South Africa

This is messy, this is hard work, this is The Gospel

World Development & Relief work closely with Christian Aid Ireland, co-funding two development partners. One of these is Church Land Programme in South Africa. In November 2018, Rev. Paul Maxwell visited this partner with a group from Christian Aid. Here Paul reflects on his visit and what we can learn from our friends in South Africa. 

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. 

Cato Manor

Cato Manor

During our time with Abahlali, we were taken to Cato Manor, a settlement, built in 2016 and made up of roughly 300 homes. Here, we were told of how the authorities regularly cut off the electricity and water supply (2-3 times a week) and how they regularly face attempted demolishing of their homes from the wider community and the authorities. 

With the help of Abahlali and CLP, the settlement in Cato Manor has built a community hall which was officially opened in December after our visit. We were taken into this hall and met with many of the local people. One of the community leaders told us how the people in power and the people living around them see them as criminals and no-bodies. He said to us “However, your visit gives us dignity. The fact that you have come to us from the UK and Ireland means so much to us.” A lady from the community shared with us of a time when she came home to find her house being demolished. She started to take pictures with her phone to use as evidence and was shot in the eye. 

Hearing these stories and seeing the conditions the people were living in filled me with a great sadness and anger. As I listened to people speak about the lack of involvement in their struggle by the church I found myself asking why was the church not doing more for these people.

I was also beginning to feel quite scared for the next stage of our trip. From Cato Manor we were taken on a 30 minute drive to a different part of Durban to another settlement in Briardene. 



This settlement was much bigger and more densely populated that the one we had just come from. We were met by the community leaders who provided us with a beautiful dinner and showed us to our accommodation for the night. I was sharing a room with one of the Christian Aid staff, Ven. Martin Gorrick and Thapelo Mohapi, General Secretary of Abahlali, whose home this was. Thapelo’s wife, who was pregnant with triplets and her sister moved out for the night to accommodate us. 

The front door of my accomodation

The front door of my accomodation

Having heard about the violence and intimidation earlier in the day I really did not know what to expect in Briardene. I certainly did not expect to be spending my evening playing pool, watching Liverpool lose in the Champions League on the TV, socialising with the locals and dancing to some local music. It was an incredible evening of fun and fellowship. Thankfully there are no videos! The whole time I was in Briardene I never felt like an outsider. I was welcomed and accepted into the community. In fact, the way the people treated me made me feel like I had always been there. 

However, I was keenly aware that right beside us were middle-class housing surrounded by security fences and people who did not want these people there. I was also reflecting on the questions I had been asking around the lack of involvement from the local church when I suddenly found myself thinking about my manse in Carlow. Right beside us there is an empty field. During the summer a couple of homeless people put up two tents and I suddenly thought to myself how would I feel if that field beside me suddenly filled up with tents and people living in them? Instantaneously my anger at the local church turned to guilt. 

One question that I have not been able to stop thinking about since coming home has been this: If Christian Aid was to bring a group of church leaders from South Africa to Ireland where are the places where people might say, “The church in Ireland does not care about us”? 

There is certainly great need where the church can, and sometimes does, intervene. My mind goes towards the 1,728 families who in November 2018 were accessing emergency accommodation in Ireland including 3,811 children,[1]the 450 families in Carlow who reported domestic violence to Carlow Women’s Aid in 2018 and, the families who received just over 900 food parcels from The Food Pantry in Carlow. My own church, Carlow Methodist, has been involved in some of these responses but there is a challenge to every local church to see the need and to respond in a real way.

It is easy to travel across the world and see injustice, to stand in solidarity and speak out but it is much harder for us to do so on our own door step. This is messy, this is hard work, this is the Gospel and as we seek to live out our calling as followers of Christ there is an awful lot we can learn from Graham Philpott and Church Land Programme. 



Constantly Learning

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.

Visit their website to learn more: 

[This post originally appeared on]

MEET South Africa 2018

In July 2018, a team of young adults visited South Africa as part of a team organised by WDR, World Mission Partnership and IMYC.  Such visits are aimed at growing people’s faith and understanding of the world, enabling them to better serve God and his people. MEET South Africa 2018 have many more stories to tell. Contact them via our office. 

In this blog a few of the team share about their time with 2 of our partners; Church Land Programme and Phakamisa

“ONE!” shout I (Jools) and quickly Zoe echoes “TWO!”. By the time Gemma gets to “EIGHT!”, we know that Ben, Chris, Jill, Bethany and Emma are all in the room/bus/plane. One in, all in. In July, the MEET South Africa 2018 team – Methodist, Explore, Engage and Tell - threw ourselves into learning from a wildly different culture, in order to more fully understand issues of justice, poverty and leadership.

We were to experience a different way of being Methodist. A way that meant during morning prayers with Phakamisa, you better have your dancing shoes on because those grannies are going to sing and pray in a way that will rock you like you’re in a boat. Ways that provide phenomenally high (and sought after) standards of education for black, Indian, and coloured children as the staff are raising Christian leaders of integrity for a new South Africa. Ways of being Methodist that cross ethnic, racial and economic barriers so the worshipping people of God can be known as a family that embraces all.

One thing remains - whether on retreat at a beautiful beach, being filled with stillness through deep and caring sharing or being challenged by the deprivation of shack-living, we were family, and our understanding of God and of our Methodist family grew immeasurably. 

Church Land Programme

Emma & Sane

Emma & Sane

I (Emma) met Sane in Cato Crest, an informal settlement in Durban consisting of over 6,000 families, where she has lived her whole life. With a college degree in human resources, she was very articulate and described to me the conditions in which she lives. Her greatest challenge, was the lack of consistent (and legal) electricity. It was most difficult when studying for exams because at home she was unable to revise due to the lack of light to see her books.

The Church Land Programme (CLP), a World Development & Relief partner, works alongside those who are landless by listening and understanding people’s specific circumstances. CLP works with the intention of seeing those living in material poverty empower themselves and change their own situation, especially in relation to land injustices. Graham Philpott, the director of CLP, described the listening aspect of their work as a “political act” which affirms people’s right to speak for themselves. Sane appreciated the chance to be heard and said the government does not recognise those in settlements as people, never mind hearing what they have to say. Sane, and approximately 600 families in her area, have connected with CLP. She is now a volunteer teacher of a political class in Cato Crest, teaching the next generation about South Africa’s land issues and context. She hopes this will enable young voices to be heard and be a stepping stone to shaping future leaders. Her wishes to see the future decision-makers of South Africa be leaders that are truly for the people.

I learned so much from listening to the very wise members of CLP and the welcoming, inspiring and open people in the settlements. Land issues in South Africa are complex and I still have much to learn but I do know that God is present in these situations and CLP share His strength and hope, glorifying Him in all they do.


Phakamisa is a ministry of Pinetown Methodist Church and a partner of World Development & Relief. ‘Phakamisa’ is Zulu for ‘to uplift’ and from the moment we arrived our spirits were uplifted, as we met women seeking to uplift the most vulnerable members of their communities. They had identified the oldest and youngest members up to 50km around Durban who would benefit. There are now about 1,700 women and 6,000 orphans connected to their ministry.

The director, Thokozani Poswa, was passionate about her work and this impacted us. We spent time with the caregivers’ programme; It focuses on Gogos (grandmothers) who need an income or new skills to support their families, often including grandchildren who have lost one or both parents. A day for a Gogo at Phakamisa might consist of morning aerobics (you can imagine our feeble attempts) followed by devotions and then classes in skills such as sewing, cooking, literacy, beadwork or gardening.

What most impacted me (Bethany) was the Educare programme which trains young women in their community to teach children aged 0-6 in pre-schools. We met Thandi and Nomalanga, employed by Phakamisa in their ‘Wandering Schools’ in settlements. Coming from education in Ireland, to see the lack of resources, was heart-breaking. Seeing 30 children in a room no bigger than my living room, with holes in the walls and ceiling, no access to water, bathrooms or electricity; well I could only marvel at these teachers. But this was not a place of sorrow. Beyond the ramshackle rooms and financial difficulties was such joy, constant praise and dancing.

One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

Because of Phakamisa, grandmothers and children are leading enriched lives. I wish I could bottle up the pure joy and passion we experienced because even an ounce of it would change me and even the church in Ireland.

The Members of MEET South Africa 2018 continue to be “One in, all in” and are:

Gemma Barclay (IMYC), Jools Hamilton (Trinity College Dublin), Zoe Cummings, Emma Dunwoody, Jill Fergie, Ben McGurk, Chris Patterson & Bethany Stephens. 

The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa

The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa