Gavin Silber

Gavin Silber dreams of everyone in Khayelitsha (and the rest of South Africa) having access to a safe, clean toilet. Silber, a founding member and deputy secretary general of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), a social movement that campaigns for safe, healthy and dignified communities in some of South Africa’s largest and most underdeveloped townships, says it is a travesty that one in three in people in the country lives without proper sanitation. Silber, who holds an honours degree in International Affairs and Political Economy from Stellenbosch University, works with about 2 000 young activists in Khayelitsha who, despite living in abysmal conditions, continue to believe in their power as “active citizens to prompt change”. “Our campaign for toilets speaks to the most fundamental needs of the poor and working class, but also forces all people to question inequality and social justice in South Africa,” he says. The SJC promotes active citizenship through education, policy, research and community organisation, seeing these elements as fundamental to holding government accountable and making it more open and responsive. According to Silber, whereas many advocacy groups in South Africa focus exclusively on national policy, the SJC is interested in ensuring that local government is held accountable for delivering effectively the most basic services, including water, sanitation and, increasingly, housing. With 11 active branches and over 40 partner organisations, the SJC is growing in size as much as in stature. Silber also serves as treasurer and a board member of Ndifuna Ukwazi, an organisation that provides support to social movements and non-governmental organisations in the form of research capacity and legal and strategic advice. He previously worked as a researcher for the Treatment Action Campaign and, with Zackie Achmat, co-founded the Centre for Law and Social Justice, the precursor to Ndifuna Ukwazi. — Charles Molele