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A Mountain of Hope for township residents
by Robyn L
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

SOMOHO stand
Johannesburg, South Africa •• Sept. 2, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• During our visit to NASREC (which Mandy has written about), I visited an interesting stand that was representing SOMOHO, an initiative formewd by the citizerns of Soweto (a large township settlement in Johannesburg) - their story is presented here.

The deserted water tank on a large hill in the middle of Soweto has become a symbol for the "real" Summit. For years, this place was hounded by a bad reputation: it was seen as a dumping ground, a place were murders and abuse were common, and a hiding place for illegal arms. Today, however, young Sowetan entrepreneurs see this place as a different kind of representation of the World SUmmit; a Summit symbolic of the real issues which WSSD has converged to talk about (as so many of the issues - water, poverty, waste - are prevalent in this area), a place running parallel to the Sandton Convention Centre and yet so distant from it the connection seems intangible. The initiative to clean this area up and turn it into a presentable, safe place to engage in socialising and debate came from within the community itself, and SOMOHO: the Soweto Mountain of Hope was born.

The SOMOHO initiative primarily seeks to redefine old concepts - such as ownership and freedom - with a grassroots perspective. Most importantly, this organization believes that today's narrow-minded politicians and sterile imaginations have stunted the growth of new ideas and thus stunted Sustainable Development: "you cannot slove a problem with the same mindset that created it" - Einstein.
Whereas many see partnership as negotiations and agreements between governments and corporations, SOMOHO sees partnerships between peopole and their environment, communities and their resources.
This community takes the old definition of ownership - having authority over something that belongs to you - and asks: how can you buy or sell the sky, or the warmth of the land? And thus, how can anyone own it and own the right to destroy it? This is sustainability to these people, and, as one of them said. "sustainable development has been down here for a while."

In closing, to emphasize and illustrate the view that this community takes to life, one can discuss their view of freedom. In contrast to the general view of freedom - the ability to do what you want - SOMOHO sees freedom from the converse - the ability to give:
peace to nature
energy to the people
hope to Soweto and
Beauty to the Mountain.

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