Ujamaa: Current Contextual Analysis
The Ujamaa Centre brings together two previously separate organizations, namely the Institute for the Study of the Bible (ISB) and the House of Studies for Worker Ministry. We have worked to bring about transformation since the late 1980s, allowing our work to be constituted by the contextual realities of our changing context.
Given the deeply religious nature of our context and the importance of biblical and theological among our peoples, the Ujamaa Centre works prophetically with the Bible and theological resources to bring about liberation and abundant life for all (John 10:10). We believe, as Jesus taught his disciples, that the kingdom of God must come on earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). We recognize that the Bible has an ambiguous presence in South Africa (and the African continent as a whole) and so we are committed to working with it from the perspective of the poor, the working-class, and the marginalized.
Our primary concern are those sinful structures which trap and keep people oppressed and marginalized, including: economic systems which maintain a rich elite and leave the masses in poverty; patriarchal systems which sustain male privilege and power and keep women subservient and subject to various forms of gendered abuse; residual racial systems which maintain white privilege, particularly in the private sector; hierarchical systems which enable a few to exercise control over the many, especially in the churches; cultural systems which stigmatise and discriminate against those who are HIV-positive and those who are striving to live positively with HIV and AIDS; governmental systems that fail to deliver the rich resources of our country to those in need; and ecclesial systems that fail to engage prophetically with the systems mentioned above.
The Ujamaa Centre is committed to analyzing and dismantling these systems and the power relations that undergird them.
While our primary commitment is to engage with the inequalities we find in our own country, a country that has one of the largest gaps between the rich and the poor in the world, we recognize too that South Africa is uniquely positioned in the continent of Africa. Its relatively good infrastructure and range of resources offers the potential of serving other countries in our region specifically and on the continent generally. Our government recognizes this and generally plays an enabling role in the region and continent. However, the private sector (often with government support) tends to use South Africa’s advantages in exploitative ways in other African countries. The Ujamaa Centre, for its part, is committed to offering its resources to our brothers and sisters in the region and further to the north of us in the continent and to addressing the economic colonialism of South African business.
In order to tackle oppressive systems and the power relations that sustain them, the Ujamaa Centre begins with social analysis "from below". In other words, we begin with an understanding of reality from the perspective of those who are poor, working-class, HIV-positive, unemployed, abused or otherwise oppressed and marginalized. This is an important and fundamental starting point.
Secondly, the Ujamaa Centre then works collaboratively with local communities and churches to address their social analysis. We give priority to organized groups within local communities and churches because they have the capacity "to own" the project. However, if there are no organized groups, we will offer our support in order to assist local communities in setting up organized structures. This we have done, for example, in the formation of the Siyaphila Support Groups among those who are HIV-positive.
Third, the Ujamaa Centre uses the See-Judge-Act method (derived from the worker-priest movement in Belgium and the pedagogical work of Paulo Freire) and Contextual Bible Study as a basic resource to enable the voice of the group we are working with to be heard. Our role is to be facilitators of the voices of others. Alongside the emerging voice of the poor, the working-class, and the marginalized, the Ujamaa Centre shares its own inputs and then networks the particular group with additional appropriate resources from other agencies, whether governmental or non-governmental.
Fourth, together with particular local communities and churches various forms of action are planned. Every Ujamaa Centre workshop ends with an Action Plan. The Action Plan is always the product of the particular community with which we work, and must be owned by them. However, we support them and work with them in a whole range of strategic activities, including advocacy and lobbying, organizational and/or structural change, capacity building, etc.