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An archive of features about Popular Education

Part 2: Exploring ‘Solidarity’

Every year, the Popular Education Programme (PEP) organizes and runs a National Popular Education Development (PED) workshop. In October 2015, the theme of that workshop was ‘Building alliances, forging solidarity’. In the course of the 2 days we experimented with a range of PE processes to help us explore the meaning (and implications) of ‘solidarity’.

Participants were social and educational activists many of whom are engaged in social movements and practical every-day struggles affecting working class people. For them, questions of solidarity are everyday concerns as they strive to make collective working for change more powerful.

Here, we present three of the tools we used to further explore ‘forging solidarity’. You may want to try and use these in your work!

Defining ‘solidarity’ – a conceptual exercise

Ask participants how many and what languages they speak. Break the group into small groups ensuring that you have at least 3 different languages in each group.

Task 1:

‘Translate the word ’solidarity’ into as many languages as you can. If there is no one word, describe the meaning using many words, images, metaphors etc

Task 2:

Describe how the meaning of ‘solidarity’ differs from the meaning of ‘unity’ (and other words)

Part 1: Forging Solidarity - Southern Perspectives of Popular Education, 9-10 June 2016

Freedom Day (27 April) in South Africa is a good day to launch our count-down to the colloquium.

We begin with the ‘Solidarity Song’ by Bertolt Brecht, arguably one of the greatest writers and playwrights of all time.  His ‘southern perspective’ was to side with the dispossessed and oppressed - but also his belief that songs, poems, plays that speak out against oppressors are powerful acts of defiance!

Bertolt Brecht:  Solidarity Song

Peoples of the world, together
Join to serve the common cause!
So it feeds us all for ever
See to it that it's now yours.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

Black or white or brown or yellow
Leave your old disputes behind.
Once start talking with your fellow
People, you'll soon be of one mind.

Let's talk about popular education!


This work-in-progress narrative derives from an initial 18-month research project entitled ‘Remembering traditions of popular education’ . It seeks to shed some light on various claims about popular education made by different people and groups in past and present South Africa. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with over 20 people, asking them to describe how they became activist-educators for social justice and what sustains their commitment; to name some of the influences on their practice; and to offer advice for current activist-educators. At the end, we invite you to contribute your questions and insights as to the relevance of popular education for today and we offer further resources for dialogue.

Here, we cite only a fraction of what experienced popular educators have said, and we offer audio-clips that bring their voices to life. While we also interviewed international practitioners, for now, we focus mainly on South Africans.

Stories of struggle make visible how popular education is closely tied to particular contexts and contingent upon specific conditions. Knowledge generated in processes of popular education primarily serves those who are participants in the dialogues. But it can illuminate how such knowledge becomes useful in the struggle for change and transformation.

A remarkable history of popular education: Learning through the story of two feminist activists from South Africa

The research seeks to shed light on the (radical) non-formal educational work that operated outside of and often in direct opposition to the formal education system in apartheid South-Africa, pre-1994. The formal education system was a reflection of authoritarian and racist relations in which (‘white’) masters were deemed to be the experts inducting (‘black’)ignorant people into Western / European knowledge. Popular education sought to recognise and validate subordinated people’s existing knowledge and skills and the socio-cultural contexts that gave rise to innovations and strategies of survival.  In the 1970s and 1980s, many creative community initiatives across a wide range of activities and locations, like religious organisations, trade unions, advice offices, NGOs, schools, universities and social movements offered popular or people’s education. Training for Transformation, founded by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel, is one of these.

Street Theatre for Education Project

Street Theatre for Education Project

In the first phase of the ‘Traditions of Popular Education’ project we had invited the Jana Natya Manch street theatre group from Delhi, India, to tour various communities and sites in/around Cape Town, and to run a workshop in street-theatre making for interested parties. It became clear that there is a great potential for street theatre performances to attract attention, to conscientise and activate a broad public.  A specific pedagogical undertaking of the second phase of the ‘traditions project’ is to explore arts-based practices following the model of the community-based street-theatre experiences of 2014 and early 2015.

The Street Theatre Project (STP) 2015 has a dual purpose:

(1)education and activation


Education and activation

Experience has shown that performances in public spaces and places reach audiences that would not otherwise engage in and with popular education. The same audiences may not have had much exposure to drama and theatre and the joy of public story-telling! Street theatre can be a useful and engaging way to raise critical awareness of and build insight into issues affecting working class people with the aim to stimulate public dialogue and action for change.

IX World Assembly, International Council for Adult Education (ICAE)

Adult Learning and Education to Create the World We Want

11-14 June 2015

Every 4 years ICAE has its Assembly to assess the state of adult education in civil society and to elect its new executive. This year it was held in Montreal, Canada. Here is the new executive who consists of the President, Sandy Morrison, New Zealand, 4 Vice-Presidents, one from each region, the Treasurer and Additional Members, plus the Past President and the Secretary General. Three members are from Africa – Aminata Boly, as Treasurer from Burkina Faso, Shirley Walters as Vice President for Africa from South Africa, and Valerio Ussene, Additional Member from Mozambique.

The Assembly started with a very informative, popular education tour of Montreal, focusing particularly on the history of immigrant communities. This was conducted by a civil society organisation and it helped the many visitors to Canada to catch a glimpse of the complex, rich history of the city and of Quebec, which is primarily French speaking, with the rest of Canada speaking mainly English. (French and English are the two official languages of Canada.)

A Review of the ‘Catalytic Project’

We looked back on the first 18 months of this research project into ‘traditions of popular education in South Africa’ in 2 stages: first, we complied with funders’ expectations and formulated a report just as soon as the ‘social forum’ was over and Janam, the street theatre group from India, had departed. Secondly, a few weeks and many walks and dialogues later, with some distance to the year and the (imposed) urgency of formulating a continuation of this research, new insights and questions emerged.

We begin the new year, 2015, with a few of our insights gathered through the research.

We invite you (All of you!) to respond and contribute to a dialogue on popular education: challenges for the (immediate) future! You can do so through ‘contribute’ and we will upload your comments.

Researching traditions of popular education in South Africa [1]

The reference group had suggested we work backwards: so, like Benjamin’s angel, we situated ourselves in the here and now of popular education and then charted a flight backwards hoping to find the springs of actions.

These are 10 of the insights that emerged:

Exciting Popular Education Programme 2015!

The Popular Education Programme 2015 builds on previous experiences and insights. Through its dialogue and workshop series, the youth course and specifically designed work with organisations the programme targets experienced and new educators working in NGOs and grassroots organisations. All participants must have a belief in and passion for education as a vehicle for change and transformation.

Popular education is different from formal education:

·      It begins with the everyday life and concerns of participants.

·      It leads to actions for change.

·      It explores alternatives to the present system

·      It analyses issues of power, inequality and injustice.

·      It encourages active participation 

The Dialogue Series

The popular education ‘dialogues’ take our previous work with ‘popular education practitioner circles’ a step forward. They aim to further develop a cadre of experienced educators and introduce the popular education approach to new ones. There will be 10 ‘dialogues’, each approximately 3-hours long, on the last Friday of the month. They will revolve around specific topical issues, designed collaboratively and facilitated by experienced popular educators.  

The Workshop Series

Now out! The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women Building Communities through Social Activism and Informal Learning by Salma Ismail (2015)

At the beginning of South Africa’s democratic change, in 1994, the Victoria Mxenge Housing Project was founded by a group of 30 women who lived in shacks on the barren outskirts of Cape Town. These women had come from rural areas and were poor, vulnerable and semi-literate. Yet they learned how to build, negotiate with the government and NGOs, architects and building experts, and form alliances with homeless social movements locally and internationally, in India and Brazil. The desolate piece of land they occupied is now a thriving, sustainable community of more than 5 000 houses.

People's Education for People's Power

‘People’s Education for People’s Power’ emerged as a concept, vision and programme of action out of the education crisis of 1985. It was based on a rejection of Apartheid education epitomized in the ongoing school boycotts of 1984/5, but moved further to envision education for the majority of the people – students, parents, teachers and workers. According to Kruss (1988, p. 9) “Students, teachers, and parents began to question what a different, alternative education system would be like. What would be its underlying principles? What would be its method and content? …”

Reflection on JANAM Visit (27 Oct to 10 Nov 2014)

One of the proposed aims of the ‘Traditions of Popular Education’ research is to advocate for popular education:  expose people to what it feels like to participate, and stimulate them to think and act on their insights.  We believe that popular education is much more than a methodology or set of tools – it is, grounded in ordinary people’s everyday experiences and struggles and strongly underpinned by values of equality and justice and hopes for a radically different future.

On 27 October, six members of the Indian street theatre company Jana Natya Manch  (Janam) arrived in Cape Town for a two-week tour. They had a busy schedule of performances and workshops, and they gave all their energy to what became memorable occasions for all who participated.

Report on National Popular Education Development Workshop: Traditions of Popular Education

In June 2014, a stimulating and inspiring national popular education workshop was held on traditions of popular education! Read the report and learn  more here!

The second National Popular Education National Workshop, funded by DVV International South Africa, was attended by 30 participants. It took place at the Grail Centre in Kleinmond over 27 – 29 June 2014. Building on feedback from the first workshop in 2013, this workshop focused on concepts and traditions informing popular education. It was structured as follows:

• Session 1: Introductions

• Session 2: Traditions of popular education

• Session 3: Popular education and the state

• Session 4: Dreaming social and environmental justice; and

• Session 5: Planning for action.

It used highly participatory methodologies, including icebreakers, small group work with galleries and collective integration of feedback from all groups, role plays and short inputs. Astrid von Kotze, Derrick Naidoo and Vanessa Reynolds of the Popular Education Programme, and Carme Martínez-Roca of the International Foundation for Interdisciplinary Health Promotion were the primary facilitators of the workshop. Other participants also assisted by facilitating many of the icebreakers and energy breaks.

An optional evening programme included viewings of John Pilger’s End of Apartheid? and the recently released Marikana: Miners shot down.

JANAM on Tour in South Africa!

Jana Natya Manch, New Delhi, India

Established in 1973, Jana Natya Manch (People’s Theatre Group; ‘Janam’ for short) is India’s preeminent left wing political theatre group.

Best known for its street theatre, the group has about 8,000 performances of about 100 plays in over 175 towns and villages of India to its credit. All of its street plays, and most of its other plays, are original works. In most years, Janam does about 200 performances.

Many of Janam’s signature street plays — Machine, Aurat Heart Desires More, O Guru) and others — have been performed all over India by dozens (Woman), Voh Bol Uthi (And She Spoke Up), Yeh Dil Mange More, Guruji  of street theatre groups in several languages.

On January 1, 1989, Janam was attacked as it performed a play on workers’ rights on the outskirts of Delhi. Janam’s main creative and organizational leader, Safdar Hashmi, was killed in this attack, as was an industrial worker, Ram Bahadur. The killing led to widespread protests all over India, and today, 25 years later, Safdar’s name has become a symbol of protest and progressive culture.

Janam works in close association with a large number of activist groups — trade unions, women’s groups, student groups, etc. It also works with the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Popular Education: Inspiring Activism and Education, with JANAM People's Theatre Group on Tour from India!

(i) 11th Annual Vice Chancellor’s Julius Nyerere Lecture on Lifelong Learning: Popular Education: Inspiring Activism and Education

Thursday 30 October 2014 from 12h00 – 14h30 at UWC’s Senate Hall

The late Tanzanian President Nyerere dedicated his life to issues of social justice for the majority of people. As one of his strategies in newly independent Tanzania in the early 1960s, he emphasized the importance of adult education as integral to a lifelong learning philosophy and approach which would encourage African socialism including self-reliance amongst Tanzanians. In the spirit of these commitments, UWC’s Vice Chancellor inaugurated an annual Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Lecture on Lifelong Learning. In 2013 the 10th consecutive lecture was delivered by Dr Saleem Badat.

For the 2014 lecture, the Vice Chancellor has invited Professor Emeritus Shirley Walters, who leads an action research project on Re-membering Traditions of Popular Education to coordinate the interactive event.  The event, which occurs on the 30 October 2014, has an innovative focus on popular education that is informed by a strong commitment to social justice. It is entitled Popular Education: Inspiring activism and education. A well-known popular education street theatre group from Delhi, India, will be participating.

JOIN The People's Climate March!

“Today the lottery of where one is born substantially determines one’s life chances. So we end up with grave injustices delivered to part of the human family on the basis of geographic location. For example, the people least responsible for the carbon emissions from the industrial revolution onwards are the most vulnerable to climate change and least able, with current resources, to mitigate and adapt to a low carbon future.” Kumi Naidoo (2010) Boiling Point: Can citizen action save the world?

All over the world, from rural communities to prosperous industrialists, from environmental activists to government representatives, people talk about climate change and global warming. And the questions on everyone’s lips are: what can we do to reduce carbon emissions? How can we act now to avert the worst risks that will affect in particular those who are most vulnerable, in years to come? 

Below you will find links to a range of organisations that act on climate change, readings, resources and films to brush up your understanding and to engage with.

Importantly, join in the action planned for SUNDAY 21 SEPTEMBER!


Salma Ismail: Cuba - Resilience and Renovation (June 2014)

I had a wonderful research visit in Cuba, organised and planned by Prof. Peggy Rivage-Seul (Berea College in the USA) who invited me to join a programme entitled ‘Cuba in the Twenty-First Century: Pedagogy and Promise’. When you fly into the airport in Havana and walk around everywhere in Cuba you are greeted by revolutionary posters and statues, but no advertisements, see pictures below.

The writing on the first poster says, ’We will be like Che’. Che best expresses the links with Popular Education as he stressed the moral imperative of education. For him economic sustainability was linked to education and building a consciousness of social justice and transformation (Briedlid, 2013)

The seminars took place at the Cuban Institute of Friendship (ICAP) in Havana. In addition to the seminars we visited community organisations and co-operative organic farming projects in the city. I received funding from the Centre for Integrated Post-School Education and Training at NNMU, National Research Fund and UCT.

Background: learning from seminars

The Centre for Adult and Continuing Education, UWC

2014 marks the closure of the last stand alone Adult Education Centre at South Africa’s universities. First, adult education programmes at WITS lost their home base and were merged with others in the Faculty of Education.

UCT followed, then the University of the North. Recently, the Centre for Adult Education at UKZN was 'restructured' to become part of the School of Education and now, finally, UWC’s Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE), legendary for it's engagement with popular education, has lost its ‘centre’ status and has been merged into the new Institute for Post-School Studies, along with Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education.


Building a United Front Against Neo-Liberalism: South African Metalworkers Change Course by Judith Marshall

Watching the events to commemorate Mandela's death was to watch history being re-written. Mandela the terrorist was forgotten. International leaders of every stripe struggled to bask in his aura of courage and forgiveness as if they'd always been at his side. The jagged and tumultuous and contested path of the internal forces to end apartheid was not part of the narrative nor was the multi-facetted international anti-apartheid movement visible in the story.

Yet the profound disappointments with what the liberation movement in power has delivered could not be written out of the script. Boos interrupted the peons of praise for Mandela each time President Jacob Zuma rose to speak. The spontaneous protest against Zuma's most recent scandal, squandering C$20 million of state funds to build a palatial home at Inkandla, could not be kept hidden. Watching president-in-waiting Cyril Ramaphosa, ex-mineworkers' leader turned powerful business tycoon, maneuvering adroitly at Zuma's side, filled me with foreboding for the years ahead.