The Centre for Civil Society (CCS), housed within the College of Humanities, recently welcomed three industrious community scholars as part of the Centre’s effort to encourage communities to make a difference in society and uphold activism.
The students are Mr Mzamowenkosi Zondi, Ms Nisha Naidoo, and Ms Philisiwe Mazibuko. They form part of the CCS Community Scholarship Initiative (Dennis Brutus Initiative) that focuses on participation from members of civil society organisations and movements in Durban to allow for exchanges between CCS academics and researchers and local civil society organisations.
This initiative ensures that theoretical understandings of the concept ‘civil society’ are underpinned by practical experiences and that civil society organisations linked with the CCS have an opportunity to participate in evolving formulations of theories on civil society and use them in their own environments.
In 2018/2019, the programme will be structured along the following tracks (formulated by activists themselves): writing, knowledge production, campaigns, community engagement and training, skills, capacity and building solidarity, and networking.
All three scholars have their roots in community upliftment and human rights activism and regard their efforts as a ‘calling’.
Zondi of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) says a community scholar goes beyond the traditional ‘good deed’ approach by occupying a more critical social justice stance and a strategic role of development, social cohesion and transformation.
He hopes to improve his knowledge as an activist and to use the community scholar programme to build on networks with individuals and other organisations at the course.
‘The #FeesMustFall is a good example of how academic institutions can be embedded in community struggles. We can also reflect on the role that academics played in challenging AIDS denialism. Academic institutions are a site of contestation in the struggle for social justice and as a community scholar. I will want to influence the role that academics and the institution play in transformation and the eradication of poverty – especially in our struggle for respect for human rights and human dignity for all,’ said Zondi.
Mazibuko of the Right2Know Campaign is a champion of human rights in the Wentworth community, often engaging with community members on issues affecting the youth, the environment, health and social ills. Her work often delves into media freedom and diversity, access to information, the right to protest and combatting patriarchy which involves organising workshops and outreach initiatives. ‘I feel I am the voice of the community; addressing issues that affect the people and trying to find solutions,’ she said.
Naidoo of Powerfest! Festival of Powerful Ideas, always wanted to join the CCS as a community scholar. One day, she plucked up the courage to apply and underwent a rigorous screening process, before eventually becoming a community scholar.
‘Together with the CCS, I am hosting Powerfest for a year. This is a free, collaborative, co-created, pop-up festival of film screenings, exhibitions, demonstrations, performance, art, workshops, seminars and discussions on money, finance, banking, economics and economic history. This is a way to tackle controversial heavy topics and make it sexy and appealing for audiences to engage on important issues,’ said Naidoo.
The community scholars plan to collaborate with each other to tackle various issues and to make a difference in the societies and communities they come from.
Photographer: Melissa Mungroo, Shashnie Melanie Reddy