Mamelani Projects


Mamelani believes in developing communities by developing people. Mamelani derives its name from the isiXhosa word “masimamelane” which means “we must listen”. It is only through listening to the real needs of a community that positive and lasting change can happen. Mamelani began in 2003 and has grown into a well-established community development organisation.


Mamelani aspires to work towards a healthy, fair and equal society where people are able to reach their full potential. Mamelani aims to create positive transformation in communities where there is a gap in support services, support systems and information. Programmes focus on shifts that enable people to take action to improve their lives by building on already existing knowledge and strengths.

Target Participants

Marginalised communities in the Cape Town area.

Focus areas

Mamelani focuses on two areas:

  • Community Health: Sharing essential health information with people so they can take action to improve their health and the health of those around them.
  • Youth Development: Supporting young people in successfully transitioning out of state care at 18 years of age.


When Mamelani first started, it adopted a didactic approach of imparting knowledge and skills to poor people, with little reflection on method and process in relation to its aims. This carried an implicit deficit view of poor people as ‘lacking’ (in education/skills/knowledge). The education intervention was thus geared towards filling the perceived ‘gap’, from the outside, by the experts.

A few years into the running of the organisation, facilitators, assisted by feedback from participants, began to reflect more on their educational practice. The didactic approach of the organisation changed to one of creating a collaborative learning space, which recognizes that:

“People bring their own knowledge, stories and experiences to the learning space, which should be respected, affirmed and built upon.”

Respect is understood as integral to furthering the aims of education and the vision of a fair, equal, healthy society. As a result, the curricula are flexible and often developed in response to expressed needs of participants. Participants are encouraged to go out and do their own research on topics and to ask questions of each other.

Mamelani believes in walking alongside people in a way that they feel valued, listened to and respected. They work in a way that encourages participation and allows for self-determination.

Traditions and philosophies that have influenced the educational work of Mamelani, include Freire, Kolb’s experiential cycle of learning and the work of CDRA. More recently Mamelani has also participated in workshops facilitated by popular educators.

Tools and processes

Mamelani employs a diverse range of methods including inputs on particular topics, group work, group discussions, construction of experiences to build life skills, ‘why- tree’, games and the Talking Stick Method in which each participant has an equal chance to express her or his ideas and feelings in order to foster deeper communication and co-operative learning.

An example of a Mamelani Programme:


Mamelani runs community health workshops that offer essential health information so that participants are able to make informed decisions that enable them to prevent and manage particular illnesses. The topics covered in the workshops include:

  • Understanding how the body and the immune system works
  • Understanding prevention, symptoms and treatment for common illnesses (HIV/AIDS, TB, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Arthritis and Cancer)
  • Understanding how different illnesses affect the body
  • Low-cost ways of maintaining a healthy body
  • Information regarding access and adherence to treatment regimens and the correct use of prescribed medication
  • Healthy eating and healthy lifestyle

The workshops are taught in isiXhosa and are facilitated once a week over eight weeks. Workshops are run 3 times a week from community-based settings.

The Community Champions Programme identifies and supports local women who are taking action in their community to improve the health of those around them. Each woman is supported in building her vision and is equipped through a 1-year mentoring programme to have the skills and resources to make a positive contribution where it is most needed.


The purpose of Mamelani’s Community-Based Health Education Program is to ensure that community members have access to essential health information so that they are informed and equipped to take action with regard to health challenges they face. Mamelani believes that every human being has the right and responsibility to have a basic understanding of how their body works and what steps can be taken to stay healthy. This information should not be limited to certain groups, but should be accessible to all people.


The majority of workshops are attended by unemployed women from HIV and TB support groups. Workshops are also offered to home-based carers and community action groups and church groups.


Mamelani aims to provide accurate and relevant information through the workshops. A safe space is created where participants are encouraged to continually return with questions and openly share their knowledge and experiences. The structure and nature of facilitation is critical in building trust with people. Mamelani facilitators do not keep a distance as authoritative experts, but encourage everyone to participate equally in the learning process.

One participant expressed her level of comfort in the workshop in the following way: "You always feel free to ask anything when you attend the workshop, about your health and even about the fears you have and about the community." This climate of respect is necessary in order for participants to feel comfortable to discuss sensitive personal and health related issues.

Mamelani returns to the groups after 3 months for follow ups. The purpose of the follow up process is not only to refresh information and to add new information according to the group’s needs, but to also offer personal development and capacity building opportunities for group members.

Inputs have been developed that assist groups in exploring the issues they are faced with, including family and community issues such as unemployment and substance abuse. Activities are also included that build a stronger sense of self, which is often the starting point for enabling participants to take the first steps in tackling these difficult situations.

Understanding of Popular Education

Mamelani understands popular education to be about creating a space for people which values what people bring, where everyone feels free and safe.

  • Popular education encourages self-discovery, exploration and personal risk and growth. It can be an awakening/catalyzing moment for participants.
  • Popular education is a collaborative learning space, which allows for an exchange of learning. It is not forced learning or spoon-fed learning.
  • People’s daily lived experiences are understood as key learning materials that enables people to identify their own needs.
  • The purpose of popular education is (i) People’s own experiences and knowledge are seen and acknowledged; (ii) Greater agency and understanding of one’s context is developed.
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