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Introducing Nxazonke – All Around - a personal note

iZindaba Zokudla has been searching for the right and appropriate way to effect change in the food system. This is a taxing and difficult endeavour, and in addition to developing this programme, I have to integrate it with my teaching, and also develop research publications from it. This is an almost impossible task to complete and is made no lighter by rigid structures in the University, and indifferent support from outside. Everyone loves what I do, but few take the time to really try and understand why it is done in a very specific way.

Why is Nxazonke an open access course without class list and why is iZindaba Zokudla not a membership “organisation”? Why is this relevant to the way iZindaba Zokudla sees social change happening?

The reason for this is that I would be “capturing” names and members, and in turn, I would be tempted, and pressured, to “use” these lists for projects launched by others, or even by me. Everyone wants a slice of the “small-farmer” pie, and I would be slipping on a very slippery slope to the point where I control access to opportunities for many others. Everyone wants their “SGD” targets met, and I would become a conduit for the attainment of goals by others. I am on a path where it is supremely difficult to chase “targets”, and this will distract me from doing real work for people who need real help. We all are aware of the “Bluff” behind the SDGs, and the reduction of these deep changes in the economy and ecosystem to “targets”. We however continue as this is how we pay our bills. We forget that this is in fact the key cause of the unsustainability of the world. We simply have to take this seriously and engage where it really matters, and afterwards find out how these “targets’ were achieved. We simply cannot achieve sustainability if we continue doing things in the old ways…

If you want to reach farmers and really take their interests seriously, and also mobilise this with the broader interest we all should have in a sustainable world, one would have to aim to improve the general context wherein these farmers operate, so they can find the best way to respond. It would be easy to select a group of farmers, load them with resources, and then do the metric and calculation on how we have achieved the “SDGs”. This is what a lot of people do out there, and I still need to see real empowerment in front of my eyes.

I am also trying to converge the energies available in the University with iZindaba Zokudla, this year I am able to, for the first time, use students directly in the project. I can only use students in limited ways, as I am mindful of their own lives and interests and I have to link what I do with them with teaching and learning, and this has to be meaningful in the context of the curriculum. This creates a lot of paperwork… 😊 but also the danger that these efforts will not align and possibly undermine each other.

It is also important to link these efforts with real actors on the ground. iZindaba Zokudla has maintained a link with Slow Food and Slow Plate in Alexandra in this regard. I am trying to link Nxazonke meaningfully with Slow Plate, and let’s see what we can accomplish. It is simply very messy to attempt change in the food system, as you are really talking about great change in the “habitus” of people. It is this habitus that we need to focus on, and it hints we need to shift the whole world one movement at a time to achieve real change. This is why iZindaba Zokudla is so messy, with its blogs and websites, social media, events, students, teaching and research. I would rather leave this world knowing this is what I wanted to do, than to achieve pre-set targets in other people’s (who control the world) metrics. Last week I visited a food garden (full of food!) in a squatter camp and it confirmed I am on the right track….

It is worthwhile to pause and reflect on what I am attempting. Would it be possible to build sustainable enterprises around food gardens and other small-scale economic activity, and do this is such a way that we will transform the food system? Evidence is becoming clear that urban agriculture can supply sufficient volumes of food for planning, settlement and agricultural research and development to shift to the urban scale. This would be important as we need the rural areas to conserve wildness as it is the dynamics around wildness that metabolises the Earth’s resources in such a way that life can continue. We also need urban areas to participate in this dynamic, and hence, to find a way for urban areas to process and metabolise its wastes, people, resources, food, and other materials, and do so sustainably, is necessary.

How can this be accomplished?

Nxazone is an open access course so we can have disconnected actors – farmers, food entrepreneurs, activists etc, doing sustainable things all over the place. They do not necessarily have to be connected (or “captured” by me) and their own efforts would lead to change in small ways across society. People can also take up the insights on their own volition, and they do not “have to” participate in the events and fora that I organise. This would mean only those who want to do this will do this, and this mean they will be serious about doing this, and continue doing so. These are the people that will benefit from better knowledge, practices, and associations.

I am also trying to gather the “learnings and practices” of those who do want to do this, through my students. This is also why I have introduced the concept of a “community of practice” so people can actively reflect on themselves and how they interact with others. Part of South Africa’s problems is that we work against each other, and we need to see if we can streamline those who may have similar interests. My students must gather material around these entrepreneurs. In this way we are generating material that represents what people on their own, in their own authentic ways, could accomplish. This would be a very important learning resource as this would immediately be familiar to those in similar circumstances, would be appropriate for the economic and social context this takes place in, but would nevertheless still represent a form of innovation.

The course is also structured in a way as a “design journey” and it gives due regard to the “dreaming” that is necessary for any entrepreneur to create a “system in a socio-technical regime”. However, in this process there is reflection – so we can go back and fix mistakes and give further regard to the key features of a sustainable enterprise: its water, land, energy, waste and food nexus must be strong and in-tact. This nexus must carry the enterprise, and it must release resources for the entrepreneur to thrive. Participating in the course is thus an opportunity to attend to the systems in the enterprise. This goes beyond the mere economic modelling of the organisation, and holds the promise that if we save on these “externalities” we generate value in the enterprise, and value outside. Hence, if we create value for society, business should be much easier.

We often forget how business and society act in “interactive” ways. They both determine each other, and this was the great insight from stakeholder theory. Many businesses try to shape society in their image, in order to capture markets and dominate them and shape the consumer as a client. However, this creates a dysfunction in society, as this relationship is so obviously skewed in favour of the corporation. These dysfunctions create the problems we have to encounter in activism. The optimisation of say, washing powder for the (created) interests of the consumer (all washing powders, perhaps even hot water, will wash your clothes “clean enough”) with the business operations of the firm, will leave the phosphate pollution of washing powder invisible, as this is often not incorporated in the way the marketing and product design is done. However, this system of interaction can also lead to sustainable products, should we incorporate the interests of the ecosystem in this interactive design of society, the firm, and the product.

This is what iZindaba Zokudla wants to do. To elevate the activity of public deliberation so it informs not only enterprise and product design, but also design society itself to thrive in sustainable ways. We should all realise how we have been shaped by society, and society will shape us in any which way it wants to. However, if we are not engaged in shaping society, we will be shaped. To achieve a sustainable society is thus to engage with the world in an interactive way, and to determine how it will look like. We need to give people a chance to do this, and they will respond and protect the human interest as they engage with others.

I look forward to seeing you all this afternoon!

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