Leading development

2013-04-05 00:00

DEVELOPMENT has inherent dilemmas. Human development creates institutions that in turn anchor development. But by and large, bread-and-butter issues and struggles of survival dominate the priorities of these institutions. Common views and citizen’s expectations are at the core of these institutions and those develop into myriad service-delivery pressures. This immediately becomes a cancerous condition when development expectations fail to materialise.

During the Easter holiday break, I visited my scenic rural village of KwaThathani, just a few kilometres south of Highflats. While chatting with neighbours, I was told of how two grant-dependent individuals had built their own homes. One of them is Mandla “Jinja” Jaca. He is elderly and single. His action has challenged every view this community previously had about him. Further down the valley, Sdudla Fikelephi Dlamini, known as MaDlamini, has done the same. Then there’s Nyanga Nzimande. This is the man who has been faithfully married to the community water supply scheme since the days of the Mvula Trust in the mid-nineties. He knows the scheme inside out and professionally deals with the potential explosions that result from water-supply interruptions. Meanwhile, Mandlakayise Mbanjwa is championing the cause of a local agricultural co-operative. They are keeping the land green and productive, and contributing to food security. These are just some of the people who are committed to the development of their community. Every community has its own set of stories that provide us with some pointers to service-delivery agendas. These stories should provide development practitioners with a lens to use to achieve a common development view with communities concerned.

What could this community lens be? There are people who embrace the status quo and are mainly interested in their own wellbeing and that of their families. State grants and other basic public services respond to their priorities. But there are people who maintain a fair balance between individual gains and the common good. They are aware that their individual livelihoods are dependent on them providing community services that are anchored on the principles of common good. We must not forget selfish and sometimes disruptive behaviours as well. All this happens inside a community. Lastly, we have development experts and practitioners who carry specific directives to support the development agenda of the state.

Development practitioners are concerned with building bridges between their masters and communities. Their mission is focused on preparing the community institutions to adopt development blueprints developed by their masters. Project planning reports appear to supersede the creation of platforms that would strengthen the umbilical cord and osmotic relationships between development institutions and communities. The development discourse has transformed citizens like Jinja and MaDlamini into beneficiaries and statistics that give life to departmental budgetary and compliance priorities. Secondly, development practitioners see and interpret the world through their own lenses. They see the world through their lived experiences and their aspirations for better lifestyles. In the process, they leave rural development to perceptions, models, approaches, pilot projects and lessons learnt. This is a weakness of the human race, and rural development has to find a cure for it. Many people would ask how it’s possible that a state grant-dependent person can achieve an expensive project. This comes from the perception that poor people cannot lead development without external intervention.

In the process of development, some institutions in communities are replaced by new ones. In many cases, project-planning reports are responsible for these changes. But it would appear community institutions struggle to handle added development pressures. We see multiple project-specific committees that, by and large, represent the views of the powerful people in the communities. The question to ask is whether the voices of Jinja and MaDlamini make their way to project plans? Development should be about appreciating a two-way learning process to a point of “take-off” for poor and vulnerable households. In economic terms, development should afford all citizens multiple opportunities to improve their incomes and their living standards. Certainly, changes in attitudes and values are necessary to inform behaviours needed for transition to any modern regime.

Last are the inherent dilemmas in development ideologies. We can be proud of the initiatives rural people are taking with their meagre incomes. This shows that they also desire better lives. Development agendas should be able to deconstruct this desire and crystallise the development view of rural people. Development should not be one-way traffic from the experts to communities. We should be worried that poverty is still found even in modernised Western nations. Incomes are stagnating, if not regressing, and the gap between the poor and the rich keeps widening. Why should we always reinvent the wheel?

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

Poor people are playing a role in uplifting their communities

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