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Participatory community learning for community empowerment : a case study in Maputaland.

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Studies of adult learning in Africa, where they exist, often draw uncritically on Western theoretical and methodological frameworks such as andragogy, experiential learning and transformative learning. These are informed by individualistic conceptions of learners and learning, shaped by industrial and post-industrial political economy, liberal democratic politics and consumerist culture. Such theories and frameworks are then imposed on African ‘territories’ of learning, much like a colonial template for carving up the continent, for and under Western eyes. This research project challenges the appropriateness of these theories and frameworks. Informed by the wisdom of the isiZulu saying, yakhela ngamaqubu enye (birds build their nests from other birds’ feathers), this PHD thesis by publication drew from existing theories and frameworks in defining adult learning in the continent. The research site, Ebunzimeni village (not the real name), is located in Maputaland, KwaZulu- Natal (KZN). The village is geographically at the margins at all levels: nationally, provincially as well as at traditional level and consequently it is ravaged by poverty, disease, unemployment, illiteracy and underdevelopment. The research project adopted Afrocentrism as a theoretical framework, which guided and informed the study. Afrocentrism argues that Africans have for a long time come to understand themselves through a borrowed lens. This approach is fine if Africans can at the same time use their own lens to look at themselves. Afrocentric research is a collective and collaborative humanising project; it is a contextually sensitive and culturally informed inquiry. An Afrocentric Participatory Research design was adopted, using participatory learning action and photo voice as data collection techniques. This process took place over a period of six months. The community-negotiated purpose of this project was to understand the kinds of community learning that take place in this community and to investigate whether, how and to what extent these learnings assist or influence authentic community empowerment and development. This was necessitated by years of conservation encroachment on their ancestral land. Most recently, their land was proclaimed as a community conservation area, resulting in forced removals and major implications for their livelihoods. Data collection and community-based data analysis came to be called triangulation through progressive expansion of photo discussions. The second level data analysis adopted an inductive approach, informed by categorisation and thematization. The study found learning to be complex, embedded in informal and non-formal learning places, such as participation in traditional cultural ceremonies, home activities and community projects. Learning is an embodied, embedded, co-emergent and spiritual process of meaning making. It is a process of becoming umuntu (human person), and identifying with shared ubuntu values means that one belongs to the community through the practice of these shared values. These values are upheld through participation in village life. Participation in the village is participation in the process of learning, which is often cyclical and therefore often repetitive in nature; it is a lifelong, life-wide and life-deep activity for the collective or individual. It is a continuous movement from socialisation (incidental learning), self-directed learning, and back to socialisation. It is characterised by a shift from unconscious to conscious learning, unintended to intended, lack of intentionality to intentionality. It is a continuous process of role interchange with implications for learning through participation. It is embedded in the social context and belief systems. It is place-based learning based on people’s full participation in the activities in the village. These learning processes, values and knowledge are under major threat from within and outside of the villages. There is a desperate need to recognise these threats and to consciously intervene in the protection and revival of these knowledge systems. This is a call to action to African scholars.


Doctor of Philosophy in Education. University KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2017.


Theses - Education, Development, Leadership and Management.