Name of Fellow: Lena Jones
Host Organization: The Institute for Democracy in South Africa
Location of Host Organization: Pretoria, South Africa
Brief History of Organization:
Idasa was founded by Frederick van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine at the end of 1986 to help find an alternative to the politics of repression and to explore new ways of addressing polarization between black and white South Africans. Idasa’s early work included facilitating meetings between meetings of the then banned political organizations and prominent white South Africans. One such meeting was the groundbreaking conference in Dakar, Senegal, attended by Afrikaners and exiled members of the ANC. After the unbanning of political organizations in 1990 and democratic elections in 1994, the focus of Idasa’s work shifted to the creation of a democratic culture in South Africa and strategic interventions to help the new democracy take root. Between 1990 and 1994, Idasa ran programs that enabled groups from the old and new orders to work together to build inclusive, democratic structures in government and civil society. (Directly quoted from www.idasa.org.za)
Responsibilities, Accomplishments and Challenges:
My responsibilities at the organization included working with current and former participants in Idasa’s Citizen Leadership Training Program and exploring ways that Public Achievement (a civic engagement initiative created by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota) could be integrated into their leadership training program. This was mainly done through conducting workshops at Idasa’s Pretoria office and working directly in the communities of several alums of Idasa’s Leadership program.
At the outset of my trip, I intended to spend a month in Idasa's Pretoria office working with their Leadership Training Program and a month working with Idasa's Southern Africa Migration Project in its Cape Town office. Once I arrived in South Africa, I had major difficulties connecting with the Cape Town office and my contact person there due to his schedule and my lack of regular access to a local phone and e-mail. Due to these challenges and the all-around warm reception that I received in Idasa's Pretoria office, I made the decision to work primarily in Pretoria. My decision was further helped along by the fact that Harry Boyte (the co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota) and Marie Strom (the Manager of Idasa’s Citizen Leadership for Democratic Governance Program) also happened to be working in Idasa’s Pretoria office for part of the time that I was there.
As far as challenges, finding affordable and safe housing was difficult since my initial contacts at Idasa did not live in Pretoria. Eventually, I managed to find an apartment through a listing of housing options for visiting scholars on the University of Pretoria website. Lastly, covering the costs of housing and transportation within and between Pretoria and Cape Town was also a challenge. This problem also contributed to my decision to spend most of my time in Pretoria, which was a bit more affordable than Cape Town.
Personal Essay Section:
Prior to my trip, I had done extensive research on South African politics so I certainly knew about the challenges that South Africa faced both before and after its transition to democracy in 1994. I knew of the incredible disparities in wealth in the country and I knew that millions of South Africans were without adequate housing and other basic services that many in the United States take for granted. However, seeing and navigating between the very different worlds of the “haves” and the “have nots” in South Africa was an experience that was extremely eye-opening and one that made me confront my own privilege in unexpected and often uncomfortable ways. This experience also made very clear the limits of political democracy when vast differences between the "haves" and the (many more) "have nots" exist.
When I arrived in South Africa, I expected to spend only part of June at the Pretoria office and spend the rest June and July at the Cape Town office doing applied research on immigration and xenophobia in South Africa. However, on the day of my arrival at the Pretoria office, I happened to come upon a meeting of the Alumni Association of Idasa's Leadership Training Program, a program that helps community activists further develop their skills as organizers and gain a deeper understanding of government and participation in this new democracy. This group asked me to do a workshop with them about Public Achievement, an initiative of the University of Minnesota's Center for Democracy and Citizenship whose aim is to give people the skills to become effective civic and political actors. Earlier in 2004, Dennis Donovan from the Center for Democracy and Citizenship introduced Public Achievement to them and since I had used it with my State and Local Government classes at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, they asked me to conduct a workshop on how they could put Public Achievement into practice in their respective communities. During this two-day workshop, I ended up forming strong bonds with the participants. Given the relationships that I formed with the Leadership Alumni Group and my difficulties making contact with the Cape Town office I decided to spend the bulk of my time in the Pretoria area working with this group.
During this experience, I realized that though I certainly enjoy conducting research, my heart really lies with organizing and interacting with people at the grassroots. As far as my professional life, this experience has made me even more certain that my choice to work at a higher education institution that emphasizes teaching and community involvement was the right one.
During my fellowship, I had the chance to interact with numerous talented community leaders, especially thorough my work with the Leadership Training Program. However, two individuals in particular had the greatest effect on me during my fellowship experience—Nomthandazo (“Nomthi”) Skhosana and Isaac Mkhabela. Both of these individuals are former participants in Idasa’s Leadership Training Program and still maintain close ties to the organization through its alumni association. Nomthi is a community organizer in New Eersterus, a semi-rural village about 45 miles from Pretoria and Isaac is an organizer from the Winnie Mandela settlement, an informal community on the edge of the Tembisa township. Both of these individuals work tirelessly to improve the lives of the people in their communities. They are both natural organizers whose dedication and persistence is absolutely inspiring. I was also touched by their openness and their willingness to share their experiences, their lives, and their communities with me.
Nomthi is the head of an organization called Vukani Community Services, a grassroots organization which, among other things, was working to bring running water to the households of New Eersterus. Isaac is the head of Setshaba Community Services, a grassroots organization that helps members of his community know their rights as citizens of South Africa and access the services that they are entitled to. Both of these organizations do incredible work with few resources and both Nomthi and Isaac do not receive any income from running these organizations.
During my two months in South Africa, I also thoroughly enjoyed working with the coordinators of Idasa’s Citizenship Leadership Program ( Mpho Putu, Bennitto Motitsoe, Melaney Tembo and Noxolo Mgudlwa) and Ivor Jenkins, the coordinator of Idasa’s Pretoria office.
This experience was certainly a life-changing one, though I am not yet able to fully articulate how. What I do know for sure is that I am grateful to the Human Rights Center and the International Leadership Institute for providing resources for me to establish lifelong bonds with others committed to creating a world where human rights are had by all.
Full Name of Organization: The Institute for Democracy in South Africa
Abbreviation and initials commonly used: Idasa
Kutlwanong Democracy Centre
357 Visagie Street (c/o Prinsloo)
Phone: (012) 392 0500
Fax: (012) 320 2414/5
Postal address: PO Box 56950, Arcadia, 0007
Cape Town Democracy Centre
6 Spin Street
Phone: (021) 467 5600
E-mail Address: e-mail can be sent to the organization via its website: www.idasa.org.za
Website information: www.idasa.org.za
Name of Executive Director and Senior Staff:
Mr Paul Graham
Executive Director; Idasa; Pretoria
Mr Ivor Jenkins
Kutlwanong Democracy Centre manager; Idasa; Pretoria
Mr Vincent Williams
Cape Town Democracy Centre manager; Idasa; Cape Town
Objectives of the Organization: (Mission statement) Idasa is an independent public interest organization committed to promoting sustainable democracy in South Africa and elsewhere by building democratic institutions, educating citizens, and advocating social justice.
Idasa's Programs are:
• All Media Group
• Budget Information Service
• Centre for Governance in Africa
• Community and Citizen Empowerment Programme
Idasa’s Citizenship Leadership Training program is part of this program. A detailed description of the program is available at the following address: http://www.idasa.org.za/index.asp?page=Programme%5Fdetails%2Easp%3FRID%3D32
• Governance and Aids Programme
• Local Government Centre
• Peace Building and Conflict Resolution
• Right to Know Programme
• Southern African Migration Project
Date of Information: Oct. 2004
Information Supplied by: Lena Jones and www.idasa.org.za
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