The Surplus People Project (SPP) was established in the 1980′s to publicise and support communities in the struggles against apartheid state forced removals. This culminated in the publication of the seminal five volume SPP reports documenting some of these forced removals. SPP emerged from the radical liberal tradition in South Africa and in the post-apartheid era, SPP’s focus shifted to support community struggles for agrarian transformation, including food sovereignty, equitable land ownership and alternatives to dominant models of production.
As the political context in the country changed, SPP had to critically reflect on its role in this changing society. In 1994, with the dawn of a new democracy, SPP, played a role in influencing land reform policies with a pro-poor agenda. This was in line with government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) agenda and orientation.
In the early 2000s social justice movements emerged as the effect of government’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) economic policy began to be felt. SPP was an active affiliate of the National Land Committee (NLC) – a national network, instrumental in the development of South African land policy.
The NLC played a powerful role in the formation of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) that was part of the growth of new social justice movements that responded to the effects of neoliberalism.
These movements were in particular very vocal during the 2001 World Conference against Racism and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. SPP supported and facilitated the participation of community formations we worked with in these events. In 2003 SPP made strategic shifts towards movement building and agrarian reform. SPP prioritised social mobilisation and gender as key strategic thrusts in achieving this.
The period leading up to 2005 was characterised by supporting small-scale farmers and farm workers to access land and development resources their social mobilisation and advocacy efforts.
Our journey with agroecology and food sovereignty started in 2005 when farm workers identified the health effects of pesticides used on commercial farms. In partnership with the Department of Public Health at the University of Cape Town, we embarked on a study / research on the health effects of pesticides used on farms.
The strategy session to share the research findings led to requests by participant communities to explore alternatives to the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilisers which were used by many farmers and supported by government. Our research programme started exploring alternatives and hence agroecology became a key focus of our work. This led us to explore new questions of food sovereignty, the Green Revolution in Africa and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This shift impacted on the way SPP organised itself, on the way our administration and finance were organised and structured and we had to align to be true to a people-driven praxis.
SPP always had praxis of people driven development rooted in community struggle and mobilisation. The main focus was in urban communities to access land for housing denied to them by apartheid laws. Women played a central role in these mobilisations and informed SPP’s praxis.
SPP has a long history of working with communities in a protracted, contested struggle and complex road towards agrarian transformation and food sovereignty. In this process, SPP has contributed to the development of a critical mass of activists. The organisation supports and stands in solidarity with the right to agrarian reform through the FSC, a mostly rural based agrarian social movement.
SPP works in two provinces with a staff complement of 15 members. Our wide range of experiences, skills and competencies enable us to provide the support and activism required for agrarian transformation and broader social change. We have a national reach as part of the Tshintsha Amakhaya initiative, a collaboration between 10 civil society partners, movements and community formations aimed at addressing land and agrarian reform.