Background: The Social Justice Coalition
The most visceral expression of urban poverty and exclusion is the lack of access to safe and dignified sanitation. The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) is an important social movement in Cape Town that has been mobilizing citizens in parts of Khayelitsha since 2007 to address this particular form of indignity.
The SJC is committed to a politics of social justice, which demands them to identify and address the structural drivers of urban inequality that produce unequal levels of access to basic services. At the same time, they remain rooted in the tough realities of everyday life marked by the stark health, environmental and safety problems associated with inadequate household and communal sanitation services. One of the central planks of their organisational model is to grow membership-based neighbourhood level organisations that can address the most immediate challenges associated with service delivery failure. This could involve informal community oversight structures of communal toilets, the establishment of monitoring committees that follow the contracted maintenance crews around to ensure they do their work, fixing broken toilets while the community waits for repair crews to show up, and keeping painstaking records of crimes associated with getting to the poor quality communal toilets. They simultaneously make sure that the City government is held accountable through a multi-pronged strategy straddling various political arenas ranging from the symbolic via the media to bureaucratic organs responsible for sanitation and safety and direct action to foreground the scale of injustices.
Since 2012, ACC has entered into a partnership with SJC to co-host a month of public seminars and events – the Grootboom Lecture Series – to explore the potential of design thinking in addressing wicked urban problems. Through that successful collaboration, we agreed that there is a great need to generate a “manual” for their members that can help them to engage with “design thinking” and explore how it can enrich and advance their social activism, especially against the backdrop of World Design Capital 2014.
In light of this, ACC is committed to co-produce a design sketchbook with the SJC for use by their members and a variety of other social movements of the urban poor across African and Asian cities where we have reach through our formal partnerships with Slum/Shack Dwellers International and WIEGO. Furthermore, such a manual will prove indispensible for urban development and design students that study in our MPhil programme and other students engaged with the built environment. To be sure, the project is highly experimental. The idea is to eschew a traditional “how-to” approach for one that is rooted in appreciative enquiry and treat design more as a form of social mobilisation than technical know-how. Regular reports will be posted as the project unfolds over the course of 2014-15.