“mapping could help civil society organizations to build networks and share learnings from one another”
Charlotte Scott demystifies the work of Ashley Buchalter in mapping the interaction between the local government, the City of Cape Town and a leading activist organisation in access to sanitation, the Social Justice Coalition.
by Charlotte Scott
In June and July this year Ashley Buchalter, a student at The New School for Public Engagement spent her time trawling over hundreds of pages of printed email and letter correspondence, official press releases and online news articles. These were records of the interaction between the local government, the City of Cape Town and a leading activist organisation in access to sanitation, the Social Justice Coalition.
The product of her research has been a detailed Map of Circumnavigation between the two parties, dating back to the beginning of the SJC’s Sanitation Campaign in informal settlements which commenced in 2010. The diagram, with its graphics developed by graphic designer Gaelen Pinnock, uses a coding system to create a timeline to map the correspondence patterns during the Sanitation Campaign between the SJC, Ndifuna Ukwazi (an organization which acts as SJC’s legal arm) and the City of Cape Town (CoCT).
The Sanitation Campaign began as a campaign to improve safety and sanitation in neighborhoods within Khayelitsha around 2010/2011, and has since grown to tackle a variety of related issues with service delivery around sanitation including campaigning for more flush toilets, raising awareness about toilets that are not always in working order and breakdowns related to servicing the existing toilets.
As the campaign has progressed the SJC has used both formal and informal means of raising awareness and engaging the CoCT and there has been rising antagonism between the SJC (and partners) and the CoCT. The process of creating the map was a long and onerous one, says Buchalter, sifting through years of correspondence between the parties. “The SJC was kind enough to give me access to their public records.”
Buchalter is interested in the intersection of civil society organizing and public policy formation, especially in urban environments and was working with Isandla Institute as an intern at the time. While working towards her masters in Governance and Rights, Buchalter spent a two months studying at the University of Cape Town, an exchange facilitated by the New School for Public Engagement and the African Centre for Cities and coinciding with her time as Isandla.
“The South African municipal model actually creates a lot of opportunity for civil society engagement, but true deliberation doesn’t always happen, so I wanted to take a look at a recent example of a civil society organization interacting with local officials to see what some of the challenges might be.”
In Response to Your Request… A Map of Circumnavigation
Under the guidance of Professor Laura Weiner and Bob Buckley, Buchalter completed the diagram to demonstrate the increasingly strained relationship between the CoCT and the SJC.
“The green blocks show where some kind of progress was made.” For example, in September 2011 Mayor Patricia De Lille requested the SJC’s help in drafting the City’s janitorial programme, which was to involve residents in employment as Janitors responsible for maintaining and cleaning existing toilets. The janitorial programme has since come under fire for being ineffective, with the SJC’s social audit revealing as many as half the toilets inspected were dirty or very dirty and a quarter were not working at all.
The blue blocks represent a request for information, usually from the SJC, or action such as called for by the 500 budget submission requesting more capital expenditure of sanitation in informal settlements.
The grey blocks represent a lack of response from the CoCT. A recurring theme evident from the map is a growing frustration within civil society at the delayed response rate from the CoCT. At the same time, there has been a scaling up of protests and demonstrations over time.
The red blocks represent civil or public action taken against either the SJC or the City. The SJC marched to the civic centre to demand the Mayor commit to firm deadlines to develop a plan for the janitorial service. The Mayor’s office refused to meet protesters and protesters were arrested by SAPS. 21 SJC activists stood trial for demonstrating at the Civic Centre, in violation of the Regulation of Gatherings Act (RGA).
Buchalter believes the mapping exercise and its final product can be used in a variety of ways. In informal conversations she had with Capetonians, and her research into the coverage of the protests, Buchalter could see a growing dissatisfaction with the SJC, under the perception that their campaign was disjointed or fragmented. The map helps to outline the narrative of the SJC’s campaign as a more cohesive story, one with a progression in focus and strategy.
“The SJC actually based their strategies, and drew inspiration from, the strategies of other successful campaigns.” For example the Treatment Action Campaign, which was instrumental in achieving greater access to antiretroviral drugs in their campaign between 2002 and 2008. This is another important role for mapping exercises such as Buchalter’s.
“It’s really been a case-study that could have resonance for other civil society organisations. Using the map can give other campaigns insight into the way the SJC works.”
Civil society has and continues to play a vital role in addressing a wide range of urban development challenges. In order to fulfill this role, civil society organizations need to effectively and efficiently participate in the provision of public services and urban governance, collaborating with local governments as well as holding them accountable. As urban spaces become increasingly contested with multiple actors and complex objectives, mapping could help civil society organizations to build networks and share learnings from one another.
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- From a Ground Up article, photo by Masixole Feni.
- Map of Circumnavigation by Ashley Buchalter.
- From the Daily Maverick website