Experts on tap, not on top

In August 2016 I had the privilege of visiting the Church Land Programme (CLP) in South Africa. CLP is one of our Irish Methodist World Development & Relief partners with Christian Aid Ireland, and have been since 2014.

I was part of a team of Irish Methodists spending time with the Methodist Church South Africa and the partners we have there. Having never met any of the CLP staff before, it was a brilliant opportunity to hear first-hand about they work they’re doing and the relationships they’re building.

CLP came into being in 1977 in post-Apartheid South Africa. It was established to address the racial imbalance of land ownership in a country where 13% of the population owned 87% of the land. It was quickly acknowledged that the Church (across all denominations) owned a significant amount of land and this needed to be addressed and redistributed fairly and efficiently.

What came across very quickly from our time with CLP is the amount of research and study that goes into every aspect of their work. Nothing is done half-heartedly or without having consulted experts outside the organisation where needed. For me the real value in the work of CLP lies in this dedication and in their belief that, “We need experts on tap, but not on top”. Graham Philpott, the Director of CLP, shared this with us and as he and the staff team explained more about their work it was so evident that this is something they adhere to in their work.

They work alongside people who need help, but they do not spoon-feed change to them, but rather they explore the issues together and bring about transformation from the grass-roots. Graham explained it perfectly, “People acting for themselves, that becomes the place of change. People think, act and plan for themselves… we come alongside them”.

Of course there was only a certain amount of Church-owned land to be redistributed, so now in 2016 CLP has a slightly different focus. There are currently many issues surrounding land ownership in South Africa. 3 areas CLP are particularly active in are gender issues, rural land struggles and urban land struggles. Skhmbuzo, the programme activist for rural land struggles at CLP, explained,

South Africa may look like it is the same all over but the reality is our urban and rural worlds are vastly different. A victory in the urban world may not be a victory in the rural world. We need to interrogate the individual contexts.

 And they do. But they don’t do it alone; they do it, from beginning to end, with the local people who are fighting for their own victories. Local people, whether male, female, urban or rural dwellers, educated or uneducated, are the ones who first name the issue in their context and from there CLP will assist as best they can.

Here is just one example from a CLP report of their work in recent years:

‘CLP have supported the families of Nsimbakazi village who have struggled for access to services and housing. They have since received 250 RDP houses. Ntambanana Municipality and ESKOM have started electrifying the village and it is expected that all 250 houses will be connected to electricity before the end of July 2016. This is part of CLP's sustained presence in the village and working with the task team to engage authorities from both ESKOM and Ntambanana Municipality.’

Inside the CLP offices

Inside the CLP offices

CLP engage in such a way that doesn’t foster dependency on them or their resources, but instead equips the local people to understand and tackle the challenges they face.

CLP is firm in its belief that they do not exist to conform people to their thinking or agenda but rather they ask themselves, what are people doing and how do we participate in that? This awareness and their refusal to settle for having done ‘enough’ is what makes their work so valuable, their staff so passionate and their impact so great.

Laura Kerr