Epistle of the Quaker Community in Southern Africa Yearly Meeting 2021

1 August 2021

Greetings to Friends Everywhere

The Quaker Community in Southern Africa held our Yearly Meeting online over five days on 16 June (the 45th anniversary of the 1976 student uprising in Soweto, Cape Town and other parts of South Africa) and on the two weekends of 24/25 July and 31 July/1 August 2021. We send love and warm greetings to Friends all around the world.

We met during a time of vulnerability, uncertainty and heightened awareness of continuing poverty and inequality, while the Covid19 pandemic was raging around the world, and South Africa was experiencing rioting, looting, death, damage to infrastructure and an attempted insurrection in the two provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, which are the economic hubs of the whole region.

We missed hugging and touching, the shared meals, the early morning yoga and walks and children’s laughter, and yet we met in a spirit of love, hope and joy as we greeted and shared with each other from Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and welcomed Friends from the Britain Yearly Meeting and Africa Section. Meeting virtually reduced travel costs of our dispersed yearly meeting and also reduced our carbon footprint.

Marie Odendaal delivered The Richard Gush Lecture 2021Creating our World in Love’s Image: Journeying Beyond Apartheid — on 16 June, chosen as this day 45 years ago police fired on students protesting peacefully, leading to the 1976 student uprising in Soweto, Cape Town and other parts of South Africa, which changed the trajectory of South Africa’s history. Marie’s moving, powerful story of her life lived with compassion and integrity, ended with a challenge to our Meetings to rise to the historic challenges of colonialism, apartheid, economic inequality and land dispossession.

Simon Gush, a descendent of the 1820 settler Richard Gush, is investigating the land issue in Salem, an area of Gush’s farm. Three of Simon Gush’s films were recommended for watching in preparation for the lecture.

The challenges could overwhelm us, and yet they could unite us in action. Marie reminded us of Margaret Mead’s advice:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

She encouraged Friends in Southern Africa to reflect on our own stories and Quaker legacy to explode the myths of race, contribute to restitution and reconciliation, and help build the beloved community.

The Meetings for Worship and Worship Sharing groups were rich in silence and ministry, and brought us together in a spirit of love and hope and a “strange feeling of togetherness at a distance.”

The business was interspersed with worship sharing, musical interludes,
5-minute talks, short videos on Friends’ work, testimonies of departed Friends and discussions with breakout rooms and report backs.

The Clerks introduced the idea of Participatory Action and Research Groups (PAR Groups) which can involve Friends from all the meetings. The PAR Group on Poverty and Inequality explored the idea of a universal Basic Income Grant or Universal Basic Share as a means of addressing poverty and inequality. A private initiative has piloted the idea in Namibia and it is catching on in South Africa. PAR Groups on Peace and Quaker Bible study will be started. We acknowledge that Inequality is a cross-cutting theme that can be addressed in all the PAR Groups and in all our work.

The meeting supported a proposal to explore the viability of an ambitious Peace Education programme in the region — Investing in Peacebuilding. This would be a Quaker social investment to implement the Peace Testimony in response to the reality that the countries of Southern Africa experience great socio-economic hardship and high levels of interpersonal violence. Murder rates in Lesotho and South Africa place these countries in the 10 most violent countries in the world. South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini have the highest rates of reported rapes per 100 000 people in the world. The peacebuilding proposal involves three independent but intersecting parts:

  • Training 10 000 young people in Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe in responsible, loving and nonviolent parenting
  • Establishing a postgraduate programme in Peacebuilding at the National University of Lesotho
  • Recommencing the KZN-AVP peace education programme and extending it throughout southern Africa.

Young Friends shared a video of a wonderful camp in the Drakensberg. They are keen to be nurtured in taking on positions of responsibility in the meeting and want to be involved in community work and AVP.

We heard a report of an active children’s programme including linking across the YM and connecting to meetings in the UK, which they look forward to and enjoyed, during a difficult time for children.

Digital technology has facilitated participation of Friends at our Yearly Meeting. This shows how adaptable Quakers are. There is also a need to put in place measures that address issues such as devices and data/connectivity, to maintain and increase the participation of Friends.

We appreciate that we were able to meet and share creative ways of gathering remotely. During this Yearly Meeting we were able to meet in Breakout Rooms and watch videos and were inspired by the presentation of music interludes and five-minute talks.

We agreed to continue exploring different ways of gathering, including holding blended meetings (face-to-face and digital) and we agreed to the Representatives Meetings taking place three times a year, possibly in blended meetings.

The Yearly Meeting is deeply concerned about the recent violent riots in South Africa and the growing socio-economic inequality and poverty in our region. The Yearly Meeting issued a public statement on the attempted insurrection, rioting, looting and damage to infrastructure in South Africa.

Signed
Co-Clerks
Sipho Nsimbi and Justin Ellis
Quaker Community in Southern Africa

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Quaker Community in Southern Africa endorses SACC statement

At their recent virtual meeting the Quaker Community in Southern Africa was made aware of the following statement of the South African Council of Churches.

“The South African Council of Churches (SACC) is dismayed and perplexed by reports that Government intends to destroy recovered loot, including food products, in the face of massive poverty and want. The SACC appeals for a change of heart over this, and that recovered goods should be placed in the trust of reliable humanitarian non-profit organisations to distribute those goods recovered in good working order and which remain intact, in accordance with appropriate criteria of the needs across the country.

“In this regard the SACC has written to the Government with an urgent appeal to consider a humanitarian distribution process of recovered goods.

“We consider it unthinkable, and borders on obscenity, that even food can be consigned to destruction when we all know the extent of poverty and want in South Africa – the country with the highest levels of inequality in the world,” said Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the SACC.  “We hope that, if the decision to destroy these goods has indeed been made, that it can and will be reversed,” he concluded.”

The Quaker Community in Southern Africa notes that in the spirit of James
2:14-26 the idea of faith without action is empty: Religion needs to be matched by action in the physical realm, as stated also in Micah 6:8. God is looking for men and women to do what is fair and compassionate to our neighbour.

We believe the Spirit is leading many churches in SA in this response.

The Quaker Community in Southern Africa endorses the intention of the SACC statement. Every peaceful and fair effort, by the law enforcement and other appropriate authorities, should be made to identify and return stolen goods to the original owners. Where this is not possible, we propose Gift of The Givers and The Red Cross as excellent organisations to receive these goods as soon as possible, to be distributed to those in most need as a matter of urgency. Community Chests, which are also good local bodies that support orphanages, early childhood centres, preschools and crèches, could also be excellent recipients for local distribution.

Sipho Nsimbi and Justin Ellis
Co-Clerks

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Statement on the Failed Insurrection and Civil Unrest in South Africa

Issued by the Quaker Community in Southern Africa

1 August 2021

26 years after the advent of democracy in South Africa, we have experienced our first major insurrection. It is still early days, and facts may yet come to light that shed entirely new aspects on what has happened. Thus far, what we have seen suggests that this was not a coup attempt in the classic sense, but rather a bid by a faction of the ruling party to so destabilise the country as to make the president and his faction’s grip on power untenable, thus opening the way for the former faction to take back control. They were taking advantage of the poor and vulnerable and using them as pawns in their political interest. The pandemic has already ravaged livelihoods, and subsequent to that the insurrection has made it much worse. Unaccountable elites are fighting amongst themselves without regard for the law or the general population. Huge sums of money that were supposed to be used for public good have been stolen through massive corruption.

The insurrection consisted of, inter alia, breaking open shopping centres to create multiple looting opportunities for an impoverished, locked down population and criminal elements, and then burning these same centres; inciting looting, destruction, and inter-racial conflict on social media; targeting and seeking to destroy infrastructure, including the N3, factories, and a chemicals plant in KZN; and – although this needs further investigation – taking steps to ensure a weak to non-existent response from the police, again, particularly in KZN.

The label “insurrection” is correct. The sabotage was wide-ranging and organized. There were attacks on transport (transport routes and the Port of Durban) and the health system — including a blood bank — and after attacks on warehouses, distributors and Cipla, there is now a shortage of chronic medications in the province. Very worryingly, efforts were also targeted to disrupt communications networks and curtail journalism. There has been harassment and intimidation of the journalists who are covering the protests in KZN and Gauteng, and the deliberate destruction and looting of four community radio stations.

South Africa is hardly the first African country to endure insurrection after political transition. The DRC had its prime minister assassinated a year after independence, and its first coup five years later. Nigerians suffered their first coup six years after independence. Ghanaians nine years after. Algerians three years after. Benin three years after… And these were successful coups. In each case, citizens were left with a sad, helpless feeling as the democratic process was aborted, and unaccountable elites proceeded violently to grab power from each other with no regard for the law or the general population.

In South Africa, mercifully, the narrative is turning out differently. We are 26 years into democracy. Despite the setbacks associated with state capture, our institutions of democratic governance are maturing. And when insurrection strikes, it fails to spread. Instead, it peters out and the centre holds…

And alongside the still-lingering smell of burning comes the sound of sweeping. People, spontaneously, are cleaning up and the nation, distancing itself from the insurrection, is cheering them on. Even some instigators seem to feel the mood, posing now on social media, brooms in hand.

As we digest the news that, in our hour of need, the state’s security forces may prove unwilling or unable to defend us, we are also coming to an understanding that our yearning for peace, and for our democratic adventure to continue is powerful, powerful enough indeed to stop an insurrection. Powerful enough that now the President is feeding on this power, as he seeks to lead us forward. Amid all the pain and loss, we celebrate this.

As Quakers, we should recognise these signs of the times. Our peace testimony has long led us to scepticism about the ability of state security forces – and to joyful optimism about our own capacities – to honour that of God in all of us and to nudge us in the ways of peace. We believe in power from the bottom up. We believe in living one’s faith, in the power of a good example.

Hundreds are dead from this insurrection. We mourn their loss and pray that each of their families may know peace, and receive justice. Tens of thousands of people have lost their livelihoods or their businesses. We commit ourselves to finding effective ways to show our solidarity with them, to being part of the clean-up, of the rebuilding.

Recognising that South Africa’s immense inequality, worsening poverty levels and its violent history and present have left our nation akin to a tinder box, let us also commit ourselves to the search for ways to rebuild better, more fairly, more inclusively, and more kindly. South Africa is in pain, but our democratic adventure continues. As we, as Quakers, strive to live adventurously, may we all seek and find ways to play our part in this rebuilding. We must work hand in hand with civil society to alleviate the widespread poverty in every way we can.

The real problem that needs to be addressed is that, notwithstanding acute pain in GP and KZN, most of Southern Africa is an area in crisis and in danger of becoming unviable. A real concern is that if the underlying structural inequalities are not substantively addressed, we will return to the status quo, and this will continue to explode.

South Africa emerged from Apartheid as the most unequal country in the world. However, despite significant fiscal resources and high levels of tax collection (over R1 Trillion a year) our government has simply not conducted itself with integrity in ensuring public resources are used to dismantle structural inequality. Individual actions are important, but not enough; we must also act collectively as a society.

We commit ourselves to being part of the process to ensure that no one goes hungry, to creating a politics of care, a culture of nurturance, and local economies that uplift and strengthen communities, to restore hope and address the structural issues hampering social change.

Co-Clerks
Sipho Nsimbi and Justin Ellis

Quaker Community in Southern Africa

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Richard Gush Lecture 2021

Creating our world in love’s image — journeying beyond apartheid

Marie Odendaal

The Richard Gush Memorial Lecture was delivered on 16 June 2021 by Marie Odendaal of the KwaZulu-Natal Monthly Meeting. It can be viewed on the Quaker Community in Southern Africa YouTube channel.

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SA Quaker News — June 2021 out now

The latest edition of SA Quaker News can be downloaded from the Publications page.

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Small business and food garden support applications open

MYRM asked QFC to consider helping Friends develop gardens or small businesses, and funds have now been allocated.

Any Quaker in SAYM may apply for these funds through their Meeting.

Application forms and information sheets may be downloaded by clicking this link. Please note that the forms are behind a password. If you do not have the password, please contact your Clerk.

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Yearly Meeting 2021

The 2021 Yearly Meeting will be held over two consecutive weekends in July/August. For more information and to register, please go here.

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7 ways to welcome children and families to your Quaker meeting — from Quakers in Britain

AVERAGE READ TIME: 5 MINUTES

Families and children are a vital part of the Quaker community. Mel Cook shares how meetings can extend them an even warmer welcome. 

Being ready with activities for young children is a great way to welcome them to a Quaker meeting. Photo: BYM
Being ready with activities for young children is a great way to welcome them to a Quaker meeting. Photo: BYM

Children and young people are a valued and vital part of our Quaker community.

Some Quaker meetings have vibrant children’s meetings, while others only have the occasional younger visitor. Wherever your local meeting is on this spectrum, here are some tips on making it more children and family friendly.

… 

  1. Be ready
  2. Be flexible
  3. Get inspired
  4. Consider how the meetings connect
  5. Explore how others do it
  6. Think about having a dedicated children’s worker
  7. Shout about it

To read the full article where the headings above are expanded upon, please click this link: https://www.quaker.org.uk/blog/7-ways-to-welcome-children-and-families-to-your-quaker-meeting


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SAQN September 2019 is available

Please go to our Publications page to download the September 2019 edition.

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SAYM 2019 Minutes are available

from the password-protected download page: SAYM 2019 Minutes

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