Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) Profile

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012 - 10:14

The Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) was established by the associates of the late Steve Biko in 1983 and has deep roots in rural South Africa. TCOE is a national organisation that operates mainly in the rural areas of South Africa. It is a collective that has six affiliates located in the Nothern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo.


TCOE envisages a society where the rural poor, both men and women, have access and rights to land, marine and other natural resources for food security and the creation of sustainable livelihoods - a society that is responsive to the needs of the poor and that recognises and values the potential of all its citizens.


TCOE commits itself to building a mass based national formation of poor rural peoples organisations with strong, democratic and accountable leadership that is able to organise, mobilise and co-ordinate the struggles of all sectors of the rural and coastal poor, including women, small scale farmers, commodity groups, fishers, farmer workers and youth, for control and ownership of natural resources.

Overall Objective

The project contributes to the creation of greater equity and the better quality of life for the rural poor.

Specific objectives:

  • Popular Organisations on local level are responsive to the socio-economic, ecological and political factors impacting on their lives;
  • Increased levels of food sovereignty and food security is achieved;
  • TCOE collective supports and accompanies an independent rural movement;
  • Municipalities and traditional authorities respond to the demands of the local associations and recognise small scale farming and fishing as important as important contributors to rural development;
  • Local associations influence the policy and legislative environment toward a people driven fishery, land and agrarian transformation;
  • Networks and alliances at various levels effective to challenge imbalanced power relations.

Four programme areas were identified as the pillars of our work:

  • Local organising, building and strengthening movements;
  • Fisheries, land and agrarian transformation (land access, land use and livelihoods);
  • Local government and traditional authority;
  • Natural resources.

Cross cutting issues

  • The specific importance and role of women in our work will not be a separate area of work, rather for TCOE integrating women, allocating resources and making their leadership visible is a central pillar of the methodology and strategies of the organisation;
  • Our work with youth has started in the past two–three years and is gaining its own rhythm and approach. This is also an area that we will give visibility but it is not a key area of priority nationally.

Operational areas:

  • In the Western Cape: here operate in the Overberg, Breede River/Langeberg Municipalities as well as in Kannaland District covering 17 towns and villages;
  • In the Northern Cape we work in the coastal villages;
  • In Eastern Cape the work is spread over several district municipalities (Amathole, Sundays River Valley, Coega, Cacadu, Ngqushwa, Makana, Ndlambe, Sakhisizwe, Chris Hani, Emalahleni) and over 150 villages;
  • In Limpopo Province, the work is concentrated in Mopani and Sekhukhune District Municipalities in over 50 villages and towns.


  • Eastern Cape: Cala Reserve, Luphaphasi, Mnxe, Upper Indwana, Roma, Bathurst, Prudhoe, Pikoli, Nobumba, Ndwayana, Addo, Uitenhage, Moses Mabhida, Dunbrody, Bersheba, Aqua Park, Paterson, Glenconnor, Kleinpoort, Hankey, Nowawe, Nxarhuni, Peelton, Mdantsane, Qhaga, Zwelitsha, Dimbaza, Buffalo City, Majali (amongst others);
  • Western Cape: McGregor, Robertson, Nkqubela, Ashton, Bonnievale, Zolani, Montagu, Ladismith, Barrydale, Suurbraak, Buffeljagsrivier, Swellendam, Villiersdorp (amongst others);
  • Limpopo: Mayephu, Loloka, Zava, Green Valley, Mathibeni, Taulome, Femane, Makhuva, Phalanbeni, Xikhumba, Xawela (amongst others).

Fisher communities:


South West Coast, Central West Coast, Northern West Coast, Northern Cape.


Arniston, Struisbaai,Gansbaai, Buffelsjag, PearlyBeach, Langebaan, Saldanha;Laaiple, Elandsbaai, Paternoster, Steenbergs’Cove, Laingville, Port Nolloth, Hondekloipbaai, Lamberts Bay, Doringbaai, Ebenhaezer, Elandsbay.

The main work and experience of the organisation in the past ten years has been to stimulate the building of rural organisations and rural leadership, and to assist small/emerging farmers and rural communities to access land and productive assets to improve their livelihoods.

TCOE has successfully managed to: (i) build a national organisation and strong leadership; (ii) build well-informed leaders that can lead local initiatives and campaigns; (iii) grapple with the question of land, livelihoods and food sovereignty in a number of different ways; (iv) develop a campaign to access land for livelihoods; (v) make inroads into organising rural women and rural youth; and (vi) create strategic partnerships and alliances with organisations working with land and agrarian reform issues.

In past ten years the organisation has facilaited the development and growth of popular associations in different parts of the country:

Membership overview:

Name of Local Association Area of Operation Total Membership
Coastal Links Coastal Links is a fisher organisation which operates along the Northern, Southern and Western Cape, and Eastern coast of South Africa 1 800
Mopani Farmers Union Limpopo Province:
In the Mopani and the also Sekhukhune Districts in 35 villages
1 700
Mawubuye Land Rights Forum Western Cape:
In the Overberg and Breede River Valley Districts and Kannaland
1 000
Rural People's Movement (RPM) Eastern Cape:
In three District municipalities, stretching from Grahamstown to Ciskei
1 200
Izwi Lama Fama Eastern Cape:
Amathole District in 30 villages
3 000
Siyazakha Land Rights Forum Eastern Cape:
Former Transkei - Xalanga District
Makukhanye Eastern Cape:
Sundays River Valley and the Coega Municipal Districts
1 300
Rural Women’s Forums In all the districts 1 000

The main arenas of struggle over the past period have been local service delivery and local government, access to municipal commonage, access to local markets, the Massive Food Production Programme (MFPP) in the Eastern Cape, Traditional Authorities, Fishing Policy and anti-poverty support for small scale fishers.
In many cases the struggles were localised. The TCOE, Masifunde and Zingisa study on GMO and the MFPP in the Eastern Cape however, allowed us to build links and organise public meetings and briefings at the three universities in the Eastern Cape (Rhodes, Nelson Mandela and Fort Hare) on the research and allow small farmers to share their experiences. This platform has allowed the organisation to raise awareness of GMOs, the place of MONSANTO in the Eastern Cape and also stimulated a debate with academics on GMOs.
Lastly, the organisation has grappled with the major challenge of land and agrarian reform and how to push government to deal with the challenges of land reform and rural development.

Rural poverty and inequality remains a feature of the countryside
Over 45 percent of South Africans continue to live in the rural areas where poverty remains stubborn and structural. 60 percent of rural people continue to live in the former homelands, where the highest concentration of poverty resides in South Africa, and where unemployment, landlessness and underdevelopment have yet to be dented. Statistics show that dependence on social grants and remittances continue to be the backbone of the rural economy and the only relief from starvation. Rural households are food insecure with 51 percent of households experiencing hunger and 28 percent at risk of hunger.
Rural municipalities in almost all cases struggle to broaden access to basic services, and infra-structure to poor areas. The issue of basic service delivery remains an on-going challenge for most rural municipalities and cities. A mere 3.7 percent of the national budget is allocated to municipalities for local economic and service provision and if one deducts the contribution to the cities, it is clear that rural municipalities receive only crumbs for its development programmes.
According to the latest annual report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries more than 8.5 million people are dependent on agriculture for their income and wages. The total contribution of agriculture to the economy increased from R38 billion in 2002 to R66 billion in 2009.[i] South Africa’s dual agricultural economy comprises a well-developed commercial sector and a predominantly subsistence-oriented sector which shows the combined and unevenness of agriculture.

Our natural resources

South Africa remains a water scarce country and though agriculture and the manufacturing industries historically had access to cheap water, today there is evidence that “the critical water availability and the ecosystem reserve limits have been breached”. [ii] The challenge of water accessibility is also one that is recognised by the Ministry of Agriculture, as currently almost 50 percent of South Africa’s water is used for agricultural purposes. Access to water is not only an ecological problem, equally pressing is the fact that by 2004 98 percent of South Africa’s water resources were already reserved and allocated.


While the government argues that the South African fishing industry, which was once concentrated in the hands of a few, largely white-owned companies, has undergone intensive transformation over the past 10 years. However, today four companies have monopolised the sector, controlling the marine wealth of the country. Most of South African fisheries are considered fully utilised and high-value fisheries such as abalone, prawns and line fish are largely overexploited.

Ignoring small scale farmers and fishers – dualism continues

The recent annual report of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is almost completely silent on the role and contribution of small scale farmers and fishers. This is despite the fact that there are more than one million small scale farmers and several hundreds of artisanal fishers. The fact that government ignores the economic contribution of these important sectors is indicative of the lack of a political strategy and vision for developing policy and concrete support for small scale agriculture and fisheries. In fact, the contribution of these two sectors to household food security is largely ignored and overlooked.

Ideological onslaught that we have to respond to

There is an on-going ideological onslaught on small-scale farming.  Increasingly we are told that poor rural people do not want land; that they cannot farm; that small-scale farmers cannot produce for the market. This, we are told is why the majority of the land reform farms have failed. The ideology concludes that it is only big commercial farmers that are efficient and can therefore feed the country.

Fragile popular movements and the lack of a rural poor voice

TCOE argues that society requires strong popular movements and local formations that operate independently from political parties and formal organisations linked into the social contracts established in the present context.
We are conscious that civil society is not simply the NGO sector, nor is civil society the CBOs. Rather it is our view that what is currently missing in our country’s landscape is a civil society that is independent, critical and self-organised. Our role should be directed towards the rebuilding and the strengthening of grassroots civil society that is conscious of the structural problems that continue to undermine their well-being and to skew the equitable distribution of resources.

Internal Context – Where do we come from and what lessons do we build on?

TCOE has also managed to hold together seven parts of the Collective (Khanyisa; Masifundise: Masifunde; CALUSA; Zingisa; Itireleng) which has to respond to very diverse local conditions in the countryside such as those working with fishers located in rural coastal villages and towns in the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape and other who work in remote villages in the former Transkei, Ciskei and Limpopo. The centre is held together by a common vision and understanding that the poor have potential to change their own reality; change their own lives and image an alternative that is free from poverty and inequity and that this is possible through self-organisation based on strong local associations with democratic local leadership. The role of the NGO is to facilitate the bringing into being of this vision.

For more about the Trust for Community Outreach and Education, refer to

[i] Agriculture, Forestryand Fisheries – South Africa Year Book 2010/2011
[ii]Mark Swilling; Greening the South African Path: Transitioning to sustainability 2010.


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