On March 5th 2012 a group of residents from Sweet Home Farm in Philippi took to the streets to object to the fact that yet again they had been bypassed in the local ward budget. From an outsiders perspective – or someone who’s route to work was severely compromised that day – it may have seemed like yet another toyi-toyi by an informal community demanding adequate service delivery.
But this was different. This particular demonstration represented the first time that the community acted together in unity, under the guise of a community leader who until the day before had not been considered the community leader. Preceding this time, the community was led by an individual who governed with a rod of fear, and who was rumored to be responsible for many reprehensible actions towards other community members who didn’t tow the line. Anyone could use the community hall, but only for a fee that would end up in his back pocket. It was a rather depressing example of power within poverty.
But March 5th 2012 was the day that Siyamboleka James had had enough. He wasn’t just fighting against the injustice of his community being neglected in the ward budget, he was also confronting the fact that nothing was going to change in his community unless he stood up and made himself count. Shepherd leadership.
This act was an assault on fear itself. Given what had come before he risked his life for the sake of seeing transformation in his community. Sacrificial leadership.
The day after the protest he found himself in the Mayor’s office who was able to confirm that the City of Cape Town had pushed through the sale of a piece of land in the community which they needed in order to start the upgrade process. By the end of 2013 the first project steering committee members were chosen by the community and by mid 2014 the project started in earnest.
In between this time and now, Siya James has repeatedly tried to step down from the leadership position in the community. Every time however his request has been unanimously rejected, because ‘since you’ve been leading, things have started to happen...’ Power for the sake of power is of no interest to him. Reticent leadership.
Today a group of people gathered in the community to undertake a simple ceremony. It was the day that the site (the physical entity of the community) was given to the contractor to start the major works of building roads and drainage under the guise of City of Cape Town funded UISP (Upgrade of Informal Settlement Program) project. The Informal Markets team in the City is to be congratulated on the role they have played in this process (as is the rest of the team), but such monumental things in such short periods of time don’t happen without effective leadership on the ground.