Last autumn I had the privilege of travelling to South Africa with Christian Aid to represent the Methodist Church in Ireland and World Development and Relief. Christian Aid wished to take a small group of emerging church leaders from the UK and Ireland to visit one of the projects they partner in South Africa.
On Saturday 3rd November the Ven. Martin Gorrick, Archdeacon of Oxford, Rev. Canon Dr. Ellen Loudon, Director of Social Justice in the Diocese of Liverpool and myself met in Heathrow Airport along with three staff members from Christian Aid to began our journey to South Africa.
In South Africa, (minus my luggage for 36 hours!) we were met and hosted by Graham Philpott, Director of Church Land Programme (CLP). CLP are based in the city of Pietermaritzburg, an hour north of Durban, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. During our seven, non-stop, days we travelled around Pietermaritzburg and Durban seeing the work that CLP are involved in and meeting various groups and organisations who work alongside CLP. Our trip included a welcome and briefing about CLP, a tour of Pietermaritzburg, discussions with Abahlali leadership at their offices, visits to two settlements to discuss in-situ upgrading and women's issues, a reflection session with Bishop Rubin Phillips in one of the settlements, a sleep over in another settlement, attending a conference and discussion with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, watching a Padkos documentary about land and extractives, discussion with Paulo Freire Institute about methodology, debrief sessions with CLP staff, a visit to a game reserve and a Sunday service at a local Pentecostal church.
For a number of years both Christian Aid and World Development & Relief have been journeying with and supporting CLP. In 2018, WDR’s service material focused on the story of David Ntseng, programme manager at CLP and some of the communities that they work with.
A personal highlight for me was the day and a half spent in Durban with Abahlali baseMjondolo. Abahlaliis a movement of shack-dwellers and other impoverished people in South Africa. It is the largest popular movement outside of party politics and trade unions in South Africa but has its strongest base in Durban. It has over 55,000 members.
Due to its opposition of evictions and their stances on land rights, Abahlali finds itself in constant conflict with those in authorities. During our time with Abahlaliwe heard many harrowing stories from people who live in various settlements around Durban. People told us of multiple evictions, arson attacks and physical assaults. One lady shared how her husband had been shot eight times and has been left permanently disabled.