Arbeitsstelle Friedensarbeit im Haus kirchlicher Dienste

Ökumenische Dekade zur Überwindung von Gewalt 2001 - 2010

The story of "Canaan"

During the days of the informal settlement “Canaan” in Durban on each day of the year 1992 more than 10.000 people became refugees worldwide. The number of refugees rose to 18.2 million - this is eight times as much as 20 years ago. Another 24 million are displaced within the country. This means that almost every 130th human being was forced to flee ("The State of the World's Refugees," UNHCR Report 1993).

the years of 1984-1993 I was commissioned to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa as an expatriate pastor of a small Indian and Black Lutheran congregation near the city center of Durban in Natal Province. In the last three years of my ministry there, I became increasingly involved in a small infórmal settlement near Reservoir Hills between the Umgeni River and the N2 highway. There - on the edge of the highway – the people had built a settlement of ca. 460 small huts and baptized it "Canaan". The name had been chosen in reference to the biblical story by its first chairman, a preacher of the Zion Church, because – so he said – the people had sought and now found a "promised land" where they could rest their heads and be safe. A land of milk and honey, this Canaan, however, did not prove to be – there was no running water, there were no toilets, no shops, no infrastructure, no security. Nevertheless, the settlement grew from a few hundred in 1989 to ca. 8000 in 1992.

The situation was alarming: More than 50% of the people were unemployed, with more than 50% under the age of 24. Children and young people were exposed to township - "Tsotsis" (gangsters) and a ruthless drug mafia. The morbidity and mortality rate was incomparably high; in the first 2 years, no water lines or drain pipes were available, the nearest clinic was many kilometers away and Zulu-speaking schools in the area were non-existent. Despite this obvious need, none of the established churches in the early years had been showing solidarity with the Canaan people, although more than 74% of the residents called themselves Christians. The only people who were active in different informal settlements were the independent African churches. Their preachers, prophets and leaders often lived in the settlements themselves. Even the black Lutheran pastors in the townships were not willing to start work in the squatter camps, because it appeared to them either too dangerous or they themselves had taken up similar prejudices as the white population against what they called “the squatters”.

The beginning of our commitment to this community of Canaan was not due to special moral appeals or an expression of official church directive, but because of a conscious creative work of black Christians in the community, itself. A very important resource person in the early days was Mrs. Sizakhele Mkize, a student of Community Development at the University of Natal. She had been supported by the various NGOs such as “Black Sash” and “Laywers for Human Rights”, and so, encouraged by their energetic example, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Reservoir Hills also got involved and dedicated itself to various projects. All ideas came from the Canaan Committee. itself, stressing the local approach and local ownership of the projects. Perhaps some of these projects remained small and insignificant, but for the change of conditions in the informal settlement, they were quite important.

They included:

·       political cooperation with NGOs and lobbying for water supply and alternative land,

·       establishment of youth initiatives (football tournaments, talent shows, youth services, school tutoring - self consciousness and self-strengthening initiatives)

·       establishment of two creches, both built within the settlement,

·       regular worship services in the settlement (involving DIAKONIA Council of Churches, the local ecumenical ministers’ fraternal of Reservoir Hills/Asherville/Claremont/Durban Central (with highly relevant services - Bishop P. Zulu, Christmas Carol Service “We have no room in Durban” with Mayor M. Winter and late Archbishop D. Hurley),

·       collaboration with Social Work Department at the University of Durban-Westville: involving students for social work assisting with self-help projects,

·       enrollment of 60 children from “Canaan” in schools around Canaan, putting pressure on heads of departments, teachers of local schools and their administrations,

·       raising awareness in the local media in the greater Durban area, establishing a conference of landless people and the formation of a church network for the landless at the suggestion of DIAKONIA Council of Churches under the auspices of the then Anglican Bishop Ross Cutbertson,

·       offering exposure tours to students and social workers to conditions in the informal settlements.

The work went on after I left - often at risk, often stagnant - but then again taken up by volunteers first of the "Social Action Group" of the St John's Lutheran Church in Reservoir Hills, then taken over by the Durban North Baptist Church.

In 1992, the new city administration made an offer to the inhabitants of Canaan to move to the newly built settlement Quarry Heights at Avoka Hill / Newlands East about 15 kilometers away, where they would get their own land plots and a better infrastructure.

in 2002 the situation was as follows: The old nursery of Canaan found a new home in a church of the Quarry Heights Baptist Church of Pastor Richard. A team of kindergarten teachers, led by Rebecca took care of the regular routine and lessons for the children. The Durban North Baptist Church with Dee Horsfall provided for the necessary financial support. A second kindergarten had emerged from the first Canaan Creche and was managed by the kindergarten teacher Deena. A great help was the ongoing monitoring of the work by the Chairman of Quarry Heights, Mr. Sokhela.

When visiting Quarry Hights in 2002, students of the John F. Kennedy Secondary School of Brunswick, Germany. with their hosts, students from Hillview Secondary School, Newlands East/Durban, got a vivid impression of the progress of the cooperation within the community. .

And one important “side-effect" of the work: through the personal friendship with and visits of the Martin Luther Church in Detmold, the church community where I grew up, in 1989 an official decision of a partnership agreement was reached and has continued until this very day.. Since then several visits between St. John’s Church in Reservoir Hills and Martin-Luther Church in Detmold have taken place, involving the work of former “Canaan”. The awareness raising has helped to establish a church movement in Detmold in solidarity with immigrants from Russia looking for new homes in the Detmold region. One of the first volunteers to that movement came from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Reservoir Hills sending a young South African of Indian descent to work in a creche with young Russian immigrant children.

Rev. Klaus J. Burckhardt

Publications and Materials on “Canaan”

·       "Workers have a right to housing" translation of a document from DIAKONIA for housing in Durban / Natal 1992

"Canaan is everywhere" - An exhibition brochure including detailed description of the work 1993

Description of a game plan for the exhibition 1993

"Canaan – Infomal settlers in South Africa" ​​series of slides with accompanying booklet including 36 slides     ELM Hermannsburg, 1993

Prof.K.Nürnberger, The Sourge of Unemployment in South Africa, Encounter Publications, PMB, 1990

idem, The Ethics of North-South conflict, Mohn, Gütersloh, 1987

E.M. Ardington, Buckpassing in Canaan, on example of authorities' failure to address the needs of informal   urban dwellers, Centre for Social and Development Studies, University of Natal, 1992