Christian Aid started working in South Africa in the 1970s and intensified efforts in the 1980s, in solidarity with communities to tackle the structures of apartheid.
The profound transformation that followed the end of the apartheid era brought enhanced political and social rights for South Africans, but for the majority this has yet to translate into a better quality of life. Many continue to struggle for dignity and a decent life in the context of extreme and growing inequality and continued extreme poverty.
Through our partners and the ACT Ubumbano network, we have helped marginalised communities to understand and claim their rights, and fight for the change that will benefit many hundreds of thousands at a national and regional Southern Africa level. But there is no quick fix. Real change will involve long-term advocacy and campaigning, to invest in a future that is equal for all.
To increase our impact, Christian Aid is joining the Church of Sweden, Brot fuer die Welt, and South African partners, to improve joint working on economic, gender and environmental justice through ACT Ubumbano.
While our direct grant-making to partners in South Africa ended in 2020, we will continue to support ACT Ubumbano through Christian Aid Zimbabwe.
Looking to the future
Christian Aid is exiting from South Africa as a stand-alone country programme, as part of a change programme to deliver greater impact globally. We are focusing our work so that every programme reaches those most in need, addresses the root causes of poverty, speaks truth to power and raises the voices of people living in poverty.
Inspired by our new global strategy, Standing Together, we are deepening our interventions in fewer countries and living as good stewards within our means.
- To enable a strong and vibrant movement of organisations, bringing together people living in poverty who are claiming their rights to a dignified life.
- Enable communities in South Africa to successfully hold government and/or the private sector to account.
- To help build the Act Ubumbano network with European and Southern African ACT allies and partners, to provide better support to civil society and challenge inequality in the three pillars of work: economic, gender and environmental injustice. Jointly we wish to define a new way of working in solidarity as equal partners.
ACT Ubumbano: enabling a strong movement
At the centre of our new model is the solidarity hub, exploring new ways of supporting struggles for justice, and the solidarity actions that emerge from them. With this, we are hoping to connect people across Southern Africa through leadership, with solid research, and national and regional advocacy with close links with marginalised communities.
The network connects partners and communities around economic, gender and climate justice. Among the emerging actions include the Ubumbano Community Voice app and website which really has come to the fore in the coronavirus crisis
The ACT Ubumbano Gender Justice work enables dialogue between gender-based violence survivors, governments and faith leaders in Southern Africa.
Most of our partners are also active Act Umbumbano participants.
Campaigning for change – national level advocacy
Our partner Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII)'s advocacy was key to the country's first-ever national minimum wage legislation in 2018. SPII was the community constituency chief negotiator, and through strategic discussions with the government, business and organised labour achieved a higher rate than initially tabled. Currently, SPII are calling for this to become a decent living wage. Previously, SPII was behind a successful campaign to reduce the old age pension qualifying age from 65 to 60, benefitting millions of people.
The Economic Justice Network (EJN), played a central role in supporting the South African government to set up an inter-governmental body on tax, which will help to combat illicit financial flows out of Africa.
Mining – monitoring corporate and government behaviour
BenchMarks Foundation (BMF) is mandated by the churches to monitor multinational corporations in South Africa and the region to ensure they respect human rights and the environment. They ensure that affected communities are heard, protected and considered by big companies. The Soweto Health and Mining study 'Waiting to Inhale' gained widespread media coverage, leading both companies and the government to take positive action.
BMF has made important recent advances in pressuring mining companies to make their secretive environmental impact assessments, social and labour plans more widely available to the public.
BMF and EJN are central partners in growing the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) – now with over 500 participants - as an alternative platform to the corporate mining indaba. This gives mining-affected communities a voice, and the corporate event is increasingly aware of its presence, and directly responds to themes raised at the AMI.
EJN formally represents civil society and faith voices in spaces like Civil BRICS, SADC and the G20, and together with other partners they are working on integrating tax justice with the advocacy work around extractives and mining to counteract illicit financial flows and corporate tax evasion.
We were about to lose hope about our land, our minerals and basic rights. Now we hope that we can work together as communities and come up with a plan to confront this.
- Khutso Phala, BenchMarks Foundation community monitor from Limpopo province.
As a fitting closure to our HIV programme, former Christian Aid partners AIDS Consortium and KwaZulu Natal Christian Council made a major input on stigma and prevention to the 2017-22 National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV/AIDS launched by the National AIDS Council (SANAC) in 2017.
The right to a dignified life
Church Land Programme (CLP) supports the ever growing Abahlali baseMjondolo (shack dweller) movement, in their struggle for land, rights and dignity. Together they have secured increased access to electricity, water and health facilities and recognition of their housing and land rights.
A long-awaited advocacy win was the Roosboom community land claim compensation for 20 churches, destroyed by apartheid displacement, in KwaZulu Natal. This led to the completion of several church buildings, allowing worshippers to return to a formal church.
Christian Aid South Africa was central in forming ACT Ubumbano, a joint network with other ACT agencies and southern partners, now connected via Christian Aid Zimbabwe.
We also draw on the expertise of our colleagues, Christian Aid teams, and networks across Africa, the UK and the world.
You can contact Act Ubumbano directly via firstname.lastname@example.org