The integration and Ideas Festival held on 26 July 2018 was part of a research and advocacy process - The Integration Syndicate. This piece: gives a report of the event; contextualises it in the work of the festival's host, The African Centre of Cities, as a "platform of engagement"; and lastly offers a response to it.
The Festival: What, Why and How
The Integration Syndicate is a project of the Cape Higher Education Consortium, in collaboration with a range of universities, notably the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town, led by Prof. Edgar Pieterse. The ACC is an interdisciplinary research and teaching programme concerned with the dynamics of unsustainable urbanisation processes in Africa, with a view to identifying systemic responses. ACC has been a leading voice in promoting knowledge co-production with the eye to influence shifts in public policy, engaging closely with researchers, the state (via. often, interested officials) and civil society leaders. Concerned with the spatial inequality of the Cape Town metro region and in an attempt to explore solutions for socio-spatial integration, the ACC, with a range of partners, held a year long programme of deliberations. Through ten workshops held over the year, together with in-depth analysis of the data on Cape Town, a set of possible "provocations" were developed and tested with focus groups. These were presented in the one day festival context at the Guga Sthebe Arts and Culture Centre in Langa, together with exhibitions of findings, interesting local case studies, and possible interventions (provocations) to bridge the dual city that is Cape Town. Around 120 people attended.
The City facility, Guga S'thebe, was set up as a convivial environment with ample food and coffee. The new Theatre served as a plenary and gathering space where Prof Pieterse shared the questions, data and analysis that helped shape the process, through an exciting presentation. This built on Pieterse's highly regarded academic research as well as the work of numerous scholars associated with ACC. The rest of the centre had rooms with five stations where the audience were rotated in groups. The sessions were: a) the E Taxi - a new vision for affordable, safe and integrated public transport, b) Living Differently - placing a moratorium on sprawl, c) Cultural Narrative - nurturing the storytelling capacities of Cape Town's youth, d) Placemaking through Public Works - connecting work experiences with enhancing safety, sustainability and public life in deprived areas, and e) Solidarity Switchboard - building digital literacy hubs to connect needs and resources. By the end of the long day one knew ones group a bit better and had a range of thoughtful discussions, each held by a dedicated facilitator. Participants were encouraged to answer, anonymously, a set of, sometimes difficult, but though provoking questions after each session onto cards. These were later collated and put up for the audience to engage with, when the space was given at the end of the long day for any outstanding responses. Thus it was a strongly participative environment.
The Integration Syndicate and the Festival - A Platform of Engagement
Both the Syndicate and the festival are building on a set of notions which Pieterse has developed some years back, and has published on academically. Many of these initial ideas were in response to the challenges in Cape Town. Later this was expanded to other African and Global South cities, building on the ACC's ongoing research and advocacy work. Cape Town has however remained an important laboratory and ACC has continued practical interactions with the city through the ACC City Lab programme. The programme works closely the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government and is aimed at co-producing policy relevant knowledge with the focus on urban poverty with three currently continuing - looking at healthy cities, violence and safety, and sustainable human settlements. Pieterse has described his approach as "radical incrementalism" towards a "relational city" - the idea is to work with willing intermediaries in the state and civil society and to slowly shift institutions to deal progressively, collectively, sensitively and strategically on matters that have maximum impact for the broader city, more especially for its most marginalized. This relational approach focusses on developing "epistemic communities" or strategic networks which can, over time, learn together, challenge each others perspectives and forge new ways of doing that transgress mainstream practises.
Thus the Festival, a continuation of the platform of engagement concept, had an audience that was largely a mix of government officials, researchers, and civil society activists. The concept was that this grouping, a platform of engagement, would interact with the provocations put forward - ideas developed by the Syndicate - add value, adjust and propose ways to take the projects forward. By having government in the room, this would also allow it to hear the voice of citizens, and potentially embolden it to take on more innovative ideas.
Strengths and Weaknesses
This was a fruitful event. The generous openness of the initiative was welcomed by all and the dialogue that took place in each session was deep and varied. Small groups were able to buzz ideas and share learnings. People who came together were purposefully split into other groupings to ensure that clique thinking could be avoided and a cross sharing of ideas made possible. At the plenary the facilitators were able to report back a rich dialogue and a set of proposals to improve the concepts. A number of connections were made, and informal dialogue seemed to suggest that there were opportunities created by some to work together. Certainly it was a good event for a variety of reasons. How the provocations could take shape will only be known in time.
However there were a few areas I would flag as challenging:
The provocations put forward in a number of cases were too narrowly formed. There were many ways a provocation on cultural narratives could have emerged, beyond a radio programme for example, or a network of support, beyond a digital "switchboard". The format did not help to break out of the narrowness in some cases. This narrowness was both conceptual and relational.
A number of people who should have been in the room were not. Various city officials who had been involved in earlier dialogues, did not attend. In their place were young, idealistic interns who were only in the government sphere for a short time, and thus not in a position to take forward projects. Similarly many important activist organisations did not seem to be present.
This lack of attendance is linked to an issues which surfaced consistently - exactly who should be finessing and taking forward ideas? A gap in the thinking seemed to be around a more consistent "network" that can develop knowledge, foster connections and hold government accountable in furthering change agendas. Ideally smaller scale events such as the festival should happen monthly, judging by the success of the networking and the sharing of knowledge. The integration syndicate meetings which took place monthly, it was suggested, did provide such a consistency in a regular place (the A4 Arts Foundation) - however these were generally invite only by design. Are there other approaches?
A provocation for a new relationality?
Cape Town is ripe for some kind of alternative space where concerned, progressively minded citizens can gather regularly, make connections, share, not just concerns, but knowledge and concepts, where ongoing learning could happen. This needs to be a space that can engage with the state from some level of civic mindedness. Government has shown an inability to enter into a co-production with civil society over a long period, because political term changes often lead to institutional changes (even under the same party), with incessant restructuring of government preventing consistent delivery. While committed government officials may welcome the kind of inputs that emerge out of a "relational city" process, they are often hamstrung by the institutions they have to return to, which may not be open to its new ideas in a real sense. Hoping that the public will support in some ways may be too idealistic. Citizens on the whole, in South Africa at least, lack a basic working knowledge on how government works, let alone how to interact with, partner with or hold it accountable. This reality needs to form the basis of any new relational response. If government has a systems deficiency, what is the appropriate citizen centred hack that can shift things? Its not going to happen without a significant change in how we approach the problem holistically.
I suggest this may require a broader participatory coalition, not a new political party, but definitely a new kind of democratic ethos, underpinned by knowledge about the system, with a theory of change to shift it, supported by a number of ethical citizen leaders and the academy prepared to work innovatively and incrementally. Yes there are civic bodies, committed NGOs and CBOs, research bodies, innovative volunteer driven bodies throughout the city, but Cape Town is a divided place and it is rare to find such bodies talking regularly or even sharing with concerned citizens other than through its own media. In addition a number of these are in some form of competition with each other for scarce funding resources and often have limited time. But many citizens would value hearing from them from time to time. Thus what is needed is something that can allow for citizens and a variety of non-state bodies to interact with each other consistently, but allowing for power to be diffuse, held by a vision for a better city. It needs to be driven by a limited set of concerns and underpinned by a small set of clear principles, such as a commitment to human and environmental rights, non racism, non sexism amongst others. It needs to have a convivial and generous space, not unlike the one the festival provided, with a regular programme of non-judgmental sharing and engagement, linked to a committment to build new knowledge. Such a space fostering a multivocal dialogue will invariably spin off its own sets of initiatives driven by citizens themselves, fostering the kind of radical spirit of democratic social practices so badly needed.
All photographs used in this piece are by Andy Mkosi, courtesy of the ACC.