The Diocese of Grahamstown is now actively involved with a Land Justice program, transferring the ownership of church-owned land to local people in the poorer rural areas.
Much of the land was given to churches by local chiefs as centres for missionary work in the mid 1800s. The land was nearly always alongside a river and was intended to enable the mission - which usually consisted of a school, hospital and church with buildings for the missionaries - to be self-sufficient in food and water. The missionaries often included an agriculturist who would farm the land.
Much church land fell within the former "bantustans" - the separated "black" states that the apartheid regime was setting up - such as the Ciskei and Transkei - and was expropriated by the government. But the Grahamstown diocese still owns two farms which escaped apartheid legislation. One of these is St. John's Mission at Bolotwa, near Queenstown, which consists of 266 acres, and the other is St. Luke's Mission near East London, consisting of 543 acres.
The diocese is now in the process of transferring the ownership of this land to local beneficiaries. The Bolotwa farm has 24 beneficiaries who will be running the farm as a cooperative. The beneficiaries are carefully selected to meet the criteria of the government's land reform program, and each family will be entitled to a government grant of 20,000 rand for purchasing equipment, fencing and seeds. The beneficiaries are expected to undergo four years of training with an agricultural officer.
The diocese is retaining 18 acres on each of these farms, which contains the old church, rectory and burial ground. The former rectory at Bolotwa, with its picturesque setting surrounded by mountains and the rondavels (thatched huts) of the local community, has recently been renovated and converted into a rural retreat and conference centre.
St. Luke's farm is a much larger project. Part of the land has been set aside for a cooperative housing project by a Swedish-linked non-governmental organization. The building of 270 low-cost houses for local people is expected to begin this year. A smaller area of land is also marked out for a business park and a sporting complex to be built by the provincial government, and the remainder is set aside for farming by local beneficiaries.
Smaller areas of land in the diocese are also being developed under the Land Justice programme as food security projects. These are plots of two to 10 acres alongside rural churches and chapels, where local people are being taught to grow vegetables to improve their diet in response to the AIDS pandemic.
By the Revd Canon Jesse Sage, Diocese of Grahamstown, South Africa
Reprinted from the The Anglican of the Diocese of Toronto