FunDza believes in the power of story in engaging readers with issues that affect them and their communities. It also believes that knowledge is power. The combination of fictional stories with informative resource material that unpacks the issues in the stories is a formula that really works and which FunDza has used successfully in its first Constitutional Rights project and the follow up version – Bridging Divides project – that explored community divides, information divides and gender divides.

Through relating to, and empathising with the story characters, readers engage more deeply with issues. From the comments of readers, we can see how the stories can help to challenge attitudes and beliefs, and help readers to become more active and informed citizens.

Freedom House is an international non-profit organisation that supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights globally.

Its Southern African office has been working in a variety of communities on civic engagement. Through this they identified the power of stories to illustrate democracy in action, and how individuals can stand up for their rights and take control of their communities and lives.

And, this is how the collaborative project – The People of Phendula Park – came about. Freedom House funded this set of three stories with accompanying ‘Talking Points’ that was published on the site as well as in print book format.

The project began with an idea of a park that would be at the centre of a fictional township and which had held the promise of bringing the community together and being a lively centre. Instead, the park had become a wasteland and hangout for gangsters. ‘Phendula’ is the isiXhosa and isiZulu word for ‘answer’ and the community of Phendula Park needed answers to questions like these:

What do you do when girls are not safe, when your community is being fed false promises, and when people start blaming newcomers for all their problems?

Each of the three episodes of The People of Phendula Park explores the very real and relevant community issues of gender-based violence in A Predator Among Us, local government and service delivery in A Thief Among Us, and prejudice against ‘outsiders’ in A Newcomer Among Us.

The story follows the challenges of families living in Phendula Park: A community where the councillor is corrupt and has made false promises, where a young woman is raped and where ‘outsiders’ are shunned.

But it is also a place where there are champions who take action to uplift the community and bring about change. It’s the story of people like Mma Radebe who together with Tebogo expose the corrupt councillor, Mr Khumalo, and Ayanda and Lerato who expose a teacher for sexual assault. And then there is Musa who is from Limpopo who finds a champion in Lerato and stands up to the bullies who try to shun him. There is a blossoming romance too…

The feedback from the stories and ‘Talking Points’ has been overwhelming so far, and more than 4000 readers have entered the People of Phendula Park competition. This is clear by their comments:

It’s a good story and I learned the lot. The story open my eyes and now I know that I am the one who will bring change in my community.

The story can change the way we live if we can follow

What an interesting story,it’s inspires me and teaches me about our human rights, I like the role mam Radebe is playing,and also the bravenes of Tebogo.thanks to the author Zimkhitha

Your a best writer Zimkhitha, story about what is really happening in our country.. God protect our sisters and mothers out there

Yes they [the ‘Talking Points’] were very useful because it inform us why other victims of rape don’t speak up, what to do if someone finds himself/herself in a situation like this and how we can give support to the victims.

To find out more about the project, come to the virtual book launch on Friday 30 October on Facebook Live or #datafree on Veedo from 1-2pm.

At the launch, you’ll meet the people behind the project – writer Zimkhitha Mlanzeli, researcher and Talking Points writer Judy Norton, creative director Ros Haden, Freedom House partner Mpangi Kwenge, FunDza executive director Mignon Hardie in conversation with Simamkele Dlakavu – as well as readers providing feedback on the story.

Or, visit the site to read the stories and enter the People of Phendula Park course competition here. Cash prizes are up for grabs!