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R26 Protest Action – an outstanding collaborative effort

“As long as people care about each other and the place they live in, every community has the potential for such collective action.” * On 24 December the Free State Premier, amid great fanfare, announced that a contractor had been appointed to complete the R26 road project between Frankfort, Tweeling and Reitz in the Eastern Free State. This follows after a previous contractor, for reasons unknown, had abandoned the R350-million project and no work was done on the road for almost 2 years, leaving it in a dreadfully unsafe condition. This lead to a number of accidents and damage to vehicles, with reduced traffic a consequence; further devastating the already struggling economies of small towns along the route.


The evident high level bungling and squandering of resources by the provincial authorities did not altogether go unnoticed and to the credit of the Premier, the MEC for Roads, Police and Transport, was removed from his position. Whether this was merely political maneuvering or a sincere action to address the widespread decay of the provincial road network remains unclear but what is certain, is that local community protest action had a huge role to play in achieving a positive outcome. An outstanding example was set from which a number of lessons can be learnt: • Participate: The need for local participation and the organisation of local stakeholders to meet the challenges facing their communities, is of increasing importance. • Common goal: Communities are characterised by sometimes conflicting interests among different groups of stakeholders with very different needs, values, and policy preferences. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the protest action at Tweeling, where residents, farmers, taxi-owners, businesses and contractors combined decisively and effectively to take on a mutual challenge. [brei meer uit?] • Exploit resources: In many communities, these conflicting interests are often rooted in differences between groups who seek to protect community quality of life and those that seek to exploit local resources (especially the local workforce and natural resource base) as a means of achieving economic development. “Exploit” in this context is rather seen in the positive – to make full use of and derive benefit from a resource. • Transfer of responsibilities: Increasingly common is the transfer of responsibilities for services from government agencies to the private community sector. Such conditions have resulted in local stakeholders taking on a greater role in providing services and planning for future needs. • Social relationships: Community action refers to the process of building social relationships in pursuit of common community interests and maintaining or improving local lives. • Positive efforts: Community action is seen as being the foundation of the community development process because it encompasses deliberate and positive efforts designed to meet the general needs of all local stakeholders. • Comprehensive approach: This process represents multiple and diverse local interests, and consequently provides a more comprehensive approach to community development. Therefore, the action process is intended to benefit the entire community and to cut across divides that may exist (class, culture, race, social), often arising from an emotional or social need. In the process of community development, local action focuses on the improvement of social well-being and involves people working together in pursuit of their general interests. • Working together: This power of community action is manifested in the ability of individuals to come together and work toward common goals. When diverse individuals and their organisations interact with one another, they begin to mutually understand the needs and wants that are common to all residents. • Social well-being: Such action provides local residents with the ability to retain community identities, maintain local control over decision-making, and address their own developmental needs. It is a central component of community and social well-being. • Community action: The existence of community action directs attention to the fact that local people acting together often have the power to transform and change their community. • Common territory: Community action and corresponding development can be seen as the process of building relationships that increase the adaptive capacity of local people within a common territory. This adaptive capacity is reflected in the ability of people to manage, utilise, and enhance those resources available to them in addressing their local issues. • Focused and deliberate action: Community action and the emergence of community should not be seen as representing romantic or idealised notions of local harmony and solidarity. The truth is that focused and deliberate action represents something far different. • Care and responsibility: As long as people care about each other and the place they live in, every community has the potential for such collective action.

Conclusion

Action emerges out of interaction between diverse social groups, who often have clashing or at least very different points of view. Interaction facilitates the coming together of such groups to assess their common and general needs. From this they form sustainable plans for action that benefit all involved, and ultimately the community in general. The importance of organising diverse local stakeholders to help shape local development cannot be overstated. By providing a comprehensive assessment of local conditions that represents all segments of the community, more efficient and successful programs can be developed. The input and guidance from local residents allows development to build on the unique conditions and character of the community and allow decision-making to remain in the locale. All of these create an environment where active local residents directly shape the community and its well-being. (*Source: "The Interactional Approach to Community" - Bridger, J.C., Brennan, M.A., and Luloff, A.E. 2011.)

Feel free to visit the MBF office at 18A Church Street in Frankfort when we reopen on January 3rd. You can also send an email to info@mafubebf.org or a WhatsApp to 079 145 4295.

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