The essay below describes the history and philosophy of the project. For more information go to

Local Capacity Governance

Building Community, Building Democracy

I: Introduction

This essay tells the story of the development of a model for local capacity policing, for local capacity governance

more generally, and for an effective and equal partnership between state agencies and the community. It traces its origins in both Canada and South Africa, and concludes with a few observations about its theoretical significance.

II: History and Development of the Model

i. Origins

The story begins in Canada in the early 1980s, when the ex-mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto Housing Authority (a public housing agency), initiated a project to develop an appropriate model for policing public housing communities. A central feature of the model development process was a pilot study in which tenants and staff of MTHA were accorded a security budget and worked together to develop mechanisms for governing security. A key finding of the study was that most of this budget was spent on mechanisms that mobilized local capacity and knowledge. Monies were spent on children's programmes, youth programmes, youth employment, the immediate environment, food for residents, aesthetic improvements and so on. The results were dramatic, and MTHA incorporated these elements in developing a programme of "social policing".

ii. Research

The next chapter is a long one spread over many years. Over the next two decades a group of scholars at the Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, conducted studies of trends in the governance of security. This period saw the development of notions of 'nodal' governance rather then state-centred governance, incorporating ideas such as neo-feudalism and networked policing. One of their conclusions was that in both the public and private sectors a critical feature of developments in policing was the emergence of a variety of mechanisms that worked to facilitate the mobilization of local capacity and knowledge in the service of governance.

iii. Needs and Opportunities: the background

As in any colony, the control and management of the resources of South Africa has from the beginning been carried out primarily for the benefit of minority elites, both in the Dutch and British homelands and increasingly within the colonised territory itself. This tendency was sharply reinforced and made exceptionally explicit under the rule of the National Party (1948-1991/94), when the interests of 'whites' (at first referred to in the apartheid discourse as 'Europeans/blankes') were promoted with an unprecedented degree of increasingly manic comprehensiveness and consistency.

After the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1991, the extent of this gap could not be glossed over any longer. This was true in all areas of public service, including, of course, policing. "White" areas had enjoyed a moderate level of conventional policing, while in the rest of the country the police had for the most part been used (or abused) as instruments of oppressive control. In the course of the 1980s the ANC instituted a policy of making the 'townships' ungovernable, and developed in many areas an alternative system of management through civic associations and street committees. Some of these declined into vigilantism and corruption, but even the most effective and peaceful of them have tended to fade away over the last decade.

With respect to policing and the promotion of security, therefore, poor communities appear in effect to have been abandoned. On the one hand, the reformed South African Police Service simply does not have the resources to provide an equitable spread of service throughout the country and is in any case still skewed towards the more privileged areas. On the other hand, the privatisation of security, which has seen exceptionally rapid recent growth in South Africa and has in effect taken over the policing of many urban and suburban areas, is not an option in communities who cannot afford to pay for this service.

There is, in another words, a serious 'governance deficit' in poor communities, not only in relation to security but also in matters such as health and the provision of services such as garbage removal, water and electricity. To be fair, this deficit is being addressed at various levels of government. Nevertheless, this project took two assumptions as its starting points: first, that it is neither practicable, efficient nor desirable for state agencies in a democracy to plan, finance and manage a fully comprehensive programme of social services in which the role of citizens is to be little more than consumers; secondly, that people in poor communities (where the deficit is greatest) have the local knowledge and the capacity to play an active and effective role in articulating strategies for dealing with these matters. This model, therefore, begins by mobilising the resources of these communities around the peaceful resolution of specific disputes and problems, and in the process builds a form of social capital that may be deployed in a variety of community-building contexts.

This governance deficit is particularly striking in South Africa as we engage, with limited resources, in the process of building a democracy after centuries of discrimination and outright oppression. It may well be, however, that more prosperous and apparently stable countries may find something to learn from the experience of this project concerning the refreshment and re-invention of democratic practices and the building of conscious, self-respecting and self-directed communities..

iv. South African Developments

In the early 1990 two panels to examine policing in South Africa were convened by the Goldstone Commission. The first panel was tasked with developing recommendations for the policing of demonstrations during South Africa's first democratic elections. The second was charged with developing principles for policing the elections more generally. These panels drew on ideas developed at MTHA and the research associated with the University of Toronto, in order to develop an approach to policing the elections that focused on the mobilization of local capacity and knowledge. In seeking ways of implementing this principle, one of the members of these panels travelled to Europe and Australia looking for ideas.

The Demonstrations Panel developed a mechanism for policing elections that required demonstrators to develop plans and capacities for policing demonstrations themselves if they were to be given a licence to demonstrate. These recommendations led to the acceptance of a framework for governing demonstrations that all the major parties accepted. This later became the basis for legislation governing the policing of demonstrations in South Africa. In order to provide for the implementation of this framework the British Government supported a working group that designed training materials for marshals to be drawn from the ranks of political parties. This led to the training of marshals across the country prior to the elections. This training, and the marshals it produced, played a major role in ensuring the successful implementation of the recommendations of the Goldstone Commission panel on demonstrations, and contributed significantly to the peaceful nature of the elections.

v. Model Building

The success of this approach to the policing of demonstrations encouraged Dullah Omar, then South African Minister of Justice, and George Fivas, then the National Commissioner of the South African Police, to support a project in local capacity policing that would incorporate the principles of the early MTHA work and the Goldstone panels in developing a model for the policing of very poor communities within South Africa. The community of Zwelethemba, a black township in Worcester, a town about a hundred kilometres north of Cape Town, was selected as a pilot site for developing the model. A key objective of this project was the promotion of community-based processes that would lead to the deepening of democracy. A central vision guiding the model-building team has been that the model should be very simple, attractive to communities and governments, and be easy to extend to other poor communities. A metaphor used to capture this vision was that of a benign "cultural virus". The model has been dubbed the Zwelethemba Model in recognition of the contribution of the community of Zwelethemba to its development.

Over the last two years the model has been extended beyond its initial focus on security alone to embrace wider governmental concerns, and is now operating in 14 communities in the Western Cape and in pilot sites in three other provinces. During this period the Zwelethemba model has been endorsed by the Law Commission of South Africa and the Deputy Minister of Justice as a suitable model for community-based dispute resolution.

An extension of the model is taking place in two pilot projects located in Rosario, Argentina. This three-year project began in November 2000. The ideas being developed through these projects have found expression recently in the report of the Independent Commission of Policing in Northern Ireland. This report promotes a view of policing that stresses the importance of security budgets and the mobilization of local knowledge and capacity.

III: The Zwelethemba Model

i. Structure and Process

The Zwelethemba Model incorporates or is made up of a rationality or way of thinking, a set of institutional arrangements and a technology for realizing local capacity governance that approaches governance through the 'window' of security. At the core of the model is a dispute resolution process - called peacemaking - that gathers together local people who are considered to have the knowledge and capacity to contribute to a solution. This process eschews the identification of a victim and an offender, on the grounds that in most community-level disputes people shift between these statuses as the dispute develops. A related feature of the model is its focus on finding solutions that will create a better future rather than focusing on the past. Members of the community come together in structures called Peace Committees which facilitate Gatherings that bring community members together within a problem-solving forum.

The Model provides for two payments for each Gathering held in accord with a Code of Good Practice and the peacemaking principles that the model promotes, as reflected in a comprehensive report on the Gathering. R200 is an in-the-pocket payment divided among the Peace Committee members who facilitated in that Gathering; this money directly recognizes the value of their work. This is matched by another R200 which goes into the Committee's peacebuilding fund that is to be used to respond to generic problems within the community; after a process of reflection and consultation, this fund is used to support micro-enterprises whose values and objectives coincide with the projects identified and planned by the Peace Committee.. In South Africa at the moment the bulk of this money comes from local governments, and constitutes a micro-governance budget that is injected directly into

ii. Outcomes

To date over 1300 peace-gatherings have been held in South Africa. At the time of writing we have analysed the reports of 942 gatherings, which have taken place over 2.5 years. These gatherings have generated about R160 000 in revenues for Peace Committees. All of these revenues have been, or will be, spent in these communities.

Over 7000 people have been involved in participating directly in solving problems in their communities through the window of gatherings. That is, over 6600 people have had the experience of shifting their stance from one of dependency to one of responsibility and of moving from an orientation of blame to one that was focused on creating a new future. On average, 5.6 Peace Committee members were involved in each gathering.

In gatherings, 57% of the participants were women, and 12% were youth. 62% of the Peace Committee members who facilitated gatherings were women.

The distribution of issues that gave rise to gatherings was as follows. The most frequent issues (31%) were to do with money (money-lending disputes, non-payment of loans or for goods and misappropriation of funds). Insults, threats and gossiping made up 27% of the total number, while non-sexual assaults and fighting made up 14%. Gatherings were held for two rapes and two attempted rapes.

In 96% of the gatherings held, the participants developed a course of action and people committed themselves to it. In a little under three quarters of the gatherings some gesture marking the end of the conflict took place. At times this involved everyone present making a commitment to peace. At other times only the disputants were involved.

Examples of projects developed and financially supported through the peacebuilding process are:

The building and maintenance of a children's playground in a shack area far from any other facility

The refurbishment of an old-age home

Rubbish-clearing, in cooperation with youth football teams.

Assistance in furnishing a new day care centre.

Supporting and extending a feeding scheme for children

A youth project (sports, arts and culture).

IV: How Health Comes Into the Model

Poor communities tend to be at elevated risk of HIV, poor maternal-child health and other health problems because they face more assaults on their health, have less information about health, and less capacity to take collective action compared to more affluent communities. Health interventions that focus on a particular disease, without addressing root causes or the social environment, are insufficient. The Zwelethemba Model is a platform for informational and behavioral interventions, but more importantly it also addresses root causes of community health vulnerability, and fosters community efficacy in the cause of disease prevention and health promotion.

The Model is designed to reduce community vulnerability by addressing root causes. Recent work in social epidemiology has identified key social determinants of health. Collective community characteristics such as social capital and social cohesion are strong predictors of population health.