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What is in a name?



Well quite a lot, actually.  We are often asked about our name, Phelamanga; where it come from and what it means.  Well here is the true story.

When we founded our business in 1996 our whole family was involved.  At the time we were feeling very insecure and apprehensive about our new venture.  Rod had resigned from his job and we were stepping out in faith.  One of the first orders of business was to decide on a name.  We wanted a name that expressed our commitment to participating in the development of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa. 


So when it came to choosing a name for our new business the words of Scatterlings, off the first album (1982, and on vinyl) by Juluka, the South African band led by Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu came to mind:


They are the scatterlings of Africa

Each uprooted one

On the road to Phelamanga

Beneath the copper sun


This seemed to sum up both our unsettled state and our longing for better things and better ways of living. We unanimously agreed that PHELAMANGA was the name we wanted.  But we were still unsure of where this place “Phelamanga” was.  We asked Zulu-speakers, who told us that they had never heard of it and in fact they didn’t think it was even a word.  The closest we could get was a literal translation – “no more lies”, or more poetically, “the beginning of truth”.  Unconcerned at the lack of a precise meaning, we barrelled ahead. In fact, we rather like the idea that a business specialising in public participation had “no more lies” as its name.

A couple of years later Rod was in Johannesburg for a meeting and needing a coffee he stopped at a coffee shop in Norwood.  Spotting Johnny Clegg at a neighbouring table he introduced himself, told the story, confessed that we were using the name Phelamanga and asked for (retrospective) permission. Johnny was very gracious and immediately said yes.  When Rod asked Johnny about the meaning he laughed and said it was a made-up word.  He and Sipho Mchunu had been jamming, composing the song, and got as far as “on the road to …”, “on the road to …”, when one of them spontaneously added “Phelamanga”. Just then his manager arrived and Johnny had him confirm that it was OK for us to go on using the name. 



 Phelamanga – the end of lies, where truth begins; our passion is allowing the truth to come forth through the active participation of stakeholders.


When imagination fails

Granny used to say in exasperation, “words fail me” when she believed a decision made by someone else was foolish or inadequate, but what happens when it is not words that have failed, but the imagination.

When we see ‘systems’ failing and inappropriate decisions being made is it because our words have failed to convince or because our argument was not persuasive enough? Look at what is happening in any field you care to name, but especially in the area of environmental governance. Is it really just greed that drives a developer to site his (or increasingly her) new building so that a wetland must be drained or a dune demolished? Is it really just corruption that causes an official to give the OK to these dubious plans?

I am more and more convinced that it is actually a failure of the imagination that is undermining our decision making – or lack of it; and our environmental governance – or lack of it; and our implementation of the rather splendid legislation we have in place.

It’s when the developer cannot imagine what the detrimental effects could be of draining the wetland or removing the frontal dune that s/he is more determined than ever to go ahead. It is when the official cannot imagine how the specialist reports fit together in a coherent story that s/he resorts to a tickbox approach. It is when the politicians cannot imagine why the environmental infrastructure’s resilience is more important in the long run than an immediate satisfaction of voter demands that the political agenda triumphs over other considerations. It’s when a government (any government) cannot imagine a world with less – or even no – oil that our natural resources are raped and pillaged.

At Phelamanga we try to imagine the future. We are passionate about asking others to join us in imagining what could be rather than just bemoaning what is. We are very reluctant to accept that TINA (There Is No Alternative) rules. What we do believe is that we could all do things with more imagination.

So join is as we dream a little – and live a lot!


What happens at a Community Forum should definitely not stay in a Community Forum. I have been privileged to facilitate some awesome community forums over a number of years and I always come away encouraged and often inspired.

This month after a meeting I witnessed what I can only call networking-for-real. I am sure you have also received these invitations to a business type function and the programme promises that after the main event there will be “Networking”. I guess that means I’ll buy you a drink if you buy one for me.

But back to networking-for-real. After the main event – some informative and interactive presentations – the head of one of the municipal agencies went up to a guy who had made a presentation on behalf of another agency saying, “I must come and talk to you. We have this problem…” The presentation had made the head aware that the very person who could potentially help him address his problem was there ready and available. That they worked for the same municipality provided further evidence that forums provide networking opportunities that are a vital function to solutions and policy improvements.

So suddenly the theory of networks became real; a constellation of actors changed shape in response to a perceived problem. A meaningful conversation was initiated and while that problem is being addressed the network leadership has changed. These two people, and the other actors in the network, will now be making decisions in the context of a new perspective.