Learning to be ‘Out of Order’: a life history of the Church land programme and the theoretical development of its praxis.
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This thesis is driven by the view that we urgently need a more truly emancipatory African politics, beyond the politics of the state or the hegemonic politics of the powerful; and the potential role of ‘civil society’ in this needs to be explored. Using a Gramscian frame, the study focuses on the life history of the Church Land Programme (CLP), an NGO based in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. This organisation claims to have radically shifted its praxis from that of a conventional NGO to one which has adopted an emancipatory politics. In a document reflecting on why and how it underwent this shift, the CLP made specific reference to the thinking of Paulo Freire, and post-shift, it has made frequent reference to Frantz Fanon. This study seeks to understand why and how the organisation shifted its practice and how this relates to the work of these two emancipatory thinkers. It finally considers the implications of this for emancipatory politics in the current South African context. The study seeks to make three contributions. Firstly, it redresses the scarcity of work on the relationship between Fanon and Freire, despite the considerable recent interest in their individual thought and writings. Secondly, the study adopts a life history approach that is normally used to narrate and understand individual stories, to tell, and to understand, the story of an organisation. Thirdly, as the study confirms, CLP is a deeply reflective and self-critical organisation; however, it has not yet been subjected to outside scrutiny and the study thus provides an outsider’s view of the organisation and its shift. The findings reveal that for CLP emancipatory politics is a lived reality. CLP thought its emancipatory praxis into being through deep reflection on how it acts in the world, often with others. Rather than directly influencing CLP, Fanon and Freire (and others) resonate with this emancipatory thinking, and act as a resource. The study concludes that whilst civil society is a realm within which hegemony is created, as Gramsci argued, because emancipatory politics is of the order the order of thought, civil society organisations can act in emancipatory ways.