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Tides of change: Exploring the knowledge system of a rural community’s transition from subsistence farming, to landlessness, and to communal land ownership: 

Tides of change: Exploring the knowledge system of a rural community’s transition from subsistence farming, to landlessness, and to communal land ownership Researcher: Moses Thabethe




BACKGROUND The study takes place in Calais village, Limpopo Province Nearly 90% of Limpopo population live in rural areas (Ramatlhodi, 1999). Forced removals of black people i.r.o the Groups Areas Act in urban areas and the Natives Land and Trust Acts of 1913 and 1936 in rural areas. Village consists of two groups of mainly, non-literate people who were forcibly removed from The Downs and the low lying areas of Ofcolaco, then settled on part of Calais farm, having been subsistence farmers (livestock & crop). During the removals, people were not allowed to keep their livestock and had no land for subsistence farming. This caused major shifts in their agricultural patterns, livelihoods and lifestyle due to forced removals




MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY The motivation for choosing to explore this village’s experiences is because it is a community that is known to me. As somebody who lived in a rural village of the Naphuno district in the former Lebowa homeland, and in close proximity with Calais village, I grew up perplexed by the situation of the Calais community. The village was relatively small in comparison to others and it remained isolated and excluded from other villages in terms of transport, health care, education facilities, and there were no good roads leading there. The interest was further spurred on by the apparent lack of formal education among the elderly of the village yet there appears to be evidence of integrated and holistic learning that has occurred which is not necessarily discipline-based. I was therefore, prompted to explore what indigenous, experiential or transformational learning has occurred among the community members in their informal “spaces surrounding activities and events” in their daily endeavour to sustain their livelihoods


GOAL AND OBJECTIVES OF STUDY Goal: To make a contribution to the growing body of research that validates indigenous knowledge as knowledge for making a living and as knowledge that contributes to the global information content. Research Objectives: 1. To gain insight in the experiences of the Calais community in their struggle to adapt to changes brought about by forced removals from their subsistence land to collective farm ownership. 2. To ascertain to what extent those experiences have provided opportunities for learning and how such knowledge has been utilized. 3. To explore the community’s indigenous knowledge in subsistence farming and to inquire what knowledge they possessed in commercial farming and in communal land ownership. 4. To explore power relations among community members in terms of how decisions are made and whose voices count in such processes


RESEARCH QUESTIONS Two main research questions: What experiences has the community undergone in their transition from subsistence farming to communal farm ownership? To what extent has this offered them an opportunity for learning? Secondary questions: What major events have changed the community’s way of life? What coping strategies have they developed in dealing with change? What indigenous farming skills did they have prior to communal farm ownership? How are major decisions taken in the community? What have the community members learnt from the different events within the transitions?


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Jack Mezirow’ transformational learning theory: defined as learning that induces far-reaching change in people, especially learning experiences which shape the learner and produce a significant impact, or paradigm shift, which affects the learner's subsequent experiences. The key themes of transformational learning are experience, critical reflection and rational discourse. Mezirow considered critical reflection to be the distinguishing characteristic of adult learning, and saw it as the vehicle by which one questions the validity of one’s world-view. The phenomenological methodology was seen as a best tool to explore the community members’ perceptions, perspectives, and understandings of their particular experience of land deprivation and in their daily endeavour to sustain their livelihoods


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK CONT. Mezirow (1981) developed the concepts of “meaning perspectives”, which denote one's overall world-view, and “meaning schemes”, which are smaller components that contain specific knowledge, values, and beliefs about one's experiences. Meaning perspectives are perceptual filters that determine how an individual will organize and interpret the meaning of his/her life's experiences. operate as perceptual filters that determine how an individual will organize and interpret the meaning of his/her life's experiences. The study would inquire whether the Calais community’s experience of oppression, hardships and forced change enabled them to reflect on the social conditions of their lives in order to ‘produce a significant impact’ or paradigm shift.

FINDINGS: Profile of participants: 

FINDINGS: Profile of participants


KEY FINDINGS AND THEMES Findings were categorized under the following themes: Life-changing events Reaction to the events/Coping strategies How decisions are made Perceptions about the purchase of farm Indigenous farming skills Lessons learnt from the different events


FINDINGS CONT. Life-changing events: All mentioned the forced removals as the beginning of their trials “…the government then forced us to move to this small area, we had to sell our livestock” (Mr Loss of livestock, of arable land and being settled on rocky land (Calais). Later acquiring farming land brought some relief to their plight. Change of life style: some depended on farm rejects (crops) and suddenly had to start buying every commodity. Found themselves needing more money Introduction to education: “it opened our eyes to other realities of life” Mrs Co-existence with people of different backgrounds “..we were just thrown together and had to make the best of the situation” Mr

FINDINGS (cont.): 

FINDINGS (cont.) REACTIONS TO THE EVENTS/COPING STRATEGIES Migrant labour, esp. most young men. “Once a brother or sister moves to the south to work, another sibling will follow and at the end, you find that an entire nucleus family has moved to the south” (Ms) Creation of spaza shops by those who have the means “A few people who did not even run businesses before, started selling things from their own homes” (Mr) Small businesses, e.g. 2 families run a brick-making project Constantly pushing the boundaries: always finding arable pieces of land for subsistence farming without the permission of government. “we were no longer ruled by whites, so we were able to clear that land beyond the river to divide it among ourselves” (Mrs) Some adapted to farm work while others refused to work on farms. Forming a traditional authority structure helped to regulate community life here. Otherwise ‘we would have eaten each other alive” (Mrs)

FINDINGS (Cont.): 

FINDINGS (Cont.) HOW DECISIONS ARE MADE Community organization: Headman (ex-officio member of any committee), tribal councilors/elders Community gatherings (lekgotla) – headman’s home Tribal court hearings (kgoro) at the headman’s home Through various community committees, e.g CPF, School Committees, Civic organizations Observation: Women are still marginalized. They can only participate in community gatherings. The youth can only partake in community gatherings and civic organizations. Decisions are heavily influenced by men. “Although women are present during court proceedings, they don’t take part in the deliberations except when one of those involved/implicated is a woman… those are our ways” (Mr)

FINDINGS (Cont.): 

FINDINGS (Cont.) Perceptions on the purchase of the farm Farm was bought in 1998, meant to benefit the entire community through commercial activity, but it doesn’t. A manager was chosen, sent to college but only lasted 1 semester. A committee was formed to assist the manager Ownership of the farm created dissention in the village, only a few benefited. Currently lacks proper management – lack of commercial farming skills & marketing skills. Many feel they were cheated of their R15 000 There were no mechanisms put in place to regulate the proceeds from the farm

FINDINGS (Cont.): 

FINDINGS (Cont.) Indigenous Farming Skills: All farming was for subsistence Crop rotation Knowledge of contour planting on uneven terrain to contain water. Method of staggering crops in planting so that they are not ready for harvest at the same time, in order to have enough harvest for the year. Used span of oxen and planted maize, ground nuts, sweet potatoes, beans, sorghum, millet, pumpkin These would be harvested, dried, husked & stored in sacks or traditional silos (a big, round hut-like basket woven with grass and a roof on top) called sebaba Sorghum and millet were stored in leshala – something that looks like an upside down roof of a hut, also woven with grass and covered on top. Picking of green leaves of pumpkin, beans & sweet potato, cooking in bulk to store for winter months. None of these skills were utilized on the communal farm.


LEARNINGS FROM EVENTS Learning occurred informally and experientially in social relationships (e.g as they took decisions, argued, deliberated, entertained one another in song and dance, social organizations (CPF, Community burial societies, various committees, cultural dance groups for men & women,etc) social events (e.g. weddings, community gatherings, court hearings, funerals) Learnt democracy by acting democratically (e.g. subdividing land among themselves, establishing a traditional authority to regulate their lives) Conflict management & tolerance(we would have eaten each other alive) Cooperation (identifying land together, buying communal farm) Problem solving, negotiation and respect for other cultures (two main groups learnt to live together)


LEARNINGS FROM EVENTS CONT. There is evidence of some management skills (managing the farm, establishing a school and a committee) Independence and growth in awareness of their life situation (all elderly people cited HIV as a threat and regretted lack of education, establishment of structures such as schools, with no government intervention is a sign of independence) Entrepreneurship (establishing spaza shops and other income-generating projects due to shortage of shops, formal employment) Most of the elderly still find it difficult to adapt to their new way of life


OBSERVATIONS While the villagers have sad stories to tell, there was a general feeling of elation in the past few weeks as electricity was supplied to the village. Because of the hospital being far (about 30 km away), local government has arranged for 4 ambulances to remain on standby in the village. However, the village still lacks primary health care facilities (day clinics). There are relationship problems between men, women, youth and the educated few whose voices count in decision-making processes.



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