Here & now: Diana Paulding
Diana Paulding on standing in solidarity in South Africa
I had the privilege in October 2022 of visiting South Africa with Christian Aid, supported by Commitment for Life. Christian Aid no longer runs a country programme in South Africa. Our visit was not designed as a tour to see Christian Aid’s work, but as a week-long journey side-by-side with South African church leaders and activists (pictured). Over the week we got to know a country that is living with the deep cultural trauma of apartheid and to witness how continuing economic inequalities mean that individuals continue to struggle and suffer in this divided country.
One of the difficult topics that we explored as a group was around the nature of international aid. Funding remains a concern for organisations as they strive to make a difference within a capitalist world, but the classic model of aid in which Britain has engaged is a transactional one, where the global north is the funder and the global south is the one in need of funding. Money is given and, in return, stories of suffering and poverty are given back, which are then used to encourage people to give more money. It is a model that sees those in need as helpless and reliant upon British aid, and their stories are appropriated in order to raise money. It denies those who are struggling the opportunity to tell their own stories and be part of the change that they need. It is, at its most extreme, a model based on a ‘white saviour’ mentality.
In conversation with its South African partners, Christian Aid has been moving towards a solidarity-based relationship with organisations and activists in the country. Solidarity is mutual. In transactional relationships, power lies with those who give the money and decides where it goes. In a solidarity-based relationship, there is a common vision and a united approach to issues of social justice. Money may play a part, because that is the world in which we live, but it is not the foundation of the relationship, and continuing support does not rely on tick-box exercises about how the money is to be used. In breaking free of the confines and power dynamics of a transactional relationship, individuals gain the agency to act and speak to their own situation…
Diana Paulding is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, supported by the Council for World Mission Academic Accompaniment Programme and the Northern College Research Fellowship. She worships with yourchurch.
This is an extract from an article published in the December 2022 / January 2023 edition of Reform