Working with the urban poor – organizations between formality and informality – Part I

P1060562by Sylvana Jahre und Trusha Mitha

This case study focuses on organizations in the inner city of Johannesburg working with disadvantages communities, especially migrants and urban poor. In the frame of community power theories, it is believed that those organizations are able to provide a platform to give voice and power to marginalized groups of people. Therefore formal and informal networks of these organizations and the dependence or independence from government and government funding become crucial variables for the analysis.

In Johannesburg there is not only a statistical division between migrants coming from rural areas in South Africa (internal migrants) and people from other countries (cross-border migrants) – they also live in totally different areas within the city. Cross-border migrants often find a shelter in the veiled morass of strangers and hijacked buildings of the inner city of Johannesburg, whereas internal migrants are more likely to live in townships in the suburbs. People from outside South Africa are more visible and less likely to speak Southern African languages and they often lack existing social networks, therefore the inner city, although seemingly hostile, provides a safe place for them (Peberdy, Crush, Msibi 2004: 31). Especially after the xenophobic riots in 2008 the inner city areas became even more important as a “hiding place”.


Organization I


The African Diaspora Forum (ADF)was founded in reaction to the xenophobic attacks in 2008.

ADFTheir main aim therefore is to build bridges between South African residents and migrants, bringing them together through various dialogues and a great number of campaigns. The project we talked about more intensively and through which we analyzed the structure of the organization is the event taking place around Africa Day, every 25th of May called “Africa Week”. During the week before 25th of May they run many activities including film screenings, discussions with film makers, school sports activities, movie screenings and many more. During the final day the streets are closed off for a huge street festival. Neighbors and people from all over Johannesburg celebrate in their cultural dresses, various live performances and active drama takes place and on a number of stages different music acts have the possibility to perform. In order to perform the festival, a lot of funding is required, since the total costs account for R2.000.000, which is distributed from them many different stakeholders and funders including the City of Johannesburg, the Foundation for Human Right, and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.



Organization II

As part of the Johannesburg Integrated Development Plan (launched in 2004), the Department of Social Development directorate was initiated addressing communities in order to provide help for migrants. As a response to that the Johannesburg Migrant Help Desk was launched. The main objective is to provide information about service delivery such as housing, education and healthcare for migrants and refugees (but not to provide the services). The helpdesk collaborates with NGO’s and runs programs in collaboration.

COJ Migrant HelpdeskThe main activities involve orientation programs for “new arrivals”, interaction and networking with embassies, the IOM and other political and governmental institutions.


Organization III

The NGO Christians for Peace in Africa is connecting the fields of religion and migration issues in Johannesburg.

christians for peaceThe interview was conducted with Pastor Thomas-Rene Kitutu Z’ikossi the founder, president and CEO of the organisation. He calls himself a business man and knows how to make contacts and build networks, which was underlined by his massive collection of business cards and photos of him together with important people. In two sentences he briefly talked about the organisation helping children and breaking barriers, and about his position as a chairperson of the Johannesburg Migration Advisiory Panel (JMAP). The biggest activity is the planning and implementation of an International Conference for Christians for Peace in Africa.

As always, during the interview we collected main players, but in this case it did not work out to communicate that he was supposed to arrange them around his NGO or around his projects.


Organisation IV

The organization is located in the area of Constitution Hill in the Women’s Jail in Braamfontain. Together with the private legal profession they provide pro bono services to the poor and marginalized in basically every legal related matter e.g. housing, divorce, domestic violence, labor, refugees and many more.

pro bono- orgThe organization started to run their pro bono legal services in 2006 with 30 attorneys, and until today the number has exponentially multiplied up to over 2000. itself is financially supported by donations from organizations, but they raise funds as well. The refugee clinics aim to provide legal support in any matters related to the legal situation of refugees in South Africa, like the renewal of asylum application, application for permanent residence, registration of kids in schools, medical assistance, or the provision of help for refugees to bring their family members to South Africa. This clinic only deals with refugee matters, not with legal problems regarding immigration

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