Central and South African Yearly Meeting
7 January 2012 --- I was very excited to be able to attend Central and Southern African Yearly Meeting (unprogrammed Friends). It was held January 1 – 7, 2012, at the lovely Good Shepherd Retreat Centre near Johannesburg, South Africa. About 90 Friends from Monthly Meetings in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe attended. The only country not represented was Zambia where there are only a couple of Friends who sent a report, but could not attend.
I gave a seven-minute talk introducing myself and the Quaker publications with which I am involved. I made 10 copies of What Canst Thou Say and Quaker Eco-Bulletin to give away and left one copy each of the two recent Quaker Institute for the Future pamphlets. There was quite a lot of interest in all three of these periodicals. The seven-minute talk is a great idea for a Yearly Meeting. It allows quite a number of contributions and is a good discipline to fit into that timeframe.
I also gave a Special Interest Group on Climate Change out of which came a minute with four parts:
1) We recommend lobbying for a Financial Transactions Tax to finance adaptation responses to the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries and as a means of wealth redistribution.
2) We ask that the latest scrubbing and other technologies be used on all existing coal plants.
3) We ask that all subsidies for fossil fuels be removed.
4) We ask for a boycott of Shell, and will write to tell them so, because of their plans for fracking in South Africa.
The Yearly Meeting spent considerable time on issues in Zimbabwe. After the Friends Meeting in Harare experienced serious intimidation last year, Les and Pauline Mitchell went to Zimbabwe traveling in the ministry and wrote a detailed report of their findings. After a tremendous drought in 2002, Friends developed the Zimbabwe Food Relief Action. They went into areas that were hard hit where there is no other NGO helping and they still are providing when they have enough money. They buy maize (corn) and arrange for transportation to provide 25 kg to each family in each of 16 villages, whatever their financial status, number of members, etc. The chief of each village provides a list of all the families. That way it is not necessary to make any judgment of neediness, and it gives an opportunity for any who do not to need so much to share. Much of the Zimbabwe population is pastoral and they have lost a large part of their livestock due to the drought, resulting in serious conditions.
The political conditions are also serious. There is global agreement that the last elections have been rigged by the ruling party. The intimidation of the population in regard to upcoming elections happens long before the international monitors arrive. People are frightened into voting for the party in power implying that their ballot is not secret. One must show a party membership card to get essential services such as transportation, education, even food. One person reported authorities coming to his house asking him to prove that he was a member of the ruling party and then to name five people who were not. When he said he didn’t know anyone that wasn’t, he was beaten until he named five people. The drought and a high incidence of HIV/AIDS have exacerbated the problems.
The Yearly Meeting suggested several ways they could help. Voter education is needed to let people know of their rights. There are internal electoral monitors, but they, too, are the victims of intimation. International monitors are needed earlier in the process. South African Friends will lobby the South African government to stop supporting the ruling Mugabe administration and deporting Zimbabweans.
The inspirational DVD A Force More Powerful will be made available in Zimbabwe. It begins with the Gandhi Salt March and continues with five other examples of non-violent campaigns that were successful in overthrowing dictators or other oppressive regimes. This DVD was shown at Yearly Meeting. I found it very moving and will make some effort to get it to Friends Meetings in the U.S., if they don’t have it already.
A South African Member of Parliament, Trevor Manuel, has led an effort that resulted in a National Development Plan, which among its goals, eradication of poverty and sustainability. Friends George Ellis has written an analysis which was endorsed by the Yearly Meeting. He says that the plan is very good, but is likely to be opposed by those whole power would be threatened. Friends were committed to lobby for it and to work through inter-faith groups. He suggested that in order to reduce corruption, they should establish an amnesty like the truth and reconciliation process that occurred after apartheid.
These are just the highlights of a wonderful week which included worship, music, birding, morning walks, good food and fellowship. I felt quite at home with these Friends.