'Stories of change'

It’s comforting to think about change as a movement from point A to point B - in a reassuring linear way. But change, especially for feminist activists in the South today, is far from a comfortable progression from A to B. Our recent camp with young women from the Young Women's Chapter revealed this. As planners of the workshop,Vainola, the Director of the New Women’s Movement; Crystal as the Project Coordinator; and myself as the Project Researcher; had set in place a tight and coherent programme over a period of several weeks. Our week-end camp would deal with skills and knowledge to effect change by learning about local government and ICTs. We also intended to make extensive use of select on-line information about local government and give examples of ICT initiatives. We also planned for a presentation and discussion from Natasha Primo, former Women's Net director, on examples of ICT activism.

But the programme had to be changed. On the evening of our arrival, we realised that our venue (in the mountains, although only 40 KM out of Cape Town) didn’t allow for any internet access. We had to scrap our elaborate presentations and totally re-think the programme. What was sharply brought home, of course, was the reality of activists working in the field, especially in South Africa, where internet access is usually a luxury, and adequate new media resources is the privilege of very few.

Yet, despite our having to jettison the programme, the workshop was very effective. One lesson learned – which speaks directly to the politics of progressive change today – is the need for bottom-up work. Paradoxically, it was only because we lost control of our predetermined programme that we ended up using the strategy of foregrounding young women’s storytelling. In this way, we prompted them to use the resources we had – 4 blackberries with intermittent access – to come up with information and strategies for community activism. Rather than have sessions where local government and ICT strategies were carefully explained, the young women had to play a consistently active role. We started with their own stories of experiences in the field– first dramatised as mime performances (which we all loved, because 'the story' became immediate, visceral and real). Then we moved on to asking the young women to explain these stories, – and then translating them as stories of rights and struggles with implications for activism at the local government level and using ICTs in relation to this. We all ended up freeing ourselves from set routes of pursuing change. And we all felt far more liberated than we’d have felt, if we’d followed the 'safer' route.

So, change isn’t linear. Change, most definitely, isn’t comfortable. But the change that we as feminists can take responsibility for and use for our own growth is always energising.

Desiree Lewis, South Africa