Community Monitors emerged out of the Benchmarks Foundation corporate monitoring programme. The Bench Marks Foundation is mandated by South African churches to monitor the policies and practices of multinational corporations to ensure they respect human rights, respect the environment and that profit making activities are not done at the expense of communities, workers and other groups affected by multinational corporations.
Community Monitors emerged in 2009 with the recognition that Bench Marks submitting policy proposals and research reports is only one of the strategies that will bring about change. There was a need to support local communities who were directly affected by the action of corporations to speak in their own voice on the destructive impacts of corporations. Bench Marks therefore partnered with local community organisations to develop community monitors . The community monitors would focus on community action to stop the practices of private corporations and the omissions of governments, which results in destruction to community life and the environment. Bench Marks set up with its local partners “Community Monitors School”
The purpose of the Community Monitors School is to link education and research to building community organisation/organizing and to community action in order to achieve socio-economic and environmental justice for communities affected by profit-making corporations. The intention of building organisation and organizing is partly a response to the lack of strong working class organisation post-1994, especially in rural areas, and to the dominance of authoritarian organizations as the model. Community Monitors attempts to build an alternative idea of organisation/organizing, which focuses on activity (not structure), continuous learning and develops the confidence, creativities and potentialities of all involved.
The Community Monitors School works with community groups of 7-15 participants in each group from different regions. In 2012, there were 6 community groups with a total of 85 participants. The community groups are located in mining areas, such as Rustenburg, Limpopo and Mpumalanga as well as in “post mining “ communities in Welkom , Klerksdorp and the East Rand.
The South African Community Monitors project is also linked with groups in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania who are engaged in similar activities.
- The focus areas of the Community Monitors School, includes:
- Research and writing skills: information gathering, analysis, writing, communication strategies
- Building confidence/breaking silences after years of psychological and structural oppression
- Taking action, building organisation and organizing strategies
Community Monitors approach to educational work is to directly linked to education and organisation/organizing and to focus on activity and continuous learning and reflection as a collective. The approach also facilitates a process of ‘speaking out’, drawing on feminist popular education. Therefore the approach is aimed at a combination of both structural/material change in the community as well as personal development.
Tools and processes
The community groups meet in workshops twice a week over period six months. After each workshop, participants are required to complete tasks, such as observation and documentation of community issues.
The six month process includes a number of activities and actions:
- Diary writing: to record stream of consciousness, build sense of self, nourish creativity, learning to write from within and with power.
- Articles on community issue: After observation, community research and journal writing, participants select a burning community issue to write an article on.
- Community action: after a period of personal development and confidence building, the focus shifts to action in the community. This includes strategizing on action on reflecting on the (lack of) progress after a period of time.
A number of tools are used throughout such as:
- Space: the structuring of the learning space as a democratic and safe space
- Visualisation: drawing on imagination and creativity; encouraging the child in adults
- Community mapping: birds eye view of community, which includes mapping the physical environment as well as social mapping (problems and issues) and historical mapping (timeline of the community)
- Social media and communication platforms to develop communication as a tool for activism
- Free writing actiivties
- Diaries as a space for personal development and reflection
- The School as a model of how community organizations can look and feel – organizations that encourage the development of the whole person
Understanding of popular education
- Combining organizing and education
- Educating for liberation, including psychological liberation
- Cultivating spontaneous/active/continuous development/creativity/learning (in opposition to bureaucratic/structured/top-down approach which has come to dominate much of trade union/political education)
- Drawing on feminist (Louise Dunlap), Freirian and liberation theology traditions