Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

A Poor Women's Pedagogy: "When Ideas Move in People's Hands and Hearts, They Change, Adapt, and Create New Solutions"

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

A Poor Women's Pedagogy: "When Ideas Move in People's Hands and Hearts, They Change, Adapt, and Create New Solutions"

Article excerpt

Women are singing;

Ululating, dancing,

Marching

Carrying placards of their different housing associations,

Wearing T-shirts which read-

People's Dialogue for Housing and Shelter

We Want!

Power! Money! Knowledge!

The songs they sing tell of the hardships they endure in the shacks, The threat from fire, rain and the wind and from eviction even under a new government.

Now they have started to build houses by saving R2 a day

These women are marching to the mass meeting in Hout Bay settlement Imizamo Yethu. The atmosphere is electric, there is lots of energy, excitement and anxiety as the different housing savings groups take the courage to say enough is enough, we are tired of this kind of life, and don't want to die in fires any longer and they say, "We work with all our hearts to do the good work and do not want to be pitied and we will rebuild our lives as we build our homes."

They shout: "We will make it work!" -documenting the spirit of the launch of the Imizamo Yethu savings group and model house display, 26 August 2000 (video recording by John Valentine and Salma Ismail)

Introduction

This article is concerned with processes of learning within a community housing project called the Victoria Mxenge Housing Development Association. The research sets out to describe and analyse how women learn to save for and build their own homes in a community context. It also seeks to show how these processes of learning have contributed to the social construction of knowledge and to the achievements of Victoria Mxenge Housing Development Association (VM). The article describes one social learning event in this process-a mass meeting organised by VM in an informal black settlement known as Imizamo Yethu (Our Striving) that has mushroomed in Hout Bay, Cape Town. This is the paradise land of rich white South Africans situated on lush mountain slopes between harbour and farmland.

Qualitative research methods such as observations, individual and group interviews, and a video recording of the mass meeting were used for gathering data. The analysis seeks to identify the critical educational strategies used by VM and to discuss how VM's philosophical and political perspectives translate into different forms and traditions of learning, advocacy, and social action. In this project the approach to gender and development is populist and people-centered, as the leadership claims that the model has developed from ordinary people's actual experience of development projects. The focus is on the empowerment of poor people; it emphasizes the values and interests of marginalized people and is in favour of decentralised, self-managed modes of organization. The leadership draws on populist views of development from the South (Wignaraja 1993) and argue that they do not subscribe to one grand and glorious development meta-theory and that they avoid being dogmatic. They further argue that development must result in relevant development praxis, which is concerned with an overall improvement in poor people's quality of life as well as with control of resources and sustainable forms of living that conserve land, energy, and progressive cultural systems that do not undermine and oppress either women or men. The pedagogical approach of the South African Homeless People's Federation, VM's supporting organization, combines popular and feminist pedagogy, as the core orientation to learning is that learning is participatory and valorises local knowledge. This form of learning affirms adult education principles in that it starts from where the people are situated and works to develop a broader understanding of structures and how these can be transformed. The education is positioned to support the struggles of women in oppressed communities (Walters and Manicom 1996).

South Africa faces a huge problem in redressing the backlog of housing needs, which is the legacy of the apartheid policies and is exacerbated by the problems in delivery on the part of the new government. …

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