*names have been changed on request of participants
*Auntie Bessie sits squarely on the plastic children’s chair, its legs digging into the grey soil. She and her sister have been living here most of their lives. “Ons is local hier,”[we are locals here] she says as *Auntie Jasmine chuckles, nodding in agreement.
We’re sitting in the small, muddy playground of Rainbow Kids Pre-School, the two teachers watching over their noisy flock as the kids rush over and around the once brightly coloured jungle gym.
“Ons ken onse mense, en hoe dinge hier werk, ons kan vir jou al die stories vertel,“[we know our people and how things work here; we have all the stories] says Bessie pointing across the makeshift parking lot and decaying sports field, to the low lying area stretching out in front of us.
The settlements follow the natural geography of the region, modest brick, mud and corrugated iron homes hugging both sides of the two little valleys. Neighbourhoods almost arbitrarily divvied-up by two streams, both contaminated to a gurgling grey sludge- sewage and household runoff that’s been left to flow freely, “Sjoe, for many years now!” says Bessie.
Abandoned by the current local government, the estimated 5000 inhabitants of Ward 3, regard themselves as pawns in an ongoing DA, ANC squabble in a now thoroughly defunct municipal council and governing structure.
“People are angry, always angry because there are few opportunities here and the quality of life is very bad for some,” says Bessie giving me some background on the social well-being of the communities to which she has dedicated most of her life.
“People have it hard here, most of them live on grant money or rely on piece-jobs to make a living,” says Jasmine, affirming the cold, statistical data I pulled off the most recent document of the Makana Municipality Integrated Development Plan (IDP) for the 2013/2014 financial year.
3314 registered voters and their subsequent families, subject to life in conditions similar to much of the socio-political and economic tensions experienced by marginalised communities in the Eastern Cape; high poverty levels, low employment and an almost complete lack of basic service delivery.
Ward 3 has an unemployment rate of 25.8 percent.
However, despite the rigidity of Ward boundaries and the administration governing how, why, and by whom basic services are rendered, the inhabitants don’t think in terms of Municipal Wards here, the administrative boundaries are as arbitrary as the visits from journalists and organs of state.
“Kyk, ek bly in Scotch Farm, daar onder langs die opsigter se huis by die Oval,” [Look, I live in Scott’s Farm, down there next to the janitor’s house by the Oval], Bessie says pointing to her home about a kilometre away. “Jasmine bly in Ghost Town en meeste van die kinders hier is van die ander areas.” [Jasmine lives in Ghost Town and most of the kids at the school come from surrounding areas.]
Most of the inhabitants of Ward 3 and 4 self-identify as culturally coloured, black or “mixed”. People here live in “areas” loosely defined by streets and other prominent geographic features; churches, established taverns, schools…
Each area has a distinct character and history, membership is gained through birth, family ties or an arduous process of naturalisation.
Ghost Town, Central, Sun City Squatter Camp, Scott’s Farm, Hooggenoeg, Vergenoeg and Polla-Park Squatter Camp.
Seven areas loosely bound by municipal administration, history and geography.
Civic mapping – methodology
For a period of three months as the first phase of a potential three phased action research based project, I have been using civic mapping methods to uncover within the context of a specific hyperlocal area, Ward 3 of the Makana Municipality, “who talks to whom about what?”
This approach draws on Harwood’s (2000) typology of civic life which organises civic/community life into five layers; “the ‘official’ layer of local governmental institutions; the ‘quasi-official’ layer of local municipal committees, civic organisations, and NGOs; ‘third places’ like community halls, places of worship, and taverns/shebeens; ‘incidental’ encounters on sidewalks, at food vendors’ stalls, and in backyards; and the ‘private’ spaces of people’s homes (Harwood 2000 in Haas 2008: 5).
Through these methods, civic mapping allows journalists to identify and cultivate a range of civic actors: official leaders (elected officials, school board members, CEO’s); civic leaders (religious leaders, ward committee members); catalysts (people who have wisdom, know-how and historical perspective about issues and places), and connectors (people who move from organization to organization, like pollinating bees spreading ideas and social norms), (Harwood 2000 in Haas 2008: 5).
By exploring these relationships between various members and groups in a community defined according to their position in relation to the layers of civic life, I have been using civic mapping as a research tool in a number of adapted ways, with the aim of improving my journalistic understanding of the people and communities of Ward 3 and surrounds. I elected to employ this approach strategically over time as it seeks to improve how and for whom journalism is produced, as the underlying rationale of civic mapping methods is the cultivation and production of journalism that improves the public’s understanding of its own problems and ultimately contributes to the overall health of public life.