Border Rural Committee

Tuesday, 28 February, 2006 - 09:54

Rights Based Rural Development Inspires Widespread RespectThe Border Rural Committee (BRC) was established in 1982 in the University town of Grahamstown as the Grahamstown Rural Committee.

Rights Based Rural Development Inspires Widespread Respect

The Border Rural Committee (BRC) was established in 1982 in the University town of Grahamstown as the Grahamstown Rural Committee. Coinciding with the organisation’s relocation to East London, the organisation changed its name in the early 90’s.

This NGO advocates for a rights based approach to rural development and is deeply involved in issues related to land reform in the former homeland areas of the Eastern Cape.

Ashley Westaway, a historian with a dedicated interest in rural poverty, has been at the helm since 1997. Westaway’s academic career, both past and present, has much influence on BRC’s work. In the past decade, his seminal Master’s thesis which examined the history of the Eastern Cape’s Keiskammahoek has had a strong bearing on BRC’s work. He is currently reading for a PhD degree at the University of Fort Hare, making the link between applied and academic research as his experience at BRC informs his examination of land restitution from an historical rights perspective. According to Westaway, the major development crisis facing South Africa is the enormous problem of poverty linked to inequality.

Classic Role Confusion Creates Conditions for Pioneering Response to Orthodox Development Consensus
BRC’s recent history straddles South Africa’s political landscape highlighting classic role confusion in the 1990’s when the organisation’s loyalties were tested as it dabbled with service delivery within the dominant development paradigm while trying to maintain an independent stance. BRC struggled with the state’s spatial emphasis on development which articulates itself in nodal development that to a large degree perpetuates apartheid planning. This concern shifted the organisation to a position where it is critical of the orthodox development consensus.

Currently BRC is extremely active in rural advocacy and at the forefront of campaigns that are rooted in the practical application and promotion of rights based development models. This rights based philosophy has directed the organisation away from a traditional emphasis on land reform to address broader issues of poverty related to land dispossession.

According to Westaway, it is important to unlock state resources for the rural poor. He argues that rights based development is the antithesis of spatial planning and based on three prerequisites:
• Securing significant resources locally
• Making use of resources through integrated planning and development
• Driving development locally.

A refreshing upshot of this position has been the organisation’s ability to inspire respect without damaging political relations.

BRC has managed to remain close to political structures in the Eastern Cape and much of this can be attributed to its early role in the 1980’s when the NGO resisted the forced removal of the poor into homeland areas and played an instrumental role setting up civic structures. Given this history, there has been consistency with its political identity. BRC nurtures its relationship with Alliance structures at the provincial level and continues to remain close to it. In addition, BRC has always had a relationship with the ANC. Two national Director Generals (DGs) are ex-staffers, viz., Pam Yako who is the DG of the Department of Environment and Tourism and Glen Thomas who is the DG of the Department of Land Affairs.

Budget Expansion Unexpectedly Buoyed by Donor Funding
An interesting aspect of the organisation’s recent positioning has been the growth of its budget stimulated by traditional donor support. The new millennium has been dominated by the discourse of non-profit resource mobilisation related to the diversification of income streams. At the same time, NGO budgets have tended to shrink. Contrary to this trend, BRC’s rigorous advocacy model seems to have inspired donor confidence.  Its role as an advocacy organisation, has swung it away from an income-generating service delivery establishment to a completely donor funded activist NGO. From1993 to 2003 BRC maintained an annual budget of approximately R3,25 million. In 2004 the organisation’s annual budget took an enormous leap to R5,5 million and stands at R7 million for 2006.

Addressing Poverty In As Practical a Manner as Possible 
BRC has always mobilised its programmes around the issue of land. In the early days this translated to land restitution, including involvement in policy formulation which it did as an affiliate of the now defunct National Land Committee. Since 1998, its major advocacy intervention has been to argue for the accommodation of homeland dispossession (otherwise called ‘betterment’) in the restitution programme. In the new millennium, BRC is increasingly preoccupied with the issue of addressing poverty in as practical a manner as possible. 

Initially BRC was closely involved in the  restitution process, lodging a number of betterment claims before the cut-off date of 31 December 1998. It has achieved a positive precedent in this regard through the settling of the Cata claim, through a 50/50 deal where 50% of the settlement was distributed to the village as a cash component and the balance was allocated to broader development. BRC has been facilitating the development process in Cata since 2001. This serves as a major test case for its assertion that rights-based rural development can eradicate poverty.

Based on its success, ten other claims lodged in the Keskammahoek area worth R50 million have been settled. According to Westaway, the development process in these areas is scheduled to commence shortly.

Rights Based Development Can Eradicate Poverty
Despite these successes, over 95% of communities dispossessed through betterment remain locked out of the restitution process.  To address this problem, BRC is supporting the Vulamasango Singene (Open the door so that we can go in) campaign, to advocate for justice to be done in this regard. To date there are about 35 000 households across 240 villages in the former Ciskei and Transkei that support the campaign.

An impressive counterbalance in this mass initiative is a focus on personalising the issue. BRC assisted 950 elderly people to develop testimonies highlighting their struggles. These testimonies have been distributed to 13,000 people.

The government is reluctant to re-open the restitution process. However, due to BRC’s lobbying, the Minister of Land Affairs has set up a task team to look into the problem. The campaign is currently active in the areas of Butterworth, Nqamakwe, Lady Frere and Xalanga and it enjoys the support of the ANC and SACP in the province.

Measuring Rights Based Development
According to Westaway, the biggest challenge that BRC faces is the assertion that rights based development can make a difference. The organisation has been championing this approach intensively, but while it has been exemplary in monitoring performance as an output, it has been less rigorous at measuring impact.

Westaway contends that this is a complex matter to resolve as BRC’s work is influenced by various role players that engage with communities around a range of activities such as agriculture, forestry, land transfers, infrastructure upgrading and tourism. BRC’s primary concern in this complex web of activities and interactions is ensuring that sufficient income reaches the poor.

According to Westaway, rights based development is a long hard process oriented road that requires patience, humility and lots of listening. Nevertheless, he argues that there are signs that BRC is on the right road. Initial indicators from Cata are that one in five people have had training and employment opportunities. Two in five people believe there has been an improvement in their lives. Finally, four in five people are happy with the development process.

Campaign Victory for 2006?
BRC’s immediate plans are that it would like to win the “Vulamasango Singene” campaign in 2006. Westaway hopes to have negotiations complete by June, whereupon the necessary documentation will be handed over to the minister of land affairs.

Finally, BRC employs twelve staff with a cumulative experience of 102 years. This highlights a solid institutional foundation. However, going forward, the organisation has identified a need for project management capacity. According to Westaway, the only way to do develop this skill is to throw people into the deep end and three staff members who have been with the organisation for more than a decade have been brought into senior positions. According to Westaway this has had an enormously positive influence on the organisation, strengthening its inner core.

This Profile was produced by Fazila Farouk, Deputy Director, SANGONeT.

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