Storytelling as an instrument for citizen empowerment

In South Africa, citizens stand out and re-build their communities

Emily Mohohlo is the national leader of FEDUP and savings collector of her province in South Africa. Her goals are to foster, raise citizen empowerment and improve women’s rights in the rural and poor communities. She recognizes the importance of urban journalism and data collection in daily practices as tools for social change, participation and transparency.

After the post-apartheid period in South Africa, Emily Mohohlo has been actively taking action to strengthen local community empowerment. Emily Mohohlo is an honored member of FEDUP (Federation of the Urban and Rural poor) as well as SDI (Slum Dwellers International). With a particular focus on women empowerment and data collection, Emily has achieved a series of goals. Apart from collecting representative data and information regarding the living conditions of poor communities, both FEDUP and SDI aim to improve and develop the terms and ways citizens democratically negotiate for their rights. This occurs after SDI and FEDUP created a citizen network and provided agency to the residents. Through those tools, citizens of South Africa and their rights are at the epicenter of the negotiations.

“We learnt that what this country needed was not participation by the people in a government process, but government’s participation in a people’s process.” –  South African SDI Alliance

Current practices in the region confirm this quote. South Africa’s citizens are now taking action in order to design and implement their own projects. They do so by democratically collecting data and information as well as running savings strategies or setting networks for peer exchange of knowledge and experience. After these collections, residents have the possibility to better plan and build their housing conditions, since they are more aware of the situation. Emily Mohohlo values and supports these initiatives, promoting urban journalism and savings collection as tools that can set the principles of solidarity, transparency and unity for poor communities in South Africa.

As Slum Dwellers Internationals claims, enumerations are the most important elements of such initiatives. These are the key points for democratic practices that guarantee information, participation and direction. Through enumeration tools, citizens have access to significant factors that influence their life, as well as the possibility to decide about it. Urban poor are those who can respond to questions related to their own communities and their needs. For example, how many of them are unemployed or underage, or even how many residents are homeless are just a few of the many issues that characterize their daily life and needs. Besides that, SDI and FEDUP organizations have created networks that facilitate the ability of communities to attract external investors and start building new, improved housing conditions.

Emily Mohohlo started campaigns and strategies for collecting savings and involving local citizens in decision making processes. In doing so, she aims to better understand their life conditions through urban journalism, a practice that will contribute to more inclusive, democratic and citizen- centered communities. Citizens in South Africa have now a voice to identify themselves within the society, power to fight for their land and citizen rights as a priority of the local government. With their own knowledge and ideas, they build together new houses and develop their societies. As a result, the urban poor gain citizenship rights and determine themselves over their land priorities.  Both organizations, under the urban journalist’s Emily Mohohlo guidance through storytelling, aim to secure citizens’ land rights and develop social change through participative and grassroots daily practices.


These initiatives run in collaboration with both the top-down, governmental institutions and bottom-up, community practices. As an example, after residents spot and make visible their needs related to housing and savings, the community associations together with the local government intervene and design tailored strategies. This joint partnership of both decision making poles can guarantee more democratic, empowered and inclusive modern society in South Africa.

Urban journalism and storytelling have the potential of bringing to light important findings of our societies, that affect our daily and future life. Pakhuis de Zwijger offers the opportunity to hear all these exciting stories through the Urban Stories Festival. The event “From data to storyline” which takes place on the 14th of March will host Emily Mohohlo. She will explain what inspired her to get involved in savings and data collection, and how they can establish social change and democracy by and for communities.

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