Surplus People Project (SPP)

The Surplus People Project (SPP) was established in the 1980′s to publicise and support communities in the struggles against apartheid state forced removals. SPP emerged from the radical liberal tradition in South Africa. Post-apartheid, SPP’s focus shifted to support community struggles for agrarian transformation, including food sovereignty, equitable land ownership and alternatives to dominant forms of production.

SPP believes in social justice and equal rights for all.

SPP aims to be instrumental in transforming the rural countryside by building and supporting social movements in their struggles for food sovereignty and agrarian transformation. This involves the implementation of agro-ecological practices and alternatives to dominant forms of production.

The main purpose of SPP’s popular education programme is to promote the emancipation of the oppressed, to catalyse social action and to expose the rural poor to alternative and critical ways of thinking about issues affecting society. This should lead to developing articulate, confident and principled rural activists.

Target Participants
SPP mainly works in the Western Cape and Northern Cape with farm worker forums, land committees, small-scale farmers, youth and rural women.

Focus areas
SPP has the following focus areas:
Agrarian transformation: Secure access and tenure, ownership and control over productive land, water and natural resources for land based agrarian livelihoods. This transformation is political, economic and social resulting in environmentally sustainable practices.
Agro-ecological production for food sovereignty: Ensure that communities have control over their food systems through local agro-ecological production, consumption of healthy food and local marketing and distribution.
Social movements and mobilization: build and support an autonomous social movement for food sovereignty (Food Sovereignty Campaign) for an alternative pro poor policy regarding land and natural resources.
Organisational sustainability

SPP’s popular education is part of its programme of building social movements. Initially, the programme started with small-scale farmers, looking at problems and causes (including the international trade regime and political economy) and then the programme broadened out to look at topics necessary to build the power of the rural poor.
Popular education themes covered include amongst others:

  • Land and agrarian reform,
  • Food sovereignty and globalisation,
  • Land agriculture and agro-processing,
  • Basic economic literacy,
  • The right to water,
  • Forms of resistance,
  • Environmental justice,
  • Globalisation and the agricultural sector,
  • National and international experiences of current land and agrarian reform struggles.

SPP developed its popular education programme in 2006 in response to the needs of communities. This was part of SPP’s shift away from policy development to building rural poor’s struggle to address inequality and exploitation.

SPP believes that the choices, strategies and approaches of struggle must be determined by people themselves. Therefore, SPP attempts an integrated approach of democratic and participatory practices in the process and focus of the education work. The approach is one of facilitating self-organisation, strengthening potentialities and capabilities, building local struggles and raising critical awareness.  
The starting point of popular education are the common problems and experiences of rural communities and farm workers. This follows the principle of starting from where people are at and what matters to them. From there is a process of developing analysis of causes of problems and developing concrete action to build a movement to contest hegemonic power. In this way, popular education is an essential part of movement building.

In its approach, SPP draws on the trade union movement, which solidified the tradition of popular education in South Africa in the 1980s. SPP also draws on the Freirian tradition and Training for Transformation.

Tools and Processes
Popular education workshops often follow the cycle of:
1. Identify problems (e.g. unemployment) from collective experience;

a. How widespread is problem?
b. How life threatening/serious is problem?
c. Develop more precise understanding of problem

2. Identify biggest problem
3. Identify and analyse causes of problem;
4. Formulate possible actions to deal with problem;
5. Decide on action;
6. Reflect on action and reformulate in light of reflection.

Examples include:

  • Mass meetings;
  • Speak outs in rural towns;
  • Speak outs in informal settlements;
  • Developing codes and role plays (drawing on Training for Transformation);
  • Films showing interviews on various topics that stimulate dialogue in workshops as an interactive way of sharing knowledge;
  • Community action;
  • Horizontal learning exchanges between rural organisations and movements;
  • Workshops;
  • Seminars and public forums;
  • Participatory research.

Understanding of Popular Education
SPP understands popular education to be integrally linked to mobilization and mass action. It is another method of organizing and mobilising with an intention to build movements and struggle and this is what distinguishes popular education from other forms of education. Thus there is a very blurred line between popular education and mobilization.

Popular education is understood as more than just a method. If it is reduced to a method it can be co-opted by liberalism, which values diversity, equality of opinions, and focuses on inter-relations removed from class struggle.

One example of Popular Education Practice is as follows: The Citrusdal Farmworkers Forum invited SPP to assist with research and popular education after they had already started with a process of mobilization a few years back. This intervention is spoken of by workers as assisting in building understanding and confidence for the wildcat farm workers strike that occurred at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. SPP, with the Forum, developed a participatory process of ‘Researching fear as an obstacle to movement building’. Workshops were held with farm workers to work out a research brief. Follow-up workshops were held to develop research questions; to train workers as field workers; and then to workshop research findings and actions in response to findings.

Type of organisation: 
Land & Housing