The Women’s Assembly started in 2020 as a collaboration between the Bonteheuwel Development Forum (BDF) and the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education. Towards the end of 2019, Tshisimani had a particular interest in feminist organising and power and intended to start a feminist forum similar to that of Umthombo Wolwazi where activists could engage ideas of feminism and activism. The covid-19 pandemic meant that this idea would take a significant shift towards a more meaningful and supportive forum which could support women who had taken on the call to feed and provide for communities suffering under the brunt of the covid-19 pandemic and the various stages of lockdown.
The BDF is a community organisation founded under the community crime and violence #TotalShutdown on the Cape Flats in 2018. Since the shutdown, the BDF takes part in community health, development and support roles. It is build on a number of block and street committees which democratically address key issues in the community. In 2020 the BDF focused on feeding and nutrition through women-led kitchens. This is where the idea of a Kitchen Assembly developed, meeting the request to facilitate and capacitate spaces for political organising in relation to their self-organising in their communities.
In 2020 and 2021, Tshisimani walked alongside the BDF as they developed community gardens, responses to community health and wellness as well as ran for the local government election under an independent candidate – Henriette Abrahams. Through monthly workshops, Tshisimani explored organic understandings of feminism, how to build community audits/surveys and mechanisms for political organising at a grass roots level. The women learned about organic food gardening, herbal remedy and food systems towards a program for women’s organising that is anti-capitalist, self-sustainable and prefigurative.
Women’s Assemblies utilise a co-design process with an elected education and learning committee steering the themes and content of workshop together with Tshisimani programs staff members. In December 2021, the Women’s Assembly hosted a graduation ending a two-year process of organisation to organisation learning together. In 2022 this structure decided to expand the work of the women’s assembly to include women from a diverse number of areas all over the Cape Flats to extend the learnings and impact of the assembly with the BDF playing a critical role of holding, co-facilitation and sharing from that point forward.