In November 2018 I was privileged to visit South Africa with Christian Aid alongside two other senior leaders from the Church of England and Ireland. The purpose of the trip was, as Christian Aid’s Church Partnerships Manager John Plant explains: “the programme is designed to explore the crucial role that church leaders can play in international development and to explore first-hand the work of Christian Aid’s global partners and the role that churches and church leaders are playing.”
Our host for the week was a project that Christian Aid support – The Church Land Programme (CLP) – this is an independent non-profit organisation that was initiated in 1996 as a joint project between the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra) and the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa), in response to the land reform process taking place in South Africa. It was established as an independent organisation in 1997 and initially focused on church owned land while also challenging the Church to engage in the national land question and work for a just and sustainable agrarian transformation.
Christian Aid guests alongside members of Abahlali baseMjondolo in their community offices.
Much of our time was spent hearing from people who are part of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (shack dweller) movement. CLP works alongside people in their communities developing skills “through a process of animation with groups of poor people to create unique responses to their unique situations.” The methodology encourages personal agency and community transformation through radical asset based approach. All are important – nobody is left behind
The shack dwelling where we stayed
A typical shack dwelling
I could introduce you to many people that we met during our time with Abahlali baseMjondolo but the person I would most like you to meet is a woman called Ellen. It was a great blessing to meet another Ellen. Particularly such an entrepreneurial independent woman with great courage and ingenuity! Ellen was able to get a loan from the co-op and begun a business – she ran a corner shop next to the bar on the edge of the shack dwelling. Ellen welcomed me into her home and it was an honour to hear her story. It was with Ellen that I felt the strongest sense of solidarity.
Ellen outside her shop holding the postcard I gave to her of Liverpool Cathedral.
I have many more stories to tell and I am continuing to work on the learning that I gathered from the trip. Since our return the group has spent time with Christian Aid colleagues looking at how we can continue to support the work of Christian Aid in South Africa. The focus being The Church Land Programme; but also how gender violence can be challenged through the formation of a ‘Solidarity Justice Hub’; how individuals can challenge financial inequality through the ‘Economic Justice Network (EJN)’; and how we can work with land activists in rural areas affected by mining (particularly fracking). Interestingly, Christian Aid has linked a group of ‘fractivists’ in South Africa with a group in Lancashire – their learning and solidarity continues to be an inspiration for each other’s work.
I am currently writing a book about Christian Activism and the work of Church Land Programme will be featured in this book – along with other stories of Christian activists from around the world (including many in Liverpool). The book will be published early 2020. Please do get in touch if you would like your work to be featured or you have an activist story you’d like to tell.
I am sure you will have taken part in a Christian Aid activity in the past week. But, if you haven’t please do look them up and see how you can contribute to their amazing work. Your financial contribution, prayers and social action make all the difference to Christian Aid. Together we can change the world for the better and make a bigger difference internationally.
Church Land Programme (CLP)
Christian Aid South Africa
Rules for Christian Activists
Rev Canon Dr Ellen Loudon, Director of Social Justice and Canon Chancellor. Ellen.email@example.com