partners of the social movement” (Tuck and Young 2014;88).

 Limiting the legitimacy of young people’s theorizing alienates us from understanding the complex lived experiences that inform their choices and the transgressions that they feel are necessary to make. This is an issue of testimonial injustice where “prejudice against some opinions can prevent speakers from successfully putting knowledge into the public domain” (Fricker 207: 43).  By failing to understand the way the present moment is being experienced by young people we stifle and frustrate the regenerative potential of their actions and energy. We fail to productively engage in an ongoing conversation that asks us all to carefully consider:

how to resist the present, more specifically the injustice, violence, and vulgarity  of the times, while being worthy of our times, so as to engage with them in a  productive, oppositional and affirmative manner” (Braidotti, 2011: 268).

Without the commitment to listen to what is being said by youth we gamble the potential prospects of an alternative and sustainable future.

This research project understands that if it is indeed about legitimizing the meaning making of Change Drivers in this contemporary moment, it must find ways for those faces, voices to arrive in their full integrity. This means creating the visual platform in which Change Drivers can take the time to articulate what is important to them in their own words and through their own expression.  In doing so, this research project seeks to minimize the gap between how young people are stereotypically represented in the media and what young people actually think, feel and know.  This is the only way we can begin to “alter the terms of recognition” that sit within the cultural context that we are in (Appadurai 2013: 186). Using film as part of this research project also subverts “the symbolic violence of the academy” where I as a researcher can simply use my voice and positionality to speak for young people. bell hooks surmises this practice through this poignant quote:

No Need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better that you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. (hooks    1990: 343)

Instead, this research project insists that we need to find ways to help concerned members of the public to come into close proximity with the nuanced deliberations of young people. Film gives us a medium in which the experiences of Change Drivers can gain real proximity to our current social imaginations. Film has the power to make us complicit in what we hear and see, even If only temporarily. The hope is that this sense of complicity can help sustain or even fuel the conversations that young people have started in South Africa.

We hope to showcase the film in places where it can provoke other young people and Change Drivers to think carefully about what makes sense for them in this contemporary moment. We hope that it can do this in ways that are deeply nuanced and don’t fall into a simplistic binary logic that keep us playing on the same chess board of the status quo.  After watching the film we would love for many many voices to be gunning to share their perspectives on what meaning they are making of these times and what it means for them to transgress for social change. A workshop process will be designed to accompany the screening of the film in spaces where it can be accessed by other young people across South Africa and the continent as a whole.

For youth development practitioners or social justice activists whether old school or in this contemporary moment this film should be a place to connect with what is real for young people right now.  It should be an invitation to ally meaningfully with the dreams that they hold.  We hope that this film will challenge them to think about how we should be responding to the issues of our times by appreciating the way young people are setting the agenda for us all. In another words; How has development and NGO politics responded to these issues up till now? What are the ethical implications of this? What are some transgressive ways we can show up to this conversation as practitioners? These questions could also be held in a workshop process for youth development practitioners to reflect on the depth and relevance of the work that we do.

Formal or non-formal educators at any level are an important part of our audience. The film should challenge educators to consider what their role is in this contemporary moment. How does the work they do in their various spaces and institutions adequately grapple with the experiences that young Change Drivers are articulating right now? This is an invitation to think about a curriculum of relevance in the face of the reality of what young people are facing out there. This links directly with the call to decolonize education.  The film can be used as a tool by teachers to think about how they can meet the knowledge in their specialised fields with what is emerging for young people. Provocative questions that should be set out by the film to challenge educators include; are we adequately aware of and addressing some of the issues of our time in our work?  In what ways can we challenge ourselves as practitioners to be of service to Change Drivers out there trying to grapple with the complexities of this space? Can we allow ourselves to be led by the impetus of Change Drivers? If so, how? What could this mean for our role as educators? If education is one of the most powerful ways of reproducing or creating society what exactly am I as a educator (re) producing in my praxis? How am I complicit in reproducing the the status quo? What is the role of education in society?

The hope is that we can begin to create some experimental spaces where we can work creatively to speak to some of the key insights that are emerging from the film and the experiences of other Change Drivers, youth development practitioners and formal or non- formal educators. We don’t have many safe spaces that invite us to collectively reflect on our practice. This film could be a catalyst to invite these kinds of spaces.

Lastly, this film could help us fundraise for an alternative experimental school that centers young people and educators. We could use the questions that they hold as a cite for pedagogical exploration. This could be a space where we could create the curriculum that we desire and experiment with Change Drivers to challenge and educate each other around the most important questions our time.

 

References:

Appadurai, A. (2013), The Future As Cultural Fact. London and New York: Verso.

Braidotti, R. ( 2011) Nomadic Theory, The Portable Rosi Braidotti. New York: Colombia University Press

Fricker, M.(2007) Epistemic Injustice, Power and the Ethics of Knowing. New York:Oxford University Press.

hooks, bell (1990). Marginality as a site of resistance. In R. Ferguson et al. (eds) Out there: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. pp 241-243. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lorde, A. (1984), Sister Outsider. Trumansberg and New York: The Crossing Press.

Tuck, E and Young, W. (2014). Youth Resistance and Theories of Change.New York: Routledge.

[1] Uhuru is the swahili word for freedom. The statement Not yet Uhuru famously penned by Letter Mbulu simply means that we are not yet free.

2018-07-04T08:41:55+00:00

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