Sustained Dialogues Visits New Communities

By Published On: 14th December 2023

The past months have seen the programme visit three communities where we have not previously been: Middleburg, Montagu and Port Alfred. Their picturesque surroundings belie the problems experienced by residents. In all of the communities, poverty and unemployment loom large over the lives of residents. The lack of opportunities, especially outside of urban areas, means that youth in particular, are unable to make the most of the talents that they possess. Each of the areas are unique, yet the same refrain could be heard in the three communities: the past lives in the present and, if not addressed, will become the future too.

In Middleburg, the programme supported the launch of the Just Energy Transition (JET) toolkit. That area of the country is coal-mining territory and the transition to a just energy future is complicated. The potential for loss of employment is high and needs to be dealt with delicately. As a society we would be remiss if we were to close down a means of livelihood without providing a viable alternative that will benefit both the community and the environment. Lack of access to information and top-down decision making are two of the prominent challenges which need to be tackled. The toolkit aims to assist communities in with these problems to enable a more just and democratic approach to solving the problems.

In Montagu and Port Alfred alike, lack of information and the need for community engagement in decisions which affect them were highlighted in different ways. In Montagu, the rich history in the area has been lost and the memory of those who come before has been silenced. Local antagonisms speak to the larger problem of racism and xenophobia in our society, which is unabated and insidious.

Addiction in communities came up in conversations in both Montagu and Port Alfred. Trauma and circumstance are both the cause and effect of substance abuse. The courageous sharing of participants of their daily struggles is a testimony to the resilience they have, and a sad indictment on our society and collective failure to create communities where people can thrive and live in dignity.

There were so many take-aways from each of the visits, but perhaps the most startling was the need of communities to have safe spaces to talk. So often the simplest of interventions are overlooked. A basic human need is to be heard and understood. We need to listen to what communities are asking for and supporting them on their journey. We look forward to doing this in these communities in the coming years.

Felicity Harrison Head: Sustained Dialogues Programme at the IJR

The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely that of the author, and not the IJR.

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