What are the gains and losses because of Covid-19? This question was explored by almost 30 participants at the first SADC Germany Solidarity Network conference on 8 May 2021. SADC stands for "Southern African Development Community". SADC comprises 16 countries: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Comoros, DR Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
30 participants aimed to respond to this question during the first SGSN Germany Solidarity Network Conference, which took place digitally on 8 May 2021. The meeting for those interested in Southern Africa or responsible for partnerships between universities, schools, churches or cities on the subcontinent had originally been scheduled to take place a year earlier in Stuttgart with Father Michael Lapsley as keynote speaker. But then came Covid-19 and forced organisers to reschedule and rethink. By using of the advantages of modern video technology participation from Southern Africa would also be able to attend.
In the months leading up to the conference regular online meetings allowed a growing number of interested persons to engage in the preparations. People shared experiences about their dealings with the pandemic, exchanged possibilities for solidarity action and discussed matters relevant to their partnership groups in anticipation of the conference. A better understanding was gained on issues related to SADC, the nature of partnerships, supply chains, etc.
On 8 May – a significant date on which WWII ended in 1945 – the network conference kicked off with introductory videos by some participants who shared their experiences in the light of Covid-19. Father Michael Lapsley, anti-Apartheid activist and founder of the Institute for Healing of Memories in South Africa, gave the keynote address and focused on our need to be concerned and to find out how our neighbours were doing during the pandemic. He reflected further on the contributions by participants, elaborating on cohesion, support, flexibility and focusing on the essential aspects of life that all had been challenged by Covid-19. What can we learn from it and what changes are called for? How can a solidarity network bring about changes to our points of view, the way we tackle challenges and fight for life, peace, solidarity and justice?
Colleen Cunningham, Unity Women’s Sub Desk Coordinator for the Moravian Women’s Association in South Africa (MCSA), related from her experience in South Africa, where the third wave was just starting. She and her family were infected by the virus and have been fighting for weeks to recover from it. She shared how this impacted on her values, her everyday spirituality, as well as her view on others, especially given the experiences within society of poverty, racism and gender based violence. Rev. Heike Bosien (DiMOE in the Evangelischen Church in Württemberg shared pictures from Germany, which depicted scenes from the last 14 months during the pandemic. She emphasised the importance of global perspectives on solidarity and issues such as the basic income grant. Global networks have enabled the universal fight against gender based violence, growing unemployment, poverty and injustice. Participants were inspired to reflect further on the tasks at hand for the solidarity network and the possibilities to engage on issues on a mezzo-level.
After the lunch break, participants had a choice between a number of workshops: Father Michael Lapsley elaborated on his earlier talk with special emphasis on the healing of historical wounds. Another workshop looked at a practical example of a partnership refocusing from the provision of food parcels to the purchase of a farm. The World University Service focused on students that did not enjoy the financial support of their parents and how their problems could be addressed. The workshop for church partnerships reflected on the experiences of congregations within the MCSA. Amakhosi Travel in its workshop looked at the difficulties currently faced by international travel and future possibilities and restrictions in a post-covid reality.
The participants expressed their appreciation for opportunities provided for further reflections and networking possibilities.