Important Phase finalized in the Cape Town Civic Network study


Recently our MOVE project concluded a major research phase in the Cape Town Civic Network Study about citizen associations, the urban environment and local democracy. With our multi-lingual field-work team at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation 120 civil society organizations were interviewed. Results will be developed in the year to come with a meeting with associations in October/November 2014.

120 citizen associations interviewed

The urban environment is often on the front pages of South African newspapers. And perhaps even more so in Cape Town. If struggles to access electricity, sewage and water capture headlines one week, it is baboons, fynbos and ‘alien’ invasive plants another; or the struggle to protect recreational space at Princess Vlei, or food security at the Philippi Horticulture Area. The matters of concern vary greatly—from a having a quite place, to direct livelihood questions. The urban environment is a matter of concern and contestation.

Southern Mail reporting on the urban environment in Cape Town in April 2012.
 The study is lead by Dr. Henrik Ernstson at the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town and coordinated at SLF by Mr. Rory LiedemanBetween March and July 2013 the field work team interviewed both well-known civic organizations—like the Treatment Action CampaignSocial Justice CoalitionAnti-Eviction Campaign, and Black Sash— and often times smaller community based organisations like New World FoundationPrincess Vlei Forum, and Zandvlei Trust. Among many others, also associations like Informal Settlements in Struggle, Soil For Life and Abalimi was interviewed.

One of the largest studies

The study is probably one of the largest interview-based urban social network studies undertaken in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. It will help to shed light on the role of civil society in a postapartheid and highly segregated city and how alliances and networks can influence the urban environment. But also the role of civil society organizations in local democracy. 
IOL reports on the Capetonian environmental struggle in February 2012.

Aims of the study

The aim is to increase the understanding of the role that civil society plays in shaping the urban environments. This can either be through directly engaging in urban and green spaces, for instance in planting fynbos, trees or saving habitats for animals, or through raising awareness of injustices of urban planning. A specific aim is to better understand how the ‘web of relations’ that civics build over time, itself forms a back bone to take action and placing new topics on the city’s agenda. But also to create certain autonomy for civil society in relation to the state and private actors. Another aim is to better understand how the collaborations between state and civil society is played out, and how well public participation processes are perceived to be working.

Next steps—analysis and organizing a larger meeting

Currently the data includes 120 surveys, 80 individual level surveys as well as photographs and a local media archive of urban environmental articles stretching five years back. In the coming months this data will be worked with but later also followed-up by further in-depth interviews. 
Areas where neighborhood associations have been interviewed stretched from Grassy Park to Tokai.
Areas where neighborhood associations have been interviewed stretched from Grassy Park to Tokai.

The study then hopes to be able to convene those who knows best about civic alliances and local democracy—the Capetonian citizen based associations, of which many participated in the study. Building on the study, the team will organize a larger meeting or conference at the African Centre for Cities with citizen organizations in October or November 2014. Here researchers’ results will be debated and generate a broader discussion and learning on how to build effective civic alliances. 

This meeting will also allow opportunity for dialogue, networking and further deliberations among various citizens’ organizations.

The objective in the coming years is to build on this study, and other studies and collaborations, to generate results and analysis that can be debated between and among researchers and citizen associations and other actors including the local government and civil servants. The hope is to contribute to the wider societal discussions about local democracy in Cape Town and cities of the global south. 

Field work team—students & experienced researchers

The field work team consisted of social science students from the University of Western Cape and the University of Cape Town, together with Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Mr. Rory Liedeman. The students brought different languages and backgrounds and their own knowledge of the city of Cape Town. The hard-working field work team included: Nabeel Petersen (UWC), Nceba Mangesi (UWC), Jessica Rattle (UCT), Karin Nandoo (UWC), Coralie Valentyn (UWC), and Adam Adanti (UWC).
Part of the SLF field work team working in the office.

Funding and contacts

The study is coordinated and carried out by the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town with Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation as core partner. 

Key partner is also Professor Mario Diani from Trento University, Italy, and Dr. Lorien Jasny at UC Davis, USA. The study is funded by the Swedish research funder Formas.

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The SLF field work team.
Lead investigator is Dr Henrik Ernstson, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town & Department of History, Stanford University. He has recently also joined the KTH Environmental Humanities at KTH Institute of Technology. Email: 
Contact person at the Sustainable Livelihood Foundation is Mr. Rory Liedeman. 



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