Church Land Programme & Solidarity Relationships

... a case from South Africa


The Church Land Programme (CLP) - based in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa - and Irish Methodist World Development & Relief and Christian Aid (CA) are walking together on a solidarity journey which connects locally and globally, south-north and south-south in a unique way. This approach of solidarity with those who are systematically excluded, contains important learning for a changing world that increasingly searches for new ways of engaging in development.

CLP works to affirm, learn from and journey with those who are systematically excluded and impoverished in their struggles related to land and justice. Within South Africa, CLP connects with local formations of activists, some formal and others less formal, but emphasize that all are equally important to assert humanity and dignity, resisting forces that want to dehumanize communities.

CLP call their core approach “Animation”. This involves an iterative process that applies the learning and action cycle in people’s specific situations and with the intention that they mobilise themselves to act to change that situation in ways that they decide. CLP's work includes Rural and Urban Access to Land and Service Provision, Land rights Defence, Livelihoods Groups and Mutual Support.

The local dimension – CLP solidarity with communities

Among the formal local solidarity examples is the relationship with Abahlali base Mjondoli – the Shack-dwellers movement(Abahlali) which now has an audited membership of over 50,000. Abahlali fully sets the agenda, CLP does not dictate projects to Abahlali but over the last years has been walking alongside them in Solidarity, eg. CLP offers training of new community branches and expert advice and support in the strategic process.


CLP attends Abahlali’s general assemblies, monthly national council meetings and political education camps allowing ongoing interaction with leaders enables feedback from leaders and ordinary members. CLP engages directly on two levels with the overall Abahlali hub collective (as a grouping of many communities) and on request with communities directly – in a flexible and adaptive way. Two Thirds of active participants in Abahlali are women, increasingly also in Leadership. 

Another example of a decade-long solidarity relationship is between CLP and the Roosboom United Churches Committee, which after a decade of advocacy finally achieved compensation for their Churches destroyed in the 1970s during the Apartheid era. Some of these Churches are now finally being rebuilt (see photos). Again, it is the community leading the efforts and setting priorities but CLP walking along with them and supporting the process and advising on legal and organizational aspects.


Among the more informal struggles: some communities identified a new threat in the form of “fracking” (exploration for methane gas): The extractives industry is recently targeting certain areas of KwaZulu Natal and attaining exploration rights completely disregarding the communities that live there, potentially affecting their livelihoods, and possibly even displacing communities in future.

Adding the global connections:

Christian Aid’s South Africa Programmeenables connections, with a direct flexible funding of CLP’s organizational plan 2017-19 which helps enable the CLP approach of “Animation” and allows CLP the flexibility to engage with new opportunities and priorities like the emerging fracking struggle mentioned above. This is adaptive programming really driven by the needs and priorities of communities which emerge during regular dialogue and reflection.

However, Christian Aid also connects with communities in the north. For example, we are arranging long-distance skype “Contextual Scripture Sessions” connecting people affected by “fracking” in both KwaZulu Natal, SA and Lancashire, UK. This is intentionally not a generic conversation but a specific two-way solidarity issue that really affects people’s lives. Otherwise CA supports CLP in monitoring and strengthening their collection of evidence and organizational capacity, as well as connecting via the Global Network, for example with Brazil. 

The Irish Methodist Church, through World Development & Relief, allows scale up of the CA core funding, with some additional funding which allows CLP to reach more people (in 2017 a total of 1,983 women and 580 women directly participated with an additional indirect reach of 17,000) but critically without adding to CLPs reporting burden nor adding inflexible project-style targets or indicators as all reporting happens jointly via Christian Aid and the flexible Solidarity “Animation” approach is fully respected – with CLP setting its own priorities and objectives which in turn are fully guided by the priorities of the communities. 

However, again this is far more than funding. the Irish Methodists also participate in the closer solidarity relationship. There have been visits from the Irish Methodist Church leaders and members without the burden of needing to formally “monitor” more in depth (a task left for Christian Aid in agreement, again avoiding duplication) but to understand the lived experience of the communities. For 2018 an extended youth event visit is planned by the Irish Methodists in this same understanding. In 2017 there was also a Communication visit with videos and photos – resulting in the photos used here (and many more) – which in turn allowed the Irish Methodists to bring this relationship closer to the Irish congregations. 

Christian Aid Ireland (CAI) has made this connection possible. CAI administers the relationship with several Irish church supporter groups – notably with the Methodist Church in Ireland through World Development & Relief in this case, and also helps to increase visibility of the work & the communities’ struggles for dignity. CLP has previously been invited (via Christian Aid Ireland) to engage in Ireland with the Irish Churches. 

These solidarity relationships enabled learning also for a new emerging effort by some European and South(ern) African members of the global ACT Alliance through the South Africa Ubumbano Solidarity hub process. This video  shows the momentum towards our aim of creating a joint solidarity model of European and local ACT alliance members with South(ern) African partners with a shift of power towards the Global South. CLP has given major input into the thinking of this new approach and both CLP and CA are on the Ubumbano Solidarity Hub advisory group which is the main decision-making body of this joint network.

In all the work with communities, CLP attempts to build spaces rather than bridges, and invite others also globally to be part of this effort. Two headline questions guide all this work: 

1.    Are we holding the right boundaries (respecting democratic process without imposing)?

2.    Are people and communities acting for themselves – building their own common vision? 


Text compiled by Gerhard Buttner, Christian Aid South Africa Programme Manager - May 2018



Learning to Dream

Nokothula is 10 years old and is top of her class in reading and writing. I met her yesterday at Mooiplaas in South Africa. This informal settlement of shack-dwellers has high unemployment and Nokothula’s class meets just a few metres from a rubbish dump where adults scavenge recyclable materials to sell on for a few Rand.



Nokothula’s ‘school’ is no ordinary school however. It is a literacy and numeracy class run by Open Schools Worldwide (OSWW) in the Ditshego Centre, a Methodist initiative for the people of Mooiplaas. OSWW trains local volunteers to teach a specially designed course for out-of-school children. If a child attends regularly they can come up to Grade 3 level (equivalent of P3/4) and then feed into the local school. Further support makes their completion of primary school much more likely. Children do not attend or are unable to attend school for all sorts of reasons but most can be traced to the curse of poverty.

My meeting came on the same day that UNESCO was reported saying that global pledges to provide education for all young people had little chance of being achieved, with “virtually no progress” in recent years. This is according to annual figures from the United Nations. Globally, there are currently 264 million children without access to school. The UN states that wider access to education would radically reduce poverty and improve security. It is vital in improving the health, economy and stability of some of the world’s poorest countries and yet almost 1 in 10 children do not have access to even primary education. Progress in earlier years has stagnated.

The worst out-of-school rates are in sub-Saharan Africa where 21% of primary-age children and 36% of young teenagers are missing out on school. About 61 million children miss out on primary education.

The UN study says that if all adults could complete secondary education, the economic benefits would lift 420 million out of poverty, reducing by two-thirds the numbers in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa an South Asia. For 25 years, world leaders have repeatedly missed internationally agreed targets. The current aim is to achieve universal primary education by 2030 but these statistics are sobering. Indeed current trends suggest that children will be missing out on school for generations. Also, girls are disproportionately represented.

Jeanette teaching

Jeanette teaching

At Mooiplaas, voluntary teacher, Jeanette Letele, says that Nokothula’s family came down from Zimbabwe in January. She could not read or write. Now she is top of her class and helps other children. Nokothula enjoys playing netball at the weekends and now likes to read stories. And what does she wish to be? A teacher of course. I hope that she achieves her dream. At least she now has the opportunity to go further in her education along with 150 other children who attend the morning classes and afternoon support at the ‘homework clubs’.

The UN report is indeed depressing but thank goodness that WDR partner, Open Schools Worldwide is making a dent in that statistic as 500 volunteers teach the literacy and numeracy programme to over 4,000 children in Southern Africa.

An innovative approach to a huge problem that some, it would seem, have given up on.