ESSET, DIAKONIA and PACSA in joint reflection on organisational practice

Category : PACSA news

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PACSA, ESSET (Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation, based in Johannesburg) and the Diakonia Council of Churches, based in Durban, spent two days in joint reflection on our analysis of the context we work in and how our organisational practice allows us to contribute to social justice. The reflections took place at the Umdloti Holiday Resort and Conference Centre, on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, and included intense reflections and debate but also time to connect as persons in a relaxed atmosphere.The reflections took place at the Umdloti Holiday Resort and Conference Centre, on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, and included intense reflections and debate but also time to connect as persons in a relaxed atmosphere. All three organisations are part of the ecumenical sector and this reflection was also meant to strength to reflect on the role of the ecumenical movement in South Africa today. What emerged from the three days was that at the heart of our work is the desire to change and/or shift power relations. Linked to this power shift was a strong idea of sharing principles that embrace the kind of world we are creating. We therefore spent time looking at the context, especially key forces driving/blocking the change we want to make. These issues included:   • Structural issues, which are playing a big role in blocking communities in coming up with alternative systems that can take them out of poverty.  These alternatives are criminalized and viciously blocked by authorities.
• Education and health are disastrous.
• Basic services are not the priorities of the government, and in most instances they are cut.
• There are no spaces for ordinary people to engage the government.
• People are trying hard to challenge injustice but are ignored. We have seen and experience a lot of anger and despondency everywhere.
• Women still bear the brunt of poverty.
• There is evidence that ordinary people are feeling the squeeze of higher food prices. Basic services are not affordable.
• There are no strong movements to challenge the status quo.
• The principles guiding democracy are lost.
• There is currently no substance in political debate.
• The nature of protest has changed and there is silent protest seen in despair, desperation and also anger. Tapping into these energies to revive social protest and resuscitate the essence of real politics.   What should our role be?   Our role starts with understanding what is going on around us. We need to find out what all these blockages mean to us. There are a number of things we can do support those in struggle to shift power, and these include: • In our own name and voice to challenge the system that blocks the shifting of power.
• Supporting community initiatives such as campaigns and protests and not hijacking it for our interests. There was a feeling that not all protests are effective, hence the need to look at protests deeply.
• Supporting alternative systems of bringing healthy and affordable food to households.
• Participate in building strong people’s movements. Future collaborations will explore what is meant by ‘politics of the stomach’ in relation to real lived struggles which are inextricably connected with the right to life and human dignity. This also has the potential to break the divide between ‘livelihood projects/ poverty alleviation’ and ‘advocacy campaigns or structural change’ by integrating these around the principle of dignity.


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