Events Vacancies

Call for Applications: What is Democracy? 2023

A short course for community-based paralegals


South Africa has the highest inequality in the world. Despite nearly three decades of democratic rule, landlessness, exploitation, poverty, racism, violence, corruption and a collapse of basic services have a stark presence in everyday life. Today there is a shared sentiment that although 1994 did bring about some significant changes, the society we live in is a far cry from one that different generations of activists dreamed of and fought to establish. There is growing dissatisfaction with and distrust in politics as a tool for change, with politics increasingly associated with the ‘big men’, patronage, self-enrichment, upward social mobility for the few. With 2024 elections around the corner and the rise of regressive forces that target the marginalised, many are confused about what the future may bring. Different explanations are offered for why these realities persist. Different responses or ‘ways out’ are also presented. What is Democracy is a course about South Africa today – why it is the way it is, why this matters and crucially, what we can do to overturn this dismal situation.

Following the success of our 2022 programme, this short course returns for a second exciting year. Designed specifically for community-based paralegals and fieldworkers who provide a range of services to the communities they serve – including information access, support with gender-based violence cases and matters; assistance with evictions; labour; consumer and social security matters as well as different kinds of dispute resolution – this course will locate the historical roots of the day-to-day issues that advice offices contend with and contextualise them within broader contestations, resistance and imaginations about democracy.

Woven through the course are these questions

1. What do the realities that community-based paralegals deal with on an ongoing basis reveal about the texture of South Africa’s democracy?

2. How can we explain the persistent and growing inequalities and injustices that dominate South Africa today, nearly 30 years into democratic rule?

3. What are some of the big struggles waged in South Africa today? What do they teach us about democracy, resistance and imagination?

4. What does a democracy for the many, not a few, look like? What can we learn – from the past and today – about attempts to craft expansive and radical notions of democracy?

Participants in the course will consider these questions, locate them historically and look at their theoretical underpinnings.


This course will complement the knowledge and experience acquired by community-based paralegals in their practice with conceptual tools designed to better understand why the South Africa we live in today, is a nightmare for so many and what can be done to change this. Between the two residential modules participants will engage in online contact, tasks and support.

A range of creative techniques – interactive games, role plays and scenario exercises, seminars, film screenings, fireside chats, reading circles, guest lectures, activist panels, discussion groups and debates – will be used in delivering the course. The course is residential and has two modules, each running over five days. Between the two residential modules participants will engage in online contact, tasks and support.

Who can apply:

Participants must be engaged in community paralegal work and provide legal assistance and dispute resolution services to communities on a range of issues. In selecting the participants, Tshisimani will consider geographic spread, gender, age and period of service to the community. We will make every effort to draw participants from different age groups and with different levels of experience, aiming for a diverse mixture in the learning space.

Participants are expected to commit to attending the entire duration of the course, which runs over two blocks: the advice office or place of work needs to approve leave for the applicant to attend these two residential modules.

Orientation and registration: 8 May 2023

Module 1: Mon 8 May – Fri 12 May 2023 (held in Western Cape)

Module 2: October 2023 (location TBC)

A final assessment task will be completed in September 2023. An expression of support from your community advice office or organisation is mandatory.

Tuition fees, data to support course work, travel and accommodation will be covered by Tshisimani. Space is limited to 25 participants. 

Course summary:

Module 1: Why Democracy? Then and Now

8 May – 12 May 2023

This module is about the realities that confront activists in South Africa today – inequality, racism, uneven patterns of land ownership, spatial segregation and endemic violence. The aim of the module is to ask questions about the persistence of these realities after the installation of a democratic government in 1994 – a government ushered in with the promise of “a better life for all”. In answering these questions, we will deal with the history of poverty and inequality; and how race, class and gender oppression worked together and configured the economy and society we live in today. We will use different lenses to grapple with a history which has been profoundly shaped by colonial conquest and dispossession, slavery, violence, indentured and migrant labour, enforced 

segregation and the creation of a system of production relying upon cheap black labour. Although tracing back inequality, poverty, land deprivation, spatial segregation and violence; the module will also look at political and policy choices that post-1994 governments chose and continue to take. By the end of this module, participants would have grappled with:

1. What were the key demands of ordinary people in the struggle against apartheid?

2. What do these realities reveal about how our society functions, who rules South Africa today, different group interests and the nature of the post-1994 state?

3. In what ways are the everyday issues that community-based paralegals deal with linked to unfolding struggles for dignity and democracy. 

Module 2: Remaking democracy? Alternatives and strategies

October 2023

Activists today share a growing consensus that there is a big rift between people’s daily realities and the promise of a better life for all. While the broad consensus is evident across different organising spaces in South Africa, the same cannot be said about how to organise politically to challenge the social and economic crisis of our time. For this module, participants will examine some of emerging responses to the social and economic crisis besieging SA today, including a growing disillusionment with politics as a vehicle for change; greater appeal of authoritarian politics and the yearning for “strongmen” as well as a defense of the Constitution at all costs. We will look at how these responses point us to larger questions of what is meant by “alternatives” as well as what a democratic, egalitarian society would look like. This module hopes to foreground questions about strategy and tactics for radical social transformation and hone-in on real world cases and attempts to craft expansive notions of democracy that give ordinary people power over the political and economic forces that govern their lives. We will reconnect with and draw inspiration from ideas of democracy, located in our past and from the struggles being waged by activists in South Africa and the across the world today. Of particular interest are experiments from militant union traditions, women’s organising, shack dwellers’ movements, community organising as well as traditions that approach the law as a terrain of struggle.

By the end of this module, participants should be able to:

1. critically assess the different responses to the ongoing crisis in their respective communities and in SA more broadly,

2. map the social formations and struggles in their different communities and identify, starting with their own experience, the layers in society today that are invested in and most capable of ushering in a radically different SA,

3. locate the role of their practice in unfolding struggles to change the nature of South African society today.

To apply, please submit the following 

  1. Submit a short bio by filling in this Google form
  2. Email a letter of support from your advice office or organisation stating that they support your application for this course and will grant you leave to attend the two modules. Send the email to ensuring your name and the organisation you work for/with is included in the letter.
  3. Whatsapp your short video/voice note task (see below) to 066 220 0089.

Instructions for short video or voice note task (3 minutes):

Record and send a 3-minute video or voice note stating the following:

  • Your name and where you come from.
  • The name of the advice office/organisation where you are located.
  • Tell us a story about a case that you dealt with in the last 5 years. 
  • What is the one thing you learnt from this case?

Your video or voice note should not be longer than 3 minutes

Video and voice note tips. Ensure that you record in a quiet place with no noise interruptions. Clean your camera before recording on video. Use the questions only as a guide. Do not repeat the questions on the video or voice note as this will take more time. Send your video or voice note along with your name and contact details to this WhatsApp number 066 220 0089.

The deadline for applications is Tuesday, 25 April 2023. Late applications will not be considered. If we have not contacted you by Tuesday 2nd May, then please consider your application unsuccessful

For more information contact:

Call: 021 685 3516
Twitter: @Tshisimani
Facebook: @tshisimaniCAE

Public Series & Schools

Walter Rodney and Anti-Imperialist Politics Today

The year 2022 marks 50 years since Guyana’s revolutionary, Walter Rodney, published How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. To celebrate the book and the life of Walter Rodney, Tshisimani held a week-long program in partnership with the Walter Rodney People’s Revolutionary Library, as part of it’s Radical Thinkers Series. The series included film screenings, public seminars, popular education workshops and closed with a youth day cultural event commemorating the valour of the South African youth of 1976. Walter Rodney died young – at the age of 38. His life as a revolutionary-intellectual was short-lived but impactful. We commemorated that spirit throughout the event with young people from all over Cape Town. 

This is an archive of the series, including recordings of public events, images from the programme and a short documentary highlighting the popular education workshops at the centre of this program. It includes materials and insights into how to platform Rodney’s work for young people today through film, poetry and collective reading.

Navigating the Archive

Click the link to see content related to the following events:

Day 1: Film Screening: Disturbance 68; The Past is Not the Future 

This includes the inputs which framed the start of the program, including messages from Patricia Rodney and Vusi Mahlangu from the Walter Rodney Revolutionary Library.

Day 2: Walter Rodney Through Popular Education 

This documents the popular education workshops held during the program including a short-documentary on the process it undertook and some key lessons we drew from it as well as lesson plans for the program itself.

Day 2: Dr Natasha Shivji presents Rodney’s Understanding of Imperialism 

Dr Natasha Shivji delivers a public lecture on Rodney’s idea of imperialism with an active and involved audience.

Day 3: A Rebel’s Guide to Walter Rodney – A Book Launch 

This book launch includes inputs from Moloadi Wa Sekake and Chinedu Chukwudinma on A Rebel’s Guide to Walter Rodney and Socialism NoMuntu Omusha.

Day 3: Cultural Evening: A Song for Rodney 

This reflection on the cultural evening includes an overview of the evening including unique poetry performances on anti-imperialism and a collaboration with Jazz in the Native Yards.

Feedback and Articles


The Women’s Assembly Camp 2022 and #PatrickMustFall

From the 5th to the 8th of August 2022, members of the women’s assembly were convened in an educational camp held in Simon’s Town, Cape Town to discuss issues of race, class, gender and power.

#PatrickMustFall Tshisimani
August 7th : Xoliswa shares her story in a group activity on what the core issues facing women in Cape Town today are.

Day 1: Race and Class

On Day 1 of the camp the women reflected on race and class. They reflected on a poem by Siphokazi Jonas – “My daughter says that we’re the right kind of poor for an application form.” Published on Twitter in February of 2022.

The program also asked them to interrogate some of the biases of race and class that they hold and how it may create challenges for the different ways they organise in their communities. They acknowledged the racial and spatial divisions perpetuated by the system and agreed to address it in their homes, communities and organisations to build better organisations and futures.

August 7th: Feziwe (Member of the Education and Learning Committee) listens to reflections from the group.

Day 2: Gender, Power and Feminist Movements

Day 2 saw the women reflecting on their ideas of feminism – the good and bad – towards building their own definitions of the ideology. They did this by developing a feminist pot with three legs, each leg representing an ideal on which to build their kind of feminism. Ideas such as ubuntu, unity and freedom emerged as important for the women. It was in this moment that the group identified that feminism means the end of “Patrick” – or patriarchy – the structural force preventing them from achieving equality and freedom. They also discussed how their struggles intersect and what this means for their organising. This was done through a reflection on the covid-19 pandemic and the ways in which is specifically meant exclusion from the economy for women.

In the afternoon, the women encountered and reflected on movements such as Sikhala Sonke, The Women’s #TotalShutdown and #RUReferenceList discussing the power and importance of women-led movements opposing violence, patriarchy and inequality. They discussed how feminist movements operate and the victories and shortfalls that emerge for these movements.

During the tea break Tandeka from the Housing Assembly reflects on what she knows patriarchy to be.

Day 3: Peasant Feminism & Building Our Campaigns

On Day 3 the women discussed food sovereignty with members of the peasant movement, La Via Campensina and the Food Sovereignty Campaign. Theresa Falatsa, Jolene Scholtz-Kearney and Charmaine Jacobs joined us throughout the program to discuss peasant feminism, food security, agri-ecology and food growing as they’ve encountered it in their movements. Through their involvement in the program long-lasting relationships were established connecting the women’s assembly to rural women’s movements in rural and peri-urban areas.

August 8th: Charmaine reflects on La Via Campensina and what it means to share the message of food growing and peasant feminism.

The discussions around radical feminist food security as a mechanism to oppose food insecurity motivated the women to want to take action. They spent the afternoon conceptualising a campaign that can capture the essence of what they had learned during their experiences within the women’s assembly: a safe space to reflect on the structural challenges facing them as women in working-class and impoverished communities.

Charmaine from the Bonteheuwel Development Forum (BDF) reflects on how food insecurity affects her health.

Through a careful process, a press statement was conceptualised by those within the women’s assembly who prioritise food security. The Food Sovereignty Committee – a body developed in the women’s assembly – aspires to start community gardens, bakeries and kitchens that can directly tackle the challenges of hunger and poverty. Drafting the press statement happened alongside learning about messaging and banner-making where the group was challenged and given skills to draft effective messaging through the careful use and consideration of colour, slogans and art-making.

Mohammed Jameel reflects on how to build a campaign and list demands.

A large part of building demands and slogans included reflecting on the stories which make up the women’s every day experiences. While reflecting on the slogan: “Empty Pots = Empty Promises” a story emerged that defined the struggles faced by the women in food insecure contexts. Xoliswa from the Housing Assembly reflected on her story which highlighted the urgency and importance of action against systemic inequality excluding women from the food system.

Xoliswa’s shares her story about boiling pots of water because she has nothing to feed her children.

The weekend culminated into a picket at the Constantia Circle in Constantia. The protest’s demands reflected on the intersection of struggles between race, class and gender and highlighted the violence of inequality and patriarchy. The women nicknamed patriarchy “patrick” as they did in the program on Day 2.

Here are a list of media interviews and overall coverage of the campaign:

The protest received coverage from GroundUp, IOL and several other local news stations:

The lesson plan for this program can be downloaded here:


#ImagingingOtherwise Arts Activism Toolkit

The final #ImaginingOtherwise project is an Arts Activism toolkit. This toolkit intentionally brings together case studies of innovative arts activism practice from the global South, activities to develop one’s own art activism, and different ways to think about why creativity, the arts, and social justice can work together. This toolkit is free to down-load and  published under a creative commons license.

Share widely: we would love feedback!

Course content Minisite Visual aid

Youth Arts Toolkit

The Youth Arts Toolkit is a collection of workshops (some online, some in person) that were developed over the year of the Imagining Otherwise project (2020 -2021). This resource is for anyone who wants to use the arts as a means of exploring social justice issues with young people, and includes drama, writing, and creative mapping workshops that the team (Tshisimani, Bottom Up and University of Leeds and freelance artists) developed. We would love feedback on this resource, and how you might or have used it. Please send to  

Course content Materials Minisite Visual aid

Pocket Queerpedia

About Pocket Queerpedia

The Pocket Queerpedia is a resource Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education developed for activists, educators and the queer community generally, to assist in teaching on queerness. Queer education can be one of the most freeing of experiences, yet resources are not always accessible, suitable for a South African context or visually appealing to young audiences. The Pocket Queerpedia is an offering to respond to this. It has been reviewed by academics, progressive organisations and queer activists. The book comes in three languages during the first phase (English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa). It is available for free download below

The Story Behind Pocket Queerpedia

Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education is an organisation dedicated to resourcing and supporting activists towards their goals of equality, freedom, dignity and better futures. The idea for this glossary was sparked by a moment in one of our offerings ‘Feminism and Freedom’ a course we hosted for young activists in 2019. While grappling with discussions on gender, sexuality and freedom, we ran into a number of difficulties. As with most of our courses, the participants in the room were quite diverse – drawn from different communities, geographic locations and organisations. What we considered basic and familiar terms in queerness, we thought all would know, left many participants lost. What we thought were commonly accepted definitions proved otherwise. In that moment, we faced a big dilemma – how do we discuss the power and importance of queer politics, when so many terms are not commonly understood? This question led us to reflect deeply on some of the questions posed by our participants. Why are some terms used in different ways by different people? Where do I begin understanding the differences between biology and gender? What are these terms in my own home language? How would I explain all this in a way my mother can understand? Are there African examples and experiences we can draw on to better understand and make cultural links?

Words have power. They can offer recognition or erase experiences. We offer this glossary to activists who wish to broaden their understanding of the world and how gender and sexuality shape it.

About the creators

The book was conceptualised, designed, and illustrated by Seth Deacon, Tshisimani’s Visual Materials Developer and Art curator, with input from the entire Tshisimani staff. Seth is a queer artist who previously taught digital arts and multimedia design, and completed an MAFA in which he focused on the depiction of violence, gender, race and class in photographs of the body in a South African context. Content editing, consultation and copy edits were done by Tshisimani’s Social Media Specialist and Content Creator, Mohammed Jameel Abdulla. Further consultations outside Tshisimani were done with queer performance artist, activist and scholar, Tandile Mbatsha; Clinton Osborne, an activist, artist and educator of the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT); and activist and scholar Mmakatleho Sefatsa. Veteran pan-african, feminist scholar, and co-director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Hakima Abbas, provided extensive consultation on the written content of the glossary, as well as academic feedback. The many rounds of translations were held by a team of writers, activists, educators and translators consisting of Simone Cupido, Kealeboga Ramaru, Allan Maasdorp, Chulumanco Mihlali Nkasela, Dinga Sikwebu and Akha Hamba Mchwayo Tutu.

Trans Activist, filmaker and educator Zoey Black reacts to #PocketQueerpedia

Download the book here!




Rethinking Freedom

Strategies for Winning Freedom


Today, activists on the left of the political spectrum are seized with the question: how to organise politically to challenge authoritarianism, inequality, climate change and many other ills that are haunting the world today? While there may be agreement on the need for social change, there are varied ideas on how to get there. Grappling with these issues requires reflection on emancipatory experiments and strategies for winning freedom that have emerged in the 21st century. Enriching these reflections are recent and ongoing struggles across the world: the 2011 revolutionary moment in the Arab world, Africa’s “third-wave protests” to municipalism in Spain. These different struggles have placed urgent questions on the table: what visions and imaginations are being constructed in the search for freedom? Will freedom be won and secured through an insurrectionary route and marking a complete break with the past? Does the gradual approach to change have a place in how we think about winning freedom today? Does the institutional or electoral path to power offer any insights to those struggling to win freedom today? Is there a need to shift from the centrality of the “national” towards a politics that centres the “local or sub-national”? In this module, participants will consider all these questions as part of a reflection on their own struggles in pursuit of freedom.

This module aims to answer these questions:

  1. What are the strategic debates that activists are engaged in today in relation to the struggle for freedom?
  2. What kinds of imaginations and visions of the future are being crafted in these struggles for freedom?
  3. Is it possible to link our analysis about the roots of oppression, our rage and resistance and our dreams for a better future into a winning combination?

Course Outline

Day 1: Introduction

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5: Wrapping up

*these times are a guide only.


Kitchen Assemblies

Tshisimani programmes in partnership with the Bonteheuwel Development Forum