At our very first meeting with King George Mohlala and Patrick Ledikwa, two community leaders of Bokfontein, a small and poverty-stricken informal settlement near Brits in North West Province, they told us that theirs had been a community traumatised by the violence of evictions. ‘Eviction robs you of your dignity, respect and self-esteem,’ said Mohlala. ‘It robs you of your history. Your children do not know where you come from. You feel shame in front of other communities.’ They then went on to talk about how the Community Work Programme (CWP) and a community-building programme called the Organisation Workshop (OW) have helped them overcome this trauma: ‘It brought back our humanity, we understood we were part of South Africa. It built us so that we can stand on our own without waiting for help from elsewhere.’
We chose Bokfontein as a site in our research into collective violence in South Africa after hearing that the leadership in this community had prevented a threatened outbreak of xenophobic violence in 2008, at a time when violent attacks on foreign nationals were taking place in many similar communities. At the time, we were told that the state-sponsored CWP had played a part in strengthening the community to resist the apostles of xenophobic pogroms. Bokfontein sounded like the ideal research site in which to investigate the factors of resilience in a community which may reduce or prevent violence.
In this chapter, we describe the origins of Bokfontein and the impact of trauma due to the forced removals, which generated an ongoing cycle of intra-community violence. We then describe the implementation of OW and CWP and how this has helped to transform the community. We go on to discuss community responses to collective trauma and intra-community violence, to the threat of xenophobic violence, and to the multiple local government service delivery failures which, in other communities, have led to community protests. We conclude with an argument that the CWP – which incorporates OW as one of the community development approaches used in the inception stage of new sites – is able to respond to collective histories of traumatic violence as well as to socioeconomic challenges of poverty and joblessness.