Overcoming obstacles in rural South Africa: an interview with Thozama Dyantyi

A couple months ago, I4C invited all women activists working in rural spaces within the I4C network – or new to it – to apply for sponsorship to attend the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62). Thozama Dyantyi from South Africa was one of two new members selected. From the Eastern Cape, she works as a social worker and facilitator to help train and empower women in how to form new business and manage development projects so that women are able to fight poverty in their homes and are able to fight for their rights. Continue reading to find out more about Thozama’s work in an interview about the challenges she faces in her work and the resilient ways she has found to overcome them.

Tell us about your work and what you do with Jersey Farm Advice and Information Center.

My work in the communities is to capacitate poor communities, especially women and children, to have access their human rights. We educate them to know their rights and be able to fight for them. We conduct community workshops where communities share their experiences. We provide trainings so that community members can engage in profitable projects/businesses. We provide assistance for and information to community members on how to access their rights and actively contribute and participate in improving their lives and be fully involved in their development.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced in your work in the Eastern Cape?

Challenges I have identified in my work include the high rate of unemployment, illiteracy, poverty and high rate of drug and substance abuse. People are dependent on social grants, women are under pressure and are raising children with fears of what will happen to their children if they die. Young girls have no hope due to high rates of unemployment and they find themselves being married to older men and they see themselves as having no control of their lives. There is high rate of teenage pregnancy and young children are abandoned everyday, some in the streets while some are living with relatives and grandparents.

I was conducting training with women on how to use the existing resources to make income. In the village, men and single women were making money through horses. The problem was that married women did not see themselves as capable of participating in that business – even if they had horses, they would rather sell them or let their husbands manage the business. They even gave the name to the group as Sincumakanjani (meaning how do we smile). It was clear that culture shaped these women and now they are setting boundaries for themselves and even when presented with opportunities to improve their lives, the boundaries will prevent them. Women need to learn to work with men and be able to get into decision making processes in their families and in communities as equal partners.

What successful ways have you, as an outsider, found to overcome these challenges and continue your good work?

In working in rural communities I have experienced some challenges. The greatest challenge I ever face are when there are conflicts in community leadership and it becomes difficult to work in a community, especially as an outsider when you find yourself not sure of who to contact. Conflicts in leadership create more confusion among the community members and even if they want to work with you they are afraid of being judged. Through my experience I learned never to get involved in community internal affairs unless I am asked to intervene.

When I intervene, I must be neutral and allow the community to resolve its own problems because I believe they are the expects of their lives. Listening, respecting the community norms, cultural beliefs and values has worked positively for me because all the communities I worked with I am trusted and they see me as one of them and that took them some time. I have learned that, when working in the community, you must be there to learn and share your experiences not as an expect because if they see you as an expert they expect you to do everything on your own and that affects the sustainability of your project in that community.

What is still needed and what can other members of this network, or the international community at large, due to help?

More capacity building need to be done so that people are skilled to be able to take care of themselves and are able to create employment opportunities in their communities, and are able to contribute to the economy. More training is needed on Project /Business Management, women need to be enabled to appreciate themselves and be able to see and look for opportunities for themselves. Women in rural communities need to be trained on leaderships so that they can actively participate in the decision making processes in their communities.

– Interview with Thozama Dyantyi, 1 March 2018