Evaluation of the work of the People’s Dialogue and South African Homeless People’s Federation

1. Assessment of Federation’s Impact on, and Relations within, Low Income Settlements

1.1 Social Impact of Savings Process

The stated objective of both the People’s Dialogue (PD) and the Homeless People’s Federation (HPF) is to capture and expand the space that is available in the political process to the disadvantaged groups in South Africa. This space has been made available by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. The critical aspect in this objective is to give recognition, identity and dignity to the poor who have been discriminated against in the past.

The PD and HPF have been successful in initiating a process to fulfill this objective. The members of the savings groups have a confidence and cohesion that is rare among communities anywhere. In the many meetings that were held with members of the numerous savings groups, women invariably said that the Federation had given them a voice and the savings process an education.

The above process of acquiring an identity and dignity has been greatly strengthened by songs such as “when is our subsidy going to be released”; meanings of names that are kept for institutional arrangements within the Federation such as Inkolobana for the people’s saving bank, which means “granary”; uFunde Zufe for the building support centres which means “learn until you die”; and the savings schemes also adopt names with similar meanings such as “slowly slowly”; “get up and do something” etc.

The process is further strengthened by the rules and regulations that govern the process of savings and record keeping and by their simplicity. The fact that people save daily keeps them in regular contact with the office bearers of the scheme and with each other. Treasurers and savings groups meetings are held as often as two times a week. At these meetings decisions regarding issuing of loans for crisis or income generation are decided collectively. Problems are also collectively resolved. If a loan is given for income generation such as for buying and selling vegetables or chocolates, then the seller has to sell to the saving groups as well. The savings scheme members are very clear that the savings process is a preparation for them to manage uTshani loans. In many meetings women stated, “the savings method and the crisis and income loans are given to create trust”.

Rules to select members for uTshani loans are also very clear. Members who qualify for the loan must not only be regular savers but they must also attend meetings regularly. Since decisions are collective and the rules are clear, there is little space left for conflict.

Problems and the Manner of Dealing with Them

In spite of the appropriateness of the system that has been put in place there are a few problems. However, these are also well managed. The major problems are that sometimes treasurers misappropriate savings and sometimes people do not pay back the crisis and income loans. These problems are rare and as the scale of the programme increases they are also bound to increase. In dealing with such cases the defaulters are always given a chance so as not to lose them. Misappropriated money is converted into a loan. If a person cannot repay her loan for genuine reasons then her case is viewed sympathetically and necessary adjustments made. These actions are possible because the group is reasonably small and the members know each other well. These strategies not only introduce a level of maturity and understanding regarding group dynamics, but also promote the search for compassionate solutions. This again strengthens group feeling.

What emerges from discussions with many groups is that 20 to 30 per cent of people stop savings after they have got a loan for building a house or have actually built a house. The number of such people is naturally increasing. Members feel that it is usually the better off who give up savings. They feel that the poor need to save since “poverty does not end with a house”. They feel that if the choice of beneficiaries is correct, then this problem can be overcome.

Pride and Empowerment

Most of the savings groups with whom the evaluation team met were cohesive and there was a great sense of pride in them regarding the process and the Federation. Comments such as “Federation is a university”, or, “although we are uneducated, professionals and experts come to us to learn”, or, “we came for a house but we got an education”, are comments that were made during the meetings.

The savings groups also feel empowered. This is because people have had the opportunity of coming together and discussing socio-economic and political subjects related to their lives with “experts” and professionals. They have also been able to deal with the formal sector successfully on various issues. Their work and its effectiveness has been recognized by official agencies and politicians. All this has been made possible because organized people have generated, acquired, and managed money collectively.

Not only is there a group feeling within the savings schemes, but there is also a larger identity related to the Federation. Members say that whenever they see a Federation house they know that the person who lives in it belongs to their family. Regarding the future of the Federation, members have said, “the Federation will be the government of tomorrow”; “the gospel of the People’s Housing Process will be driven by the Federation”; “we will be free of the People’s Dialogue” etc. These views show that the PD and HPF message has been conveyed and understood.

Repercussions of the Process

People have understood the savings process because it was effectively presented and because of the simplicity of its methodology. Because of its success it has also been publicized. Many of the savings schemes that were met with were not approached by the Federation. They got to know of the Federation and its work through the media, friends, neighbours and residents who were building their homes. Some of them began the savings process, which they learnt from other schemes, and then approached the Federation. This process of approaching the Federation after acquiring a knowledge of the programme and its methodology produces a more equitable relationship between the Federation leaders and the members of the savings schemes. This is what is likely to happen increasingly in the future.

Social Attitudes and Their Repercussions

The vast majority of women in the meetings that the evaluation team held with the savings groups, consider themselves to be unemployed. When they were asked as to how they made their money they responded, “by buying and selling”. They did not consider doing small business as a job. Most of them were engaged in selling vegetables, fruit and other edibles in a small way. All other necessities of life in the settlements were produced by the formal sector and almost all of them were acquired from the city markets. Women were interested in developing businesses for producing the necessities of life but could only conceptualize this activity as big business which requires big finance. In addition, the women, except for a very few, did not have the skills to develop and manage businesses. The income loans do not seem to have had a major impact on the economy of the settlements. However, crisis loans have been used effectively for paying children’s school fees and doctors’ bills.

Most women also had a fixed concept of a house and the manner in which it was to be built. It had to be a four room affair, with big windows and it must be built at one-go. The possibility of building a house incrementally, as and when money was available, was not acceptable to them. In addition, housing scheme book keepers complained that people invariably over-spent by buying quality materials that were beyond their affordability and as a result, many houses get delayed or remain unfinished. In addition, women often start buying materials roof downwards instead of the other way round. The problem is well recognized both by the communities and their leaders but a change in attitude has yet to come. Some members also said that this attitude was promoted by politicians who wanted to give people a few big houses rather than a large number of houses that could be built incrementally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

site design by iMedia
Mobile Menu
Responsive Menu Image Responsive Menu Clicked Image