CALUSA (Cala University Students Association) was formed in 1983 by young activists who had been imprisoned in 1976 and release towards the end of 1981 for establishing study groups whose methodology was  collective reading and discussion of ‘the great texts’. A key text that was read and discussed was the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Frederick Engles. These texts were read, analysed and explained very carefully.

An example is the opening statement of the Communist Manifesto: “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism”. Typical questions that would be raised in a bid to understand this statement included: and thus began the study circle in 1969 in the small town of Cala, Eastern Cape. What does ‘spectre’ mean? And haunting? What are the implications of ‘haunting’? Why is the spectre of communism haunting Europe? What is the context of this? Why is the text using figurative speech? Word by word the statement would be explored and the meaning extracted and constructed.

The study group that involved the founders of CALUSA began in 1969 when the founders were in their mid-teens. They were carefully taken through this process by the late advocate Sobantu Mlozi. This study group grew and linked up with others in South Africa, ending up being central in the establishment of the People’s United Front for the Liberation of South Africa (PUFLSA) in December 1975. Sadly, the movement was crippled six months later when its leading members, including the founding members of CALUSA were detained and served terms of imprisonment.

PUFLSA was in many ways an example of one tradition of popular education.

In the period between 1983 and 2000, CALUSA followed and adapted the tradition of popular education of PUFLSA. Specifically, CALUSA worked closely with organisations that were exploring alternatives to especially Bantu Education and its paralyzing effects on the minds of young blacks in South Africa. With the advent of democracy in 1994, and promises that the new democratic government would fundamentally transform education, CALUSA turned its gaze on developmental issues affecting the poor particularly in the rural areas of the former bantustans. The main focus was on land, agriculture and governance.

With the current mess in education and in a bid to link education with development, CALUSA, true to its roots and commitment to developing alternatives to the dominant neo-liberal capitalist system, is now putting popular education, closely integrated with development issues, high on its agenda. For CALUSA political education is central in equipping people the organisation works with with ideas that would be used to think about a different society.

Vision and Mission

The mission of CALUSA is to contribute towards building an alternative countryside whose residents will exercise their agency in defining their place and role in broader South African urban dominated community and the globe; a countryside where the needs and interests of the poor take priority over market forces. In this regard, the organisation is consolidating links with the youth and establishing a youth commune that is informed by the philosophy of in education with production.

Target Participants

CALUSA works with rural communities in the Eastern Cape, such as in the Sakhisizwe, Emalahleni and Engcobo local municipalities.

The NGO also partners with academic institutions such as UCT; other rural NGOs such as TCOE and with international rural networks in Brazil and Cuba.

Focus Areas

CALUSA undertakes a number of programmes that seek to improve the livelihoods of the rural poor and build an alternative model of living and working together.

Engaging local government 

The lack of democracy in rural South Africa is one of the areas that concerns CALUSA, e.g. unelected traditional leaders often dominate rural governance. CALUSA works with communities to challenge undemocratic governance and support the communities in developing alternative governance models.

CALUSA also assists communities in reading, understanding, and analyzing local government policies and laws so that communities can decide what is right and wrong for them.

Agricultural programme

CALUSA assists small-scale farmers and communities in accessing land, developing sustainable livelihoods, and developing alternative methods of farming e.g. natural farming or permaculture. This programme is part of a broader vision of land reform and utilization of land for people’s needs rather than for the market. It is also part of a process of restoring the value and importance of agricultural work.

Movement building

CALUSA places importance on movement building, for example through leadership building amongst community organisations. CALUSA’s leadership school focuses on developing political, economic and social analyses of the country; as well as developing confidence and articulation skills.


CALUSA is aware of its limitations as an NGO without a membership base and thus focuses on assisting communities in building their own movements for their own interests. This is done by developing the capacities and potentialities of community organisations and movements. This includes developing and deepening critical analyses, understandings of policies and laws and confidence as well as assisting with access to land and resources.

Tools and Processes

CALUSA utilises a number of educational tools such as:

  • Community workshops, e.g. on the status of traditional leaders, land reform, etc.
  • Participatory research e.g. on the role played by traditional leaders in service delivery, rural development and land administration in the Eastern Cape.
  • Leadership schools
  • Campaigning e.g. food sovereignty, democratisation of rural governance
  • Learning exchange visits


View of Popular Education

The daily lived realities of rural people are the starting point for/of education. The focus of education is on praxis: education for/with production. Hence, it is clearly action-oriented and context specific. However, our current state education is not systematic; there is a need for a comprehensive coherent syllabus that is clearly contextualised.