SOUTH AFRICA - AFIT Educator Profile "Denile Samuel: Using Workers' Forum Theatre"

Theatre is a form of knowledge it can be used to transform society. It can help us build our future” Augusto Boal.

What is the aim of the Association for Fairness in Trade (AFIT)?

To train and educate workers and small farmers to become self-reliant with regards to daily issues faced. To challenge the power imbalances in the workplace.

What is your role at AFIT?

I am the coordinator so I facilitate meetings of small-farmers and farm-workers, do basic research and date collection, and write reports. I liaise with partner organisations, and write and circulate the AFIT newsletter. I do the administration and maintain the membership database.  I organise, prepare and facilitate educational workshops, and campaign training sessions.

Can you tell us about the workers’ forum theatre workshops?

The first half of the workshop we discuss farmworkers’ experiences, we talk about the role that power plays in workplace challenges. In the afternoon we consolidate what we have learnt in the morning session and start to build the workers’ forum theatre.

On the stage created, a scene relating to bullying on a farm, is shown twice. During the replay, the audience shouts ‘Stop!’ and one steps forward to take the place of one of the worker characters, to show how they could change the situation to enable a different outcome. The actors remain in character, improvising their responses whilst the facilitator enables communication between the players and the audience.

This approach enables participants to try out courses of action applicable to their everyday lives.  We receive amazing responses from both participants and facilitators.

Who do you work with in the forum theatre workshops?

We work with professional actors and a legal consultant make sure that we have the correct information on the relevant legislation for farmworkers.

As an education methodology, what value do the forum theatre workshops bring to the learning process?

It deepens the learning of participants because in the morning session they get the information and knowledge by listening and participating, whilst in the afternoon the same learnings are acted out. They get an opportunity to correct the information by taking over the role of an actor. The facilitator asks pertinent questions around the scenes allowing workers to analyse what is happening, and think about the response.

What is the experience like for workers when doing forum theatre?

Evaluations indicate that workers felt they learned more about discrimination and disciplinary hearings and the overall response from workers was positive. Workers all liked the forum theatre and rated the these key learning areas the highest: the importance of working together, learning more about rights, understanding better the role of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) a dispute resolution body.

What impact do you see that the forum theatre has on workers in the long term? Hopefully, that workers are able to challenge the status quo and access relevant dispute resolution mechanisms.

What have been the challenges in workers’ forum theatre workshops?

We struggled to get maximum participation because Saturdays are the only days when workers are able to do their personal errands and attend to family matters. However we did get request to have extra forum theatres after workers who attended spoke to their co-workers about the value of the forum theatres.

What is powerful and exciting about the workers’ forum theatre, and the learning process for workers?

The involvement of workers playing a role as an actor. They feel very proud to correct the scenes. The way the methodology allows workers to deepen their understanding of the knowledge that they received. The CCMA wants the forum theatre to be taken to corporates, as it is such an interesting way of educating, unlike a normal workshop which might become boring.

What message do you have for worker educators?

As activists and educators we should always support worker development in participatory ways, allowing workers to own and dictate their development based on their needs and not those of us, or our funders.