Rev. Jools Hamilton co-led a team of young adults from the Methodist Church in Ireland to South Africa, to explore themes of justice and leadership. As part of their visit, the team spent some time with the Church Land Programme (WDR Partner). Here Jools shares some thoughts on their work and the uphill battle they face.
Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. And we need the eyes to see that.
The Church Land Program in South Africa, is a great example of pushing back some of the injustices of this world hectare by hectare. It was established in 1996 to help face some of the injustices from the years of colonial rule and apartheid.
Historically when a colonial power steps in, it usually does so with superior military might, and that superiority is used to forcefully take what has not been theirs, and hold it by force. In a South African context this has meant violent capture of resource (land) followed by brutal defense of it.
When everything changed in 1994 land became a big agenda item for the churches. All the mainline churches found themselves as significant landowners, in a land where their members were landless. Land the Church now owned, in a privileged position, which historically had belonged to many people sitting in it’s pews. An interesting position for an organization that’s exists on the example of a Christ who washed his followers feet?
Since 1996 CLP has been involved in different ways to return land to black land owners, and have the land (a vital place of identity and resource in the African continent) as a sustainable and just component of life for everyone.
They are on an uphill battle, and they fight it well.
But here’s the thing.
There were more evictions of black and colored people in South Africa from white owned land during the 10 years after apartheid than the 10 years before apartheid ended.
Political agreement has not brought Peace.
In a land where, as apartheid ended, white people were 13% of the population owning 80% of the land, change had to be strategized and resourced with bold action. The work of the Church Land Program, its ‘raison d’être’ of speeding up land reform, is a light of actionable hope in the midst of the giants of capitalism, colonial history, human nature and socio–geo–political obstinance corruption and incompetence.
And so they are clear – they don’t think they have ‘arrived at a solution’ and aim to implement it. They have been on a 20–year journey from fixing the problem to discovering the same solution doesn’t work everywhere, to now being in solidarity with those in the struggle. They are therefore in a constant place of learning.
The time I and a team of young leaders from the Methodist Church in Ireland spent with them recently challenged all of us to, as per their example, be in a constant place of reflective learning and practice.
Yet – how can I listen to their story and not feel my heart sink?
More people were thrown off land in the 10 years after apartheid than the precious 10 years. Cleansing ‘space’ to keep ‘self’ guarded and safe?
Belfast has more ‘peace walls’ now than it did when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Building walls to keep ‘us’ in and ‘them’ out, to keep ‘self’ guarded and safe?
There are better ways to keep humans grounded and safe that do not involve building walls, creating segregation and sectarian violence … it was a pleasure to witness just one of many groups concerned with a just and sustainable solution to land distribution in one part of the world that has suffered massively from issues of the land giving leadership and inspiration in this area.