This year 2015 marks the 6th year of the Bench Marks Community Monitor School. The school grew from just 10 participants in 2009 to over 130 participants in 2014.
The work of the morning school is lead by a team of community Facilitators, Bench Marks Coordinators and Resource Persons.
Boledi Susan Moraba ( Mpumalanga), Olebogeng Motene (Rustenburg), Joe Mashilo (Klerksdorp), Mduduzi Tshabalala ( Vaal), Meshack Mbangula (Ekhuruleni), Sobantu Mzwakali ( Welkom), Brown Motsau ( Bench Marks), Eric Mokoua ( Bench Marks ), Malin Olofsson ( Resource Person), Bobby Marie ( Resource Person)
Below the 2015 facilitators’ team reflects on the reasons why the school was set up, the work of the school and its successes and frustrations .
- Why the school was set up
In 1994 we expected that our new democratically elected government would set the rules that big business corporations, especially in the mining areas will follow. We believed this this will protect the interests of the community. This did not happen. In South Africa, business corporations dodge responsibilities, which are set out in the law. They do this by forming an alliance with political elites, and by lobbying the government and sometimes they buy government officials. This leads to a lenient governmental response. Government does not attend to community grievances with regards the illicit and inhuman corporate practices. This failure of government results in the destruction of the environment and negative impacts on the community.
Because government fails to do its job, it is therefore necessary for the community to organise and protect themselves. The community monitors schools were set up as a space where activists will develop skills and ideas on how to build community power.
The Schools were set up by the Bench Marks Foundation working together with community organisations . The first school was set up in 2009 with 10 monitors then escalated to 130 monitors in 2014.
The schools operate in The North West Province, Limpopo, Gauteng and Free State.
- How the school works
Activists in each area meet regularly for a training in basic activism tools such as observing and identifying problems, information gathering, writing, podcasting and photography. They use these skills to take up issues in their community and confront those perpetrators of community problems.
The monitors do research and exhibit in various forms such as written publications, radio podcasts newsletters which are also posted on the Internet. These publications raise awareness in various communities.
Monitors organise the community to confront government officials and business corporations on the problems they cause. This happens through petitions and peaceful protest marches. Some times these issues may go to court and legal battles to accelerate the pressure if the grievances are not attended.
- Link with the Community
The community monitoring action school is linked to the community in many ways. Firstly all the activists are themselves members of the affected communities. Secondly the organisations they are part of are based in the community. Thirdly the activists always communicate with the community on the issues they are engaging in. They do this through meetings, newsletters and their public action. The most important link with the community is by involving community in actions aimed at solving problems.
- Successes and Victories
The community struggle is a hard one. Victories are small but they add up. These are some of our positive experiences.
Olebogeng Motene (Rustenburg) says: “In the monitoring school we developed confidence to write and this helped improve our writing. Our research and writing helped us expose challenges faced in our community. The Monitoring school helped us build our local organisations. For example In Chaneng it helped us keep the Chaneng Youth Organisation active and it helped set up the Ikemeleng Environmental Organisation. The Monitoring school played an important role in helping the formation of a regional structure of community organisation BUA Mining Communities. In one area had a mobile clinic. Our activism leads to the building of a permanent clinic.
Meshack Mbangula (Ekhuruleni) says: “It was a very crucial programme for activists in our community. From the regular meeting, we saw the need for a permanent space to work from. Today we have a established our own resource centre. This is helping us become a strong group to fight the poverty and inequality faced by our community. We have grown stronger in our action. First we simply wrote stories. Activists then said, what do we with our stories. That is when we started moving from newsletters and reports, which we made into pod casts and now place on a web page. In this we get to a wider audience.”
Sobantu Mzwakali (Welkom) says: “In Welkom we campaigned for the rehabilitation of an open cast mine and our actions with others led to a mine complying. In Virginia in the free state, we got the Municipality to build a small crossing bridge so that school children are not forced to walk in the river.”
- Frustrations and Difficulties
However, the school in its activism do experience frustrations and difficulties. Most of our activists are unemployed and therefore we can’t do anything with our financial support. All our schools are located in very poor working class communities and we don’t have doctors, lawyers, and other people with expertise and money to help us.
- Our plans for 2015
We have grown over the last 5 years. We have strong local groups. This year we must to be more focussed in our work. We are pushing our activists to ne more rigorous in their work. Through our newsletters and our digital radio we want to inform more people our communities and beyond about our work and get their support.