Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

Community Media Trust

How community media can improve lives: a case study of GroundUp and the streetlights of Khayelitsha

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Activate! Leadership & Public Innovation | 27 August, 2014 - 17:03



GroundUp reports on social justice issues in vulnerable communities. We believe that by bringing stories of injustice to public knowledge, communities are more likely to mobilise to address them and improve their lives. In this learning brief we describe one case study of how community media was used to make life a little safer for the residents of Khayelitsha.

Using Community Media

For many years in Khayelitsha, the streetlights along one of the main arteries through the township, Lansdowne Road, were broken. In mid-2012, one of the GroundUp intern reporters, Nokubonga Yawa, who lived near the road, complained that it was dangerous in the dark for pedestrians. The dark street posed a threat to pedestrians because of traffic and the risk of criminal assaults. Yawa published GroundUp's first article on the perilous state of township streetlights in June 2012.

She wrote:

“I walked with a group of farm and domestic workers who leave their houses between 4:30 and 6am, rushing for trucks and buses to work. Thandi works in Rondebosch, leaving the house very early in the morning, and returning at night. When I leave the house, it’s still dark. The big lights in my community on the Lansdowne Road do not work. I have to ask someone from the family to accompany me to the bus stop. It is not safe. People get robbed and we as women are at risk of being raped.”

This was a very powerful article and had a positive impact in the community. It gained immediate traction in Khayelitsha and residents began discussing the issue more publically. Social movement organisations like the TAC, Equal Education, and the Social Justice Coalition picked up the story and began lobbying for reform and better service delivery. Activists used social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to put pressure on the City to fix the problem. City officials first responded by blaming vandalism for the problem. A very public debate ensued over the responsibilities of the City and residents.

Young Yawa followed up with more stories on the topic, and Equal Education leaders also published an article providing statistics on the state of the Khayelitsha's streetlights. Throughout the remainder of 2012, the township's streetlights remained a key focus of GroundUp's reporting.

Then in January 2013, activist groups in Khayelitsha called for a march down Lansdowne Road at dusk to highlight the broken lights. This drew the attention of Mayor De Lille who eventually got the City to fix the Lansdowne Road lights and additional streetlights in the nearby Mew Way road.

Streetlights are not a trivial issue; they provide a measure of community safety and promote civic life. Before the lights were fixed in January, the township was dark at night. Now it is lit up. Whether the working streetlights will reduce crime and traffic accidents is hard to know, but at minimum when services work, it makes a township a nicer place to live and gives people dignity.

GroundUp has written follow-up stories and monitored the state of the lights. By the end of 2013, there were minor signs of attrition, but most lights continued to work and new streetlights are being installed. This case story shows that a community media organisation whose emphasis is on reporting social justice news can galvanise social movements and improve people's lives.

The Khayelitsha streetlights story can likely be replicated. It had the following characteristics:

  • A media organisation willing to give primary space to a story that is of immense interest to working-class people.
  • A media organisation staffed with people living in vulnerable communities who are given the opportunity to write about what is happening where they live.
  • Organisations – active in the vulnerable area that is the subject of the story – that have the capacity and willingness to mobilise in response to reports of injustice.
  • Government officials who are sensitive to public opinion and prepared to take action to improve service delivery in response to criticism.
  • Follow-up: Once improvements are made to living conditions, there is no guarantee they will be sustained. It is important to check regularly that the lights continue to work and, moreover, that the lighting situation actually improves (e.g. is the City installing new lights?)


The streetlight story provides a useful learning experience for many similar issues that need to be taken up: broken and potholed roads and pavements in townships, inadequate sanitation, water and electricity delivery and neglectful policing. It is this last issue that GroundUp focuses on in 2014 by reporting extensively on the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha and stories relevant to the commission. The hope is that GroundUp's coverage will be part of a set of civil society activities that lead to effective improvements in policing.

The scaling up of GroundUp or similar media organisations across the country can increase the probability of stories like those of the Khayelitsha streetlights being replicated.

Community Media Trust

Suite 06EB, East Block, Tannery Park23A Belmont RoadCape TownRondeboschWestern CapeSouth Africa

 021 788 9163

In Short

This learning brief describes a case study of how a GroundUp community report was used to make life a little safer for the residents of Khayelitsha. It is an example of how community media can effectively, and non-violently mobilise collective action to improve service delivery.

 Search for lessons learned:

Leave blank for all. Otherwise, the first selected term will be the default instead of "Any".
Leave blank for all. Otherwise, the first selected term will be the default instead of "Any".