Jacob Moatshe

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow Since 1998
This description of Jacob Moatshe's work was prepared when Jacob Moatshe was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998 .


Jacob Moatshe (South Africa 1998) has created a series of civic institutions and related partnerships that began serving a population of thirty thousand and has expanded to cover 2.5 million inhabitants. Now Jacob is taking the next step, using the breadth and knowledge that these institutions and relationships afford to identify and promote the key policy initiatives for the entire region in the areas of health, education and housing.

The New Idea

Jacob's insight is that you can build civil society layer by layer, starting in disadvantaged townships, but that this process need not be long, painful and fractious. The key is making sure you have the right issue and the best people. The solution for the township in any case is not a clinic or a school. The solution is to re-think the system in which services are delivered down to the local community level. Whatever else is done at the local community level, without this simultaneous re-thinking of the way the system should work very little progress will be made. If the system does not work it is plagued by vestiges of apartheid, cronyism, corruption, inadequate training and lack of adequate resources. To make sure that communities do not totally despair while Jacob seeks broad system changes he does two things: he mobilizes local resources, squeezing as much as he can out of volunteers; and he looks for partnerships with universities, outside donors, para-statals, local and provincial government and corporate support. At the same time he starts to work on the larger picture, putting in place a framework for clinics and hospital access, for example, that will serve not just the township but surrounding areas as well. When he encounters obstacles at that level, for example government unwillingness to fund those clinics once they are established, he moves up to the next level, using the connections with partners and additional community organizations to free up resources from the provincial level. Jacob's insights have allowed him to leverage an initial injection of resources to turn around a township of thirty thousand to allow him to push new solutions at the regional level in health, education and housing. While he has moved quickly he has chosen his partners carefully at all levels, with a particular eye to avoiding party politicians and people whose ethical fiber might be questionable, regardless of their title in the community.

The Problem

The new South Africa did not usher in a millenium of spending and revitalization in areas such as health, education and housing. A country whose economy was torn apart by years of mismanagement had no surplus to spend, and the government had to follow strict financial policies to protect the value of its currency to avoid the potential for hyperinflation. Black townships encountered a new and very threatening set of problems: Not only were there no civil institutions to articulate the communities' needs, there was no readily available source of capital. In this environment many townships split badly, arguing among themselves over how to provide, and who would control, the provision of basic services. Jacob Moatshe navigated his community of Oukasie past these pitfalls. To keep his local association beyond the reach of political parties, Jacob moved quickly to set up a series of broad civic associations built around people who had fought and won the struggle against the removal of their township. In achieving this he succeeded where no other black township did when the new government was established. In particular, he invested heavily in a two-way relationship between the Young Christian Workers and two unions, the Metal and Allied Workers Union and the National Automobile and Allied Workers. With the threat of removal gone, he built on these relationships and created a development trust that served for a period as unofficial local government and then shifted to high priority projects, a broad-based civic association, and a peoples delegation. Casting his net more widely, he pushed beyond his community to set up the Greater Brits Investment Group to mobilize money and ideas for badly needed projects. While Jacob had kept party infighting from dominating civic associations he now faced a greater problem: the government that he had struggled to put into power was not moving quickly to change practices on the ground. For example, the local area hospital maintained a discriminatory admittance policy by hiding around bureaucratic maneuvers. This meant that people living in Oukasie had to travel more than seventy kilometers to Medunsa, a Ga-Rarkuawa hospital, which falls within the province of Gauteng.

The Strategy

The first step in Jacob's strategy is to put in place a loosely linked set of civic associations that embrace the constituencies of all the major groups in the surrounding area. In Oukasie that has meant an area of 2.5 million people, roughly ten times the population of his township. In doing so, Jacob strategically builds alliances where none existed before. When Jacob initiated the Oukasie Development Trust the Mayor, an opponent under the old regime and a member of the National Party, was invited to become a trustee. The second part of the strategy is to generate a steady stream of proposals and ideas that draw in more and more partners. For example, Universities who can offer expertise in teaching science and technology create and staff new curricula using student volunteers. This is supplemented with expertise from abroad wherever possible. A new draft plan for medical services to the Greater Brits area creates new clinic facilities and a new Board installed at the local hospital has ensured access to it by local black community. The third part of the strategy is to get new provincial allies to look creatively at the kinds of regional economic shifts that will bring greater prosperity to the entire area. The Greater Brits Investment Group will work together with the Platinum Corridor or the Spatial Development Initiative, which is part of the Maputo Corridor and the Kalahari Corridor. By working together on issues that benefit their constituencies and will bring economic growth, Jacob creates the willingness to look at the underlying social issues at the same time because trust has been established. In all of this, Jacob steers the initiatives and institutions clear of the divisive party driven politics that has split so many areas.

The Person

As a young man Jacob worked with the Young Christian Workers (YCW) in mobilizing leadership of automobile unions in his area. Jacob decided to move away from this focus, which was on the workers, and focus on the community itself. He initiated one civic association, a local action committee, in 1985 and saw the government take it over and use it in a divisive manner. In 1986 a firebomb destroyed the home of Jacob's parents. In the same year another bomb destroyed the home of a close friend, David Modimoeng and resulted in the death of David's wife. In 1988 Jacob was detained for six months. Jacob bore this ordeal with determination and dignity and the community turned to him for advice and leadership when the new government was installed. Jacob, who had thought deeply about how to create post-apartheid civil society, moved quickly to reach out to supposed enemies, setting a personal tone free of bitterness or partisan rancor that is reflected in the behavior of the civic institutions that have grown from his initiative. Two people were influential in shaping his life and thinking as a social activist. The first was his father who supported and encouraged him through the long battles to prevent Oukasie from being relocated. The other was a French priest, Fr Jean-Marie Dumotier, the chaplain to the YCW whose commitment to social justice, and his discipline in analyzing a situation, taking strategic action and then reflecting on it honed Jacob's political and strategic skills. Skills that are a second skin to Jacob as he embarks on different political struggles in the new South Africa.