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Social Development



Archbishop Thabo speaks on Urban Food Security in Southern Africa

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

Urban Food Security in Southern Africa

Johannesburg, 10 June 2009

 

Dr Chilese, Madam Mayor, Mr de Zeeuw, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege and a pleasure to speak to you this evening.

 

Let me express my gratitude to the African Food Security Urban Network and the Municipal Development Partnership;  with particular thanks to Mr. Sithole Mbanga of the South African Cities Network – who, in initiating the invitation, acknowledged the role of the faith communities across Africa in tackling the challenges of poverty and hunger.

 

I must admit that it feels a little paradoxical to be speaking about urban food security immediately before we proceed to dinner.  None of us is in any doubt about where our next meal is coming from!

 

But that is not the case for far too many millions in cities and towns across this continent.

 

Nor was it the case for many of the followers of Jesus Christ, whom he taught to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’.

 

It is the first petition of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, that famously begins ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …’

 

After acknowledging God as Lord of all, we express our need for basic nourishment.

 

We all need our daily bread, if we are to get on with the rest of life.  Without it, our whole existence is threatened.

 

Implicit in this prayer is the recognition that God understands this. 

 

It is a reminder, should we need it, that he cares about our physical, as well as our spiritual, well-being.

 

It matters to this God of love that every member of the human family should have access to sufficient food, on a daily basis.

 

It matters to him that there are 800 million hungry people on this planet. 

 

And he calls on his followers to demonstrate his love for the world through doing something practical about this scandal.

 

It is, of course, not only Christians and other communities of faith who understand this – but our religions certainly insist that those who have, have a responsibility towards those who have not.

 

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us that we shall all be judged on whether or not we have fed the hungry, given a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, tended the sick and visited those in prison.

 

Or, to put it in the words of the Russian theologian of the early twentieth century, Nicholai Berdyaev, ‘food for myself is a physical concern;  but food for my neighbour is a spiritual concern.’

 

So it is no surprise that Christians and churches across the world are heavily involved in the provision of food through soup kitchens, feeding schemes and food parcels.

 

Ten years ago, my predecessor as Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, was a Commissioner in national poverty hearings held across South Africa.  At that point, the greatest need voiced by those who came and spoke about their struggles to make ends meet, was access to education, jobs and training. 

 

In 2008 Archbishop Ndungane instigated a further round of poverty hearings.  He was shocked to find that now, the overwhelming concern was the ability of people to feed themselves and their families.  Many were not managing.

 

The problem goes wider.  I understand that sub-Saharan Africa as a whole produces less food per person today than it did three decades ago.

 

I am also told that of the 86 countries in the world that are defined as both low-income and food-deficient, 43 are in Africa.

 

Ensuring food security – their fundamental right of people to the food they need – is one of the greatest developmental challenges. 

 

It is no surprise that eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is the first of the Millennium Development Goals.

 

If there is inadequate access to food, if people are hungry or malnourished, then their ability as individuals and communities to embark on any development process is severely compromised.

 

Though the churches are committed to feeding the hungry, we would far rather see people empowered to feed themselves, and from this basis be enabled to be agents of their own development and self-advancement.

 

Many of those who first followed Jesus, who were taught to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’, were fishermen.  They were dependent on daily activity to feed themselves, their families, their community. 

 

The Bible records how Jesus told them to let down their nets in broad day-light – entirely the wrong time for fishing – and they made a vast catch. 

 

In practical terms, this gave them a surplus for sale, and so set them free from a hand-to-mouth existence to pursue a different life, of their own choosing – namely, choosing to follow Jesus. 

 

In Southern Africa, the Anglican Church has a particular commitment to helping people acquire the dignity of being able to feed themselves.  Many of our churches run food garden schemes. 

 

I will admit that there is scope to make better use of land under church control for food production and livestock rearing.

 

However, I am glad to say that Hope Africa, our Social Development Programme, is busy initiating and developing food production programmes in South Africa and in Swaziland.

 

Returning to the Bible, we can also look at the vast catch of fish from another angle – seeing it symbolically as evidence of God’s superabundant generosity, a reflection of Jesus’ saying that he came that we might have life in abundance.

 

Abundance is still God’s promise, and still our reality. 

 

The truth is that globally we produce far more than is required to feed the planet’s entire population.

 

But we fail in our responsibility to produce and share food justly, and we fail to recognise that the earth is a finite resource (indeed, this is one of the reasons for our current global economic crisis).

 

You will know better than I the distortions that arise when food produced in the south is not available for local purchase and consumption, but is transported to the markets of the north.

 

This also comes at great environmental cost – a cost that will be disproportionately borne by those least responsible, those least able to cope.

 

The Bible tells us to be wise stewards of creation – I am glad to say that organic principles and sustainability are at the heart of the church’s agricultural programmes.

 

Finally, there is another area where the church can help make a difference in questions of hunger and food security, and that is in advocacy.

 

It was probably the Brazilian priest, Dom Helder Camera, who first said, ‘when I give food to the hungry they call me a saint.  When I ask why they had no food they call me a communist.’   

 

Well, I’m not much of a communist either – but I am prepared to speak out, and press for change, wherever there is injustice, and wherever those with power and authority have it within their capacity to make a difference.

 

So let me end by thanking you once again for inviting me here tonight.  I hope that the church participants in this conference over the next few days will learn how we can do more, and do it better – both within our own direct sphere of influence, and in partnership with others.

 

And my prayer for you all, is that God will bless you, as you look for practical and realisable solutions to these urgent questions – and so make you a blessing to others.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Posted: 2009/06/12 (04:46:28 AM)


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