Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education and UWC EMS Faculty announce the co-creation of a Citizens Commons


23 June 2023 

The Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education (Tshisimani) and the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) have formed a Citizens Commons to facilitate linkages between students, academics, workers, activists, and communities.

The Citizens Commons, under the aegis of the UWC Chair for Citizenship and Democracy, is part of an emerging niche area for contemporary political thought around citizenship and democracy where academics, workers and students may co-create new ideas and share experiences with grassroots communities and activists.  

Today (23 June 2023), Tshisimani Executive Director Zelda Holtzman and UWC’s Acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jose Frantz, signed a formal agreement between the two institutions. 

The Citizens Commons will initiate regular quarterly public events such as popular education workshops, public talks, cultural events, debates, panel discussions and collective work on annual conferences, as well as written and video outputs, including scholarly books, articles, popular handbooks, booklets, and documentary films.

UWC’s rich legacy as an activist university was firmly established during the height of apartheid colonialism, with students, workers and academics oriented towards the fight for liberation

 The descriptor of an ‘activist’ university references the involvement of UWC students and academics who were oriented towards the struggle to end apartheid and to fight for equality and liberation in tandem with anti-apartheid activists across the country. 

Tshisimani, on the other hand, was established in 2015 as an activist education centre orientated towards supporting working-class social justice movements, organisations and community groups with relevant, contemporary, and catalytic education intended to advance social justice activism towards alternatives to structural and endemic racial capitalism. The centre specialises in popular education curriculum development, creative arts methodology and the creations of curriculum and materials with reach across the country and continent. 

The crises of capitalism, race and gender-based violence, rising global inequality, the climate crisis and increasing risks of multiple health pandemics put increasing pressure on the global political south. This political moment, locally and globally, calls for the intentionality of combining resources with the common purpose of social-justice oriented social movements and actors to change the trajectory of neoliberalism, the bane of social, environmental, and ecological justice. 

Tshisimani works collaboratively with partners to co-create programmes, curricula and in facilitating education programmes for social justice movements – drawing from a rich Freirean, worker’s education and arts activist history. Programmes are designed to promote critical thinking and to advance tools of analyses among activists. Building ‘new’ theories and knowledge of change are intended to ignite the imagination of alternatives to the current political landscape where such alternatives are aligned to the creation of a more just and equal society.  

“This cooperation marks a new phase for Tshisimani as it widens its focus nationally and regionally, working with partners on the continent and transnationally in the political south, connecting struggles in communities to the works of progressive academics and organic intellectuals.” said Zelda Holtzman, Executive Director for Tshisimani. 

The UWC Chair for Citizenship and Democracy, Professor Gregory Ruiters welcomes this partnership which “will facilitate opportunities for Tshisimani and the EMS faculty, and UWC in general to engage in new forms of knowledge creation. Methodologically the commons seeks to advance a new form of solidaristic knowledge creation by incorporating the idea of multiple mappings of democracy and diverse spaces and times of citizenship.”

As an exercise in “argumentative democracy and citizenship”, the citizen commons draws on Appadurai’s (2006) thesis that the “right to research” is a precondition of active citizenship. We will explore how we can contribute to the work of non-academic collaborators (community groups, activist networks) to reclaim and deepen democracy; how do we collectively reimagine research aimed at answering and investigating questions that our non-academic collaborators want answered?

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