‘Traditional knowledge for community transformation’


Peri-urban communities in South Africa are often caught between the legacy of past injustices and modern pressures and turbulence. There are, however, promising examples of communities on the margins taking new directions and overcoming these adversities.  Our understanding of transformative change in communities on the margin is that it is catalysed by looking back and learning from the past, and then using these insights to look forward (visioning untried beginnings). Traditional knowledge about sustainability is the key to learning from the past and charting a new future with this information. In our proposition, a 'sustainable community' is a 'nurturing community' - a community that takes care of its social and natural environment through practices known as 'helpmekaar' in Afrikaans or 'Ubuntu' in isiXhosa; a sustainable community understands itself, knows where it is coming from and where it is going, and is clear about its place in the world. This notion can also be expanded to the natural environment. Traditional knowledge about care-taking and nurturing can be re-discovered and harnessed, to draw from the past to envision a new future and contribute to strategies and projects to make this real. In this project we want to make use of traditional techniques such as story-telling, art, photo-voice and participatory mapping, coupled with modern web-based technologies such as iSpot and Geographic Information Systems, to unearth and document traditional knowledge about a nurturing social-ecological community and apply this to chart a new direction.

The overarching aim of the project is to learn from traditional knowledge about becoming a sustainable peri-urban community.

In discussions with community members, we define a sustainable community as one that is nurturing and caring at four levels: a) individual norms, values and ethics; b) the inter-generational household or family; c) the whole community (across cultures), and d) the natural environment that sustains us and gives us a sense of place.

The specific objectives over the next three years are to:

1.  Draw on traditional wisdom, traditions and practices of the elders to explore the meaning of a sustainable nurturing peri-urban community.

2.  Learn about ways to become and remain a sustainable nurturing community in the face of adversity by linking traditional knowledge of the elders to modern insights and aspirations of the youth.

3.  Communicate this awareness and stimulate discussion and thinking about sustainability in the community.

4.  Record these methods and insights for other communities, future generations, scholars, university students and sustainable development decision makers to learn from.



SRU Administrative Coordinator

Ms Luzanne Visagie

Email: : or

Tel: +27 44 801 5127