Authentic, Hopeful Action (AHA) against poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa

AHA-Movement – Authentic Hopeful Action

A Christian response to the triple problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa

Draft 7 (Please comment below or to

15 October 2014

Over the last 100 years churches in South Africa have offered a concerted response to at least two massive social challenges. The first case was the response of predominantly Afrikaans churches to the poor white problem through a series of volkskongresse in the 1930s and 1940s. Given the narrow racial focus and the apartheid policies that followed from that, such efforts remained deeply flawed. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about the massive scale of such efforts, the intriguing critique of capitalism or about the concern that was demonstrated for (some of) the poor. The second case was the much celebrated church struggle against apartheid in South Africa, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. The one shadow hanging over such efforts is that churches remained deeply divided in this struggle. Such divisions were found amongst churches but also within particular churches.
There have been numerous efforts from churches, ecumenical bodies and Christian organisa-tions to respond to a wide range of societal challenges since 1994. These include the long-standing commitment of churches to address the many faces of poverty in South Africa. Following discussions at a conference on “Theology on the Edge” hosted at Stellenbosch in September 2014, an initiative emerged amongst participants from various organisations and institutions with the aim of fostering a concerted and massive response from Christians in South Africa to the triple problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality that is radically undermining the social fabric of our society. This would require an in-depth analysis of the deepest roots of such problems, a spiritual discernment of what is at stake and, especially, a coordinated response.

The participants in the emerging AHA-movement (see the growing list of names below) have asked Kairos Southern Africa to provide the secretariat for a process of mass-mobilisation in which as many churches, ecumenical bodies, Christian organisa¬tions and individual Christians as possible will hopefully participate. The process is therefore an open and inclusive one focused on the responsibility of Christians to address poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa. Although the point of departure is Christian responsibility, there is an obvious need for cooperation with all levels of government, business and industry, trade unions, other groups in civil society and other religious traditions if the triple problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa is to be addressed adequately. This inclusive approach is reflected in the phrase “authentic hopeful action” – which has been provisionally adopted as a name for the emerging movement.

The process should be understood as an ad hoc one that does not resort under any one umbrella organisation and in which the secretariat currently assigned to Kairos Southern Africa, to provide some backbone to the movement, is a provisional one that will be re-assessed on an ongoing basis. The emerging AHA-movement draws in many similar initiatives to address poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa, does not replace any of them and seek as much convergence as possible around a common agenda.

Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality
There is no need here to explain the scale and depth of the problems associated with poverty, un¬¬employment and inequality in South Africa. Five brief comments in this regard may suffice:

Firstly, it is helpful to treat these problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality (PUI) together as they reinforce each other. For example: to alleviate poverty through social grants without addressing unemployment and employability will not do since that would still under-mine a sense of self-worth and human dignity. Likewise, although poverty may be alleviated through social grants, this does not necessarily overcome growing inequality if the rich are getting richer while the poor are falling further behind and the unemployed become unemployable in a service-based economy. It may be noted that this phrase is recognised in literature across many disciplines and contexts. This will facilitate a common language in addressing the problem.

Secondly, to focus on poverty, unemployment and inequality is not to deny or relativize the full range of other social problems in South Africa. The long litany includes the impact of climate change, corruption, crime, domestic violence, (the quality of) education, elitism, exclusion on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, factionalism, the freedom of expression in the media, the impact of globalisation, HIV/AIDS, nepotism, pollution, racism, rape, sexism, social cohesion, TB and xenophobia. One may well argue for the relative priority of each of these. There can be no doubt that each of these problems needs to be addressed and that churches are asked to be involved in this regard. However, one may also argue that each of these are caused by, influenced by or worsened by poverty, unemployment and inequality. A failure to address this adequately would affect all other sectors and will undermine social stability for decades to come. Social inequality will necessarily affect those who are affluent and / or fully employed as well. The ongoing and widespread so-called service delivery protests provide a sobering indication of the simmering tensions in the country. If these problems are not addressed adequately, the social fabric of our society may disintegrate even further – with disastrous consequences. In short, this may be regarded as the challenge of our time, a (kairotic) moment of truth, and a key component in dealing with basically any other issue.

Thirdly, there is little doubt that poverty, unemployment and inequality are manifestations of a deeper underlying problem in our society. This requires moral and spiritual discernment. One may mention the structural injustices of the past associated with the legacy of imperialism, colonialism and apartheid – so that there are some beneficiaries who have become undeservedly affluent while others are undeservedly poor. This calls for a focus on justice and not merely on charity. One must consider the many forms of violence and the violation of human dignity. One would need to take into account the ideologies of nationalism, racism, classism, sexism and elitism. One would need to analyse the economic model of neo-liberal capitalism that is currently dominant. One would need to address issues of (political) power and corruption. One would have to confront the extravagant desire for affluence amongst the elite, the consumerist aspirations of the middle class and the yearning of many poor people to somehow imitate such examples. One would need to question the assumption that limitless economic growth is possible on a finite planet. One would need to unmask triumphalist theologies that legitimise the status quo, that seem to romanticise poverty and that suggest quick access to prosperity. In short, one would need to speak of sin, idolatry, ideology and heresy.

Fourthly, the problems associated with poverty, unemployment and inequality require a response from all sectors of society. This of course includes civil society, Faith-Based Organi-sations (FBOs), and various religious traditions. This role of civil society is explicitly recognised in the National Development Plan. There can be no doubt about the role of churches in this regard given the adherence of millions of Christians in South Africa to the Christian faith. The AHA-movement will focus on the particular response of churches, ecumenical bodies, Christian organisations and individual Christians in South Africa to the triple PUI-problem. This clearly does not exclude the need for cooperation with other religious traditions, other organi¬sations in civil society or other sectors of the South African society. The movement would obviously need to draw from expertise in all sectors of society. At best, whatever churches do to address inequality will serve as a catalyst for cooperative efforts in civil society. It is never¬theless important to recognise the particular responsibility of churches and the immense possibilities that emerge on that basis. This also implies that the engagement of churches in responding to the PUI-problem should take place on their own terms and given the parti¬cu¬larity of various Christian traditions – and not merely in functionalist terms. This is reflected in the emphasis on authenticity in the name of the movement. Fifthly, there can be no doubt that churches and Christian organisations are already deeply engaged in efforts to respond to poverty, unemployment and inequality. Such efforts are indeed commendable so that there is an obvious need to gather together examples and models of best practice. However, such efforts are seldom coordinated with other initiatives, at least not at a national level. Moreover, while some call for justice and restitution, others focus on charity, while the one is clearly impossible without the other. There is a need for some convergence, a bringing together of initiatives and of similar attempts at coordination. What is needed is a response from churches on a massive scale that would capture the imagination of the whole nation (that would prompt an “Aha”-moment of joy and surprise), that would energise people through its symbolism and that would at the same time make a substantive difference at the local level.
There is also no need here to explain why Christians are so deeply concerned about the triple problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The Biblical roots of the Christian tradition makes God’s compassion, mercy, loyalty and justice abundantly clear. This provides the source of spiritual energy for Christians to work towards “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation”. Any adequate Christian response will therefore require prayer, self-examination, biblical meditation and theological discernment, alongside social analysis and strategies for implementation. The theological rationale behind the commitment to address poverty, unemployment and inequality will have to be tested and developed on an ongoing basis in order to keep drawing on the deepest sources of inspiration.
This concern over poverty, unemployment and inequality is expressed in numerous theo¬logical documents released in South Africa. In recent years one may mention the Oikos Journey: A Theological Reflection on the Economic Crisis in South Africa (Diakonia Council of Churches, 2006), Climate Change: A Challenge to Churches in South Africa (SACC, 2009), A Word to the ANC (Kairos Southern Africa, 2011) and The Church Speaks for such a Time as this … (2012). The AHA-movement will take such statements forward with a view to implement responses to the triple problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality and also use it and other processes to develop a comprehensive theological rationale for the work that has to be done.

Format of the movement

In order to invite a concerted response from churches in South Africa to poverty, unem-ployment and inequality it may be helpful to envisage what the end product would entail. The following format is proposed very provisionally and remains open for debate and suggested alternatives given other initiatives that are also currently underway (e.g. the “rolling church action for social change” initiative):
The initiative will centre around the drafting of a three page document in which the following three core questions are addressed in language that any Grade 12 learner can understand:

• What can we as Christians (starting with those of us gathered at this indaba) who are involved in churches in various ways, have different vocations in society, are situated in different contexts, are members of numerous other organisations and participate in other movements) do to address poverty, unemployment and inequality and to support others who are involved in similar efforts.
• What may Christians (starting with those of us gathered at a particular gathering) request churches and their leaders to do at an institutional level that will indeed make a substantial difference in addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality?
• What policies may Christians (starting with those of us gathered at a particular gathering) challenge the various levels of government to introduce to address poverty, unemployment and inequality – because such policies will make a real difference and because they are clearly in line with the gospel?

It should be clear that these three questions will engage constructively and where necessary critically with the National Development Plan, given the NDP’s emphasis on partnerships with civil society.

In response to each of these three questions and for the sake of simplicity it might be helpful to identify, select and describe only the ten most important steps that can be taken in this regard, i.e. those ones that will indeed make a substantial difference given contextual needs and the distinctive contribution that civil society in general and Christians in particular can make. Where need be, subsidiary steps may be indicated. This will of course require much debate and discernment, especially given contextual differences. Christians are found in all walks of life and in very different positions in society so that an appropriate response would have to be differentiated, but then in such a way that it is clear that there is a common if differentiated responsibility.
Such a three-page document will identify what should be done in easily accessible language. On each of the recommenda¬tions it will be necessary to supplement that with responses to two further questions, namely to explain why that should be done and how that should be done.
The rationale for each recommendation (why it should be done) would entail considerable social analysis and theological discernment (the dimensions of seeing and judging in the widely-used Act-See-Judge-Act cycle).
Addressing the practical question as to how each recommendation will be implemented will constitute the core of the movement. A wide range of forms of implementation would have to be considered that may include, for example, massive fundraising efforts to implement actual projects, the development and implementation of liturgies, the productive of information pamphlets, the development of educational tools, Bible studies, protest actions, counter-budget proposals, the establishment of observer groups in civil society and so on and so forth.

This will require an inclusive and participative process in which Christians from all walks of life, church leaders from a wide variety of churches are involved, together with representatives from ecumenical bodies, Faith-Based Organisations including Christian organisations, lay Christian leaders, academic institutions and other relevant bodies. The involvement of those engaged at the grassroots level with such issues, especially women, young people and persons with first-hand experience of unemployment will be crucial. Such involvement should be based on an open invitation in the hope of drawing in as many churches, ecumenical bodies and Christian organisations as possible from across the various provinces and regions in South Africa.

A movement of the kind envisaged here needs to come from below. The gap between churches and Faith-Based Organisations that do innovative work at the grass-roots and ecumenical bodies concerned with policy making needs to be bridged so that good practice and appropriate models can be captured, replicated, consolidated and multiplied in order to inform policy change.

Such a movement cannot be an aim in itself. Likewise, the church is not an aim in itself, but a concrete sign or sacrament of God’s coming reign and an instrument that could be used by God’s Spirit to establish God’s reign, on earth as it is in heaven. In practical terms this implies the need for clear targets that are related to barometers for poverty, unemployment figures and the GINI-coefficient. Such targets cannot be indicated here and would obviously need to be debated. This cannot be done by Christians on their own and will require mass-mobilisation. However, it may be helpful to remind oneself that if such a movement cannot influence the disturbing current figures, it would not meet its objectives.

The need for mass-mobilisation

In order to make a substantive difference to the problems around poverty, unemployment and inequality, there will be a need for a participatory decision making process that can facilitate mass-mobilisation. This will require a decentralised process but also some coordination. Any such an initiative needs to start on a small scale to test and develop the vision.

The following steps have been proposed at a series of preparatory meetings held in Stellenbosch on 12 September 2014, at UWC on 26 September 2014 and in Stellenbosch on 10 October 2014:
• A number of subsequent planning meetings will be held towards the launch of the movement. In the process role players from other organisations will be drawn in as far as this may be feasible in terms of geographic location. The next one is scheduled at UWC for 31 October 2014 at 13h00. These planning meetings will also test and flesh out this draft document.
• The initiative will be launched at a meeting to be held at the University of the Western Cape on the afternoon of Tuesday 2 December 2014 from 13h30-16h30. This meeting will coincide with the launch of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Spirituality and Society at UWC that morning – which will bring together many of the same potential role players. Funding will be solicited through the Konrad Adenauer foundation to invite a number of key role players from other provinces in South Africa and to cover costs for transport and accom¬mo¬dation in this regard. Attention will be taken to ensure the presence of women, youth and represent¬atives from Faith-Based Organisations working at the grassroots level, including people who understand what it means to be unemployed. The meeting will seek to launch the initiative, to offer basic information in this regard, to gather inspiration and to seek guidance for the further process.
• A smaller planning session (with around 30 participants) will take place on the following day, Wednesday 3 December, also at UWC. This meeting will at least include the invited role players from other provinces but will be open for additional participants suggested at the launch the previous day. This one day planning session will outline the further path, for example for regional implementation.
• In 2015 a series of indabas (for want of a better term to indicate that this is not merely a discussion forum) is envisaged at various locations in each of the provinces in South Africa. Each of these indabas will discuss and recommended steps in response to the three questions as outlined above. This will involve social analysis, theological discernment, the gathering of information on what is already done and steps for further implementation. Each indaba would need to create optimal space for participation and sharing. Information from previous initiatives (e.g. the “Poverty hearings” that was held under the leadership of Archbishop-emeritus Ndungane), will be revisited in order not to re-invent the wheel).
• In 2016 a first large national indaba will be held where feedback from any of the regional indabas will be discussed. In essence, the indaba will bring together Christians of all walks of life (of course including church leaders but also lay leaders and youth leaders) to discuss an appropriate response to the triple problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
• It is envisaged that such indabas will be held every alternative year in different locations in urban centres in South Africa until 2030 in such a way that uneven years allow room for regional and more local indabas.
The nature and format of these national indabas will need to be discussed at some length. The following suggestions are put on the table to invite discussion and alternative suggestions:
• The national indabas will be organised (provisionally) by Kairos Southern Africa / Centre for Christian Spirituality but only insofar as it provides the secretariat for the planning of the conference. What such a secretariat would entail would still need to be clarified in more detail.
• The process towards and the hosting of such indabas will hopefully be formally endorsed by as many churches, ecumenical bodies and Christian organisations as possible. By endorsing the movement. churches, ecumenical bodies and Christian organisations will agree to encourage its members to participate in such events, to acknowledge the secretariat provided by Kairos South Africa and to held it accountable for that role.
• The indabas will maintain an ad hoc nature in the sense that any decisions taken will be decisions of the individuals present at that conference and not of the organisations that they represent. Any organisation or church may of course endorse such decisions after-wards. The decisions of a previous indaba will therefore not be binding on the next one, although report back on previous initiatives will be required. This ad hoc nature will encourage the movement character of the initiative. It will not be controlled by any one umbrella organisation.
• The chairperson of the indaba, a deputy chairperson and a secretary will be elected by each indaba and for that indaba alone. They will be tasked to pass the baton on to subsequent indabas.
• Participation (with voting rights) in such indabas will be open to any interested individual as long as they are duly registered. Funding for such participation will have to be provided by the individuals themselves or by the organisations where they are based and in some limited and exceptional cases by the secretariat.
• It is envisaged that such national indabas will each attract (far) in excess of 1000 participants.
• The agenda of the national indabas will follow the format as suggested above, namely 1) to discuss and prioritise (by voting) a) steps that Christians in South Africa can take to address poverty, unemployment and inequality; b) steps that churches can take at an institutional level to address poverty, unemployment and inequality; c) concrete policy recommendations to government (see above); 2) to engage in social analysis and theological reflection on why such steps need to be prioritised; 3) to gather information on what is already being done by churches, ecumenical bodies and Christian organisations in this regard; 4) to celebrate (through stories, exhibitions, music, dance and art) in gratitude what has been achieved and to inspire further authentic hopeful action; and 5) to discuss imple¬mentation plans that can be reviewed at the following national indaba.
• It is envisaged that all five these items will be on the agenda of each of the national indabas but that the focus will gradually shift towards implementation rather than social analysis. It will be crucial to ensure that these indabas do not degenerate into talk shops. There will nevertheless need to be a research component that can inform the social analysis. There will also need to be a gathering of information to capture what churches are already doing. However, the emphasis should be on appropriate responses for implementation.
• If funds permit, a comprehensive website will be developed that can be a platform for continuous communication.
• The indabas should not consume money but should capture the imagination, be of symbolic value for the whole nation, generate substantial funds (through the various strategies for implementation to be discussed) and make a substantial difference to the problems associated with poverty, unemployment and inequality. Each indaba should prompt a moment where people would say: “Aha! That is the way forward!”

Financial aspects

Given the ad hoc nature of the process and the emphasis on decentralisation and individual participation, the AHA movement should not become heavily reliant on outside funding. As a form of mass-mobilisation that draws on its own sources of inspiration, the energy should be harnessed from within. The task of the secretariat will include the need to secure conference venues, to provide organisational support, to coordinate the programme, to invite research activities and so forth. What that secretariat involves would still need to be clarified in the further process. There will clearly be a need for some coordination of the regional indabas in order to ensure continuity and to pass on the relay baton. This implies that people who have played leadership roles in previous national indabas would need to participate in at least some of the regional indabas. There may also be a need for some form of scholarship to enable people to attend the envisaged indabas. Funding for such purposes would need to be solicited, probably through the secretariat.

In general the vision is that the initiative would generate rather than consume funds. The ethos and spirit of the indabas should be in line with the aim of addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa. A sense of frugality, wisdom, gratitude and responsibility should therefore prevail. Such frugality will allow for some celebration, through story-telling, art, music and liturgy, of what has been done. Given the immensity of the challenges, this will undoubtedly need to elicit prayer, self-examination, confession, expectation and irrepressible hope.

It will be important for the AHA-movement to engage with business in South Africa. This can happen with individual business people and businesses (small, medium and large business) and also with organised formations such as Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), the Black Business Council (BBC), NAFCOC etc.
There are several aims for such an engagement with business. Firstly, there is a need to discuss the moral and ethical implications of a South Africa with the current levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. This is clearly not sustainable and not in the interest of growing businesses in South Africa. Secondly, the inverse is also true, namely that an environment where authentic hopeful actions are taken to counter poverty, unemployment and inequality is a good environment for businesses to thrive. Thirdly, this will offer business an opportunity to connect with this movement. It could provide its own theoretical input and also provide things such as venues, staff, facilities, research capacity and direct financial aid to the secretariat.
On this basis the secretariat will connect with as many individual business people, businesses and state-owned enterprises as possible and report to the leadership teams as well as to the provincial and national indabas.

Participation and Endorsements

The following persons have thus far been involved in meetings to discuss the initiative:
Awet Andemicael
Carel Anthonnisen
Edwin Arrison
Ernst Conradie
Siki Dlanga
Miles Giljam
Lerato Kobe
Christo Lombard
Nadia Marais
Sipho Mahokoto
Kaleho Mohono
Martie Momberg
Mbhekeni Nkosi
Mary Anne Plaatjies-Van Huffel
Robert Vosloo
Mqondisi Vena
Vernon Weitz

The following persons have responded to drafts of the document and have endorsed the process:
Frank Chikane
Stephan de Beer
John de Gruchy
Clint le Bruyns
Malusi Mpumlwana
Deon Snyman
Ignatius Swart
Clint le Bruyns

Other names (to be deleted unless they responded)
Ben du Toit
Braam Hanekom
Elizabeth Petersen
Johan Botha
Simanga Kumalo
Moss Nthla
Tommy Solomons
Zweli Tom

The initiative has been endorsed thus far by the following churches, ecumenical bodies and Christian organisations:
None so far but the persons who have been involved in the discussion thus far are associated with the following organisations:
Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology at Stellenbosch University
Centre for Christian Spirituality (CCS)
Centre for Contextual Ministry at the University of Pretoria
Circle for Concerned African Women Theologians: Western Cape chapter
Desmond Tutu Centre for Spirituality and Society at UWC
Ecumenical Foundation of Southern Africa (EFSA)
Kairos Southern Africa
Research Institute for Theology and Religion
Restitution Foundation of South Africa
South African Christian Leaders Initiative (SACLI)
Freedom Mantle Movement
Volmoed Retreat Centre
UKZN Theology and Development Programme

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by judy bassingthwaighte on October 28, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Could not have come at a better time. I will follow with keen interest.Did discuss we need a Kairos Conciousness of the violent crime in our country.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: